Posted: 24 February 2016
Dr Simon Loader, from the Department of Life Sciences, alongside an international team, discovered the new chameleon in two mountain ranges in southern Tanzania: the Southern Highlands, and the Eastern Arc Mountains. These two mountain ranges are separated from each other by a dry, low-lying area, known as the Makambako Gap, which was believed to be an impassable barrier.
Due to Makambako Gap being a naturally inhospitable obstacle, and the smaller area of the Southern Highlands, it was predicted that these would have fewer species than the close lying Eastern Arc Mountains, which are known for their rich diversity of species. However, the discovery of the new chameleon species, Kinyongia msuyae, bridging these two areas, overturns these previous speculations. In addition, in a separate study Dr Loader discovered three Frog species; one species was only found in the Southern Highlands. This finding further outlines the distinctiveness and importance of the Southern Highlands of East Africa.
Dr Loader said, “Our knowledge is far from complete in this area. We are investigating the composition of species in both ranges, so that we can get a better picture of the evolutionary patterns over the whole region through time. We want to find out why some animals were able colonise between these two areas, while others didn’t, such processes are invaluable as they are responsible for the biodiversity patterns we see today.
The Southern Highlands, owing to a comparative lack of research, have not received the same protection as the Eastern Arc Mountains. Dr Loader and the Wildlife Conservation Society, who were involved in both the new discoveries, are raising awareness of the Southern Highlands to ultimately protect the area along with their recently identified, and still undiscovered, species.
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