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Three new monitor lizards from the Philippines indentified

The results reveal again the underestimated diversity of these giant lizards in insular southeast Asia

German scientist André Koch from the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig (ZFMK) in Bonn together with his supervisor Prof Dr Wolfgang Böhme and another colleague have described two new monitor lizard species (Varanus spp.) and one new subspecies from the Philippines in a recent article.

Their comprehensive study of the Philippine water monitors revealed, that despite the recently discovered new and fruit-eating monitor species from the main island of Luzon by an American-Philippine research team, the real diversity of these giant lizards in the archipelago has not yet been understood. The species descriptions were published in ZOOTAXA, the world’s foremost journal for taxonomic zoology.

“After the spectacular discovery of several new monitor lizards from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi three years ago, our results now illustrate that the diversity of water monitor lizards in the Philippines has also been largely underestimated” says André Koch, who will soon complete his doctoral thesis at the University of Bonn. Southeast Asian monitor lizards are one main focus of his dissertation, which he writes at the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig (ZFMK).

Prof Böhme, vice-director of the ZFMK and head of the herpetology section, has investigated monitor lizards since more than 20 years, and adds: “It’s amazing that these largest living lizards of the world have been neglected for so long and that new species come up time and again. It shows that even with large vertebrates not all species of our planet are recognized and named. There are too few experts in the world, the education level at universities is declining and the essential knowledge about the global biodiversity stands to get lost!”

Co-author Dr Maren Gaulke (GeoBio-Center LMU, Munich), an expert for Philippine reptiles, particularly monitor lizards, has been studying the biology of these impressive giant reptiles for 25 years: “Monitor lizards are fantastic creatures. They are agile, powerful, and the most intelligent lizards of the world.”

The three new Philippine monitors were identified based on examination of numerous preserved voucher specimens in various major European natural history museums, in combination with long-term studies in the field. This impressively demonstrates the immense importance of such museum collections as the archives of the global biodiversity. Unfortunately, in times of limited public funding, the necessary curatorial positions are often not reoccupied, when a scientist is retired. This disastrously affects not only the corresponding collections but also the related field of knowledge!

Thus, one of the new monitor species, which is known from only two specimens in the Zoological Museum of Copenhagen, was named after the late Jens B. Rasmussen, former herpetologist of the museum collections there, whose position was not reopened again. Thereby, the authors want also to call attention to the global taxonomy crisis.

The Philippines comprise more than 7,000 tropical islands. This island nation is well known for its extraordinary biological richness and diversity. It is one of the biodiversity hotspots of our planet, a real megadiversity country. This is not just true for coral fishes or butterflies and other small insects, but also for the large predators in this region, the monitor lizards (genus Varanus).

An earlier study on the systematics and diversity of Southeast Asian water monitor lizards (Varanus salvator, see Koch et al. 2007) showed that the three Philippine members, which were originally treated as subspecies, actually represent distinct species because they are separated by significant differences. Thus, the three newly discovered monitor lizards double at once the number of known Philippine water monitors.

Literature source:
KOCH, A., GAULKE, M. & BÖHME W. (2010)
Unravelling the underestimated diversity of Philippine water monitor lizards (Squamata: Varanus salvator complex), with the description of two new species and a new subspecies. Zootaxa 2446: 1-54.

Additional reading:
KOCH, A., AULIYA, M., SCHMITZ, A., KUCH, U. & BÖHME, W. (2007)
Morphological studies on the systematics of Southeast Asian water monitors (Varanus salvator complex): nominotypic populations and taxonomic overview. In: HORN, H.-G., BÖHME, W. & KREBS, U. (Eds), Advances in Monitor Research III, pp. 109–180.
2010 – International Year of Biodiversity
Contact, photos and further information:
Dipl.-Biol. ANDRÉ KOCH
Zoological Research Museum A. Koenig
& Leibniz Institute for terrestrial Biodiversity
Department of Herpetology & Molecular Lab
Phone: +49 (0)228 9122 277
Fax: +49 (0)228 9122 295
E-Mail: a.koch.zfmk[@]
The Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig
The Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig (ZFMK) is one of the largest natural history research museums in Germany. The museum has earned its reputation as a leader in the documentation, research, and interpretation of biodiversity.

The ZFMK is under the jurisdiction of the State of Nordrhein Westfalia. The official authority to which it reports is the Ministry of Innovation, Science, Research, and Technology of the State of Nordrhein Westfalia in Düsseldorf.

The national and international significance of the research conducted in the museum, and hence its trend-setting work, conforms to national interests. Accordingly, half of the research costs in the annual budget, consisting of ca. 3.5 million Euro, is provided by the federal government.

The museum maintains 49 permanent positions (14 of which are held by researchers), as well as 130 additional employees (comprising 15 researchers undertaking externally funded projects, 100 doctoral, masters, and undergraduate students, and 15 volunteers).

The Museum Koenig is a member of the Leibniz community (WGL), a a union of scientifically, judicially, and economically independent research and service institutions which, as non-university institutions of national interest, are funded by an individually fixed proportion of the federal government budget.

The Leibniz Association is a network of 86 scientifically, legally and economically independent research institutes and scientific service facilities. Leibniz Institutes perform strategic- and thematically-oriented research and offer scientific service of national significance while striving to find scientific solutions for major social challenges.

Leibniz Institutes employ 16.100 employees, of which 7.100 are academics, including 2.800 junior scientists. Leibniz Institutes maintain 2.200 major national and 1.300 international scientific co-operations. Each year, around 2.300 foreign scientists join forces with the Leibniz Institutes as temporary workers. One indication of their high competitiveness and excellence is the 280 million Euros allocated to the Leibniz Institutes from third-party funds.
The Institutes have been awarded 35 million Euros from the European Union, 55 million Euros from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG) and 51 million Euros from industry co-operations. The total budget of all Leibniz Institutes amounts to more than 1.3 billion Euros.

Leibniz Institutes contribute to clusters of excellence in fields such as Mathematics, Optic Technologies, Materials Research, Medicine, Climate and Environmental Research, Bio- and Nanotechnology as well as humanities, economics and social sciences. They foster close co-operations with universities, industry, and other research institutes, both in Germany and abroad. The Leibniz Association has developed a comprehensive system of quality management. At regular intervals, independent experts assess every institute as part of their unique peer review evaluation process.

Sabine Heine | idw
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