From: Jeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published May 1, 2012 06:55 AM

Caribbean biodiversity and the Mongoose

In a single paper in Zootaxa scientists have rewritten the current understanding of lizard biodiversity in the Caribbean. By going over museum specimens of skinks, scientists have discovered 24 new species and re-established nine species previously described species, long-thought invalid. The single paper has increased the number of skinks in the Caribbean by 650 percent, from six recognized species to 39. Unfortunately, half of these new species may already be extinct and all of them are likely imperiled.


"Now, one of the smallest groups of lizards in this region of the world has become one of the largest groups," co-author Blair Hedges with Penn State University said in a press release. Hedges and his team determined the new species through morphological research as well as DNA studies.

But some of the new species may already be gone, while others may not be long for this world due to a single introduced species: the mongoose. Introduced into Caribbean Islands in the 19th Century to prey on rats, mongoose have also decimated many of the islands' native species including skinks.

"Our data show that the mongoose, which was introduced from India in 1872 and spread around the islands over the next three decades, has nearly exterminated this entire reptile fauna, which had gone largely unnoticed by scientists and conservationists until now," Hedges explains, noting that "by 1900, less than 50 percent of [the islands with introduced mongooses] still had their skinks, and the loss has continued to this day."

Skink photo courtesy MongaBay.

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