Secret Jumping Spider Species Found
A new species of jumping spider is among more than 50 spider species believed new to science discovered during a Conservation International (CI) expedition to Papua New Guinea’s highlands wilderness. More than 600 species were documented during the expedition over a number of different taxonomic groups including amphibians, mammals, birds, reptiles, plants and invertebrates. Of those, two plants, three frogs and one gecko also are believed to be new to science.
The jumping spider, named Tabuina varirata, was found on a tree in the rainforest. It is not only a species new to science, but is a new genus as well. It belongs to the subfamily Cocalodinae, a highly distinctive group unique to New Guinea and the region that previously had only two known genera. Nothing is known about its ecology except for the habitat.
The discovery of three entirely novel spider genera is particularly noteworthy, said University of British Columbia (UBC) scientist Wayne Maddison, Director of the new Beaty Biodiversity Museum. “They are strikingly distinctive evolutionary lineages that had been unknown before, with a group that is already very distinctive on the evolutionary tree of jumping spiders,” said Maddison. “Their key position on the evolutionary tree will help us understand how this unique group of jumping spiders has evolved.”
In general, jumping spiders can jump at least 6 inches. They don’t have big legs for jumping because they use blood pressure to jump — muscles in the body contract to squeeze the blood into the legs, which makes the legs snap straight, and thus the jump. There are about 5000 described species of jumping spiders, and probably at least as many species again remain to be discovered around the world.
The discoveries were announced following analysis of species that were found in July and August of 2008 during a month-long exploration of the Kaijende highlands and Hewa wilderness of Papua New Guinea. CI scientists were joined by scientists from Papua New Guinea, the UBC and Montclair State University to explore the region alongside members of local communities.
The three frogs include a tiny brown frog with a sharp chirping call (Oreophryne sp.), a bright green tree frog with enormous eyes (Nyctimystes sp.), and a torrent-dwelling frog that has a loud ringing call (Litoria sp.). The gecko (Cyrtodactylus sp.) was the only specimen of its kind found in the dense rainforest. “The vast Kaijende Uplands and nearby valleys represent one of Papua New Guinea’s largest undeveloped highlands wilderness areas, and all of it is under the tenure of local clan landowners. These forests are essential to their traditional lifestyles,” said CI scientist Steve Richards, who led the expedition.
Local clan communities rely on this wilderness area for hunting and collecting forest products, and the region is a critical source of clean drinking water to tens of thousands of valley people living in the Enga Southern Highlands, Sandaun and Western Provinces. Globally, this vast forested wilderness is critical in helping slow climate change by sequestering large amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
As part of the expedition, Montclair State University anthropologist Dr. William Thomas worked with the local Hewa clans to document the natural history and local knowledge of these resources as part of the “Forest Stewards” project, an initiative started by Dr. Thomas and CI’s Dr. Bruce Beehler.
“Dr. Thomas has devoted his professional life to the study of the traditional knowledge system of the Hewa people. Their intimate knowledge of and stewardship over a large tract of this vast upland wilderness has led to conservation of their wildlife and environment. Dr. Thomas’s goal is to help the Hewa continue this indigenous stewardship into the next century, for the good of these people and the world at large,” said Beehler.
Much of Papua New Guinea’s vast wilderness remains unexplored for scientific documentation. CI’s Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) program is planning three more expeditions to the country in 2009 with the first beginning in early April.
The expedition was funded by Porgera Joint Venture (PJV), principally owned by Barrick Gold Corporation. The resulting report will provide information for decision makers trying to balance development with protecting biodiversity that benefits local communities and the global ecosystem. The findings will be used to inform future conservation activities, the PJV mining operation, and development decisions by the local and national government.