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article imageNew spiny rat discovered in 'birthplace of evolution'

By Layne Weiss     Sep 23, 2013 in Science
The Spiny Mekot rat was discovered in the mountain forests of Halmahera in the Maluku archipelago. Some of its defining futures include bristly hair and a white tail tip.
It was from Halmahera that Alfred Russel Wallace wrote to Charles Darwin briefing him on his theory of evolution, BBC News notes.
While the region is rich in biodiversity, its wildlife remains in danger due to logging and mining firms.
Scientists have a new hope that the discovery of the Spiny rat will encourage more exploration and preservation of the area.
The rat was found in a small, hilly region of Halmahera by an expedition team from the University of Copenhagen and Indonesia's Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense. They used bait with coconut and peanut butter, which they placed on tree trunks and at burrow openings.
The scientists discovered a previously unknown rodent with rough brownish grey fur on its back and a whitish grey mid-section.
They conducted further analysis on the rat's DNA and physical features such as its skull and teeth. This determined the rat was not only a new species, but a whole new genus.
They named the rat Halmaheramys bokimekot after Boki Mekot, a mountainous area in ecological danger due to mining and deforestation.
"This new rodent highlights the large amount of unknown biodiversity in this region and the importance of its conservation," said lead researcher Pierre-Henri Fabre, from the Centre for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen. "It's very important that zoologists visit these islands to explore further."
So far, only six of the new rodents have been captured; three adult males and three females.
At this time, little is known about their behavior, but they are believed to be omnivorous since the scientists discovered vegetable and insect remnants in their stomachs.
"This discovery shows how much of the richness of life is left to discover - especially in the Indonesian archipelago," says co-author Kristofer Helgen, of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.
Prof. Helgen was a member of the team that recently discovered a giant rat living in a 'lost volcano' in Papua New Guinea.
"There are likely to be more undiscovered species of mammals in Indonesia than in any other country in the world," Helgen says.
"Finding and documenting them is a task made urgent by huge environmental threats, especially logging and mining."
The reseachers' findings have been reported in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.
More about spiny rat, Evolution, Alfred russel wallace, Darwin, Archipelago
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