A new species of black endemic iguanas in Caribbeans is proposed for urgent conservation

A newly discovered endemic species of melanistic black iguana (Iguana melanoderma), discovered in Saba and Montserrat islands, the Lesser Antilles (Eastern Caribbean) appears to be threatened by unsustainable harvesting (including pet trade) and both competition and hybridization from escaped or released invasive alien iguanas from South and Central America. Scientists call for urgent conservation measures in the article, recently published in the open-access journal Zookeys.

A newly discovered endemic species of melanistic black iguana (Iguana melanoderma), discovered in Saba and Montserrat islands, the Lesser Antilles (Eastern Caribbean), appears to be threatened by unsustainable harvesting (including pet trade) and both competition and hybridization from escaped or released invasive alien iguanas from South and Central America. International research group calls for urgent conservation measures in the article, recently published in the open-access journal Zookeys.

So far, there have been three species of iguana known from The Lesser Antilles: the Lesser Antillean iguana (Iguana delicatissima), a species endemic to the northernmost islands of the Lesser Antilles; and two introduced ones: the common iguana (Iguana iguana iguana) from South America and the green iguana (Iguana rhinolopha) from Central America.

The newly described species is characterised with private microsatellite alleles, unique mitochondrial ND4 haplotypes and a distinctive black spot between the eye and the ear cavity (tympanum). Juveniles and young adults have a dorsal carpet pattern, the colouration is darkening with aging (except for the anterior part of the snout). 

A basking iguana optimizing after different trials its warming by a curved position when the sun is low on the horizon on the Windward coast of Saba.
Сredit: M. Breuil
License: CC-BY 4.0

It has already occurred before in Guadeloupe that Common Green Iguana displaced the Lesser Antilles iguanas through competition and hybridization which is on the way also in the Lesser Antilles. Potentially invasive common iguanas from the Central and South American lineages are likely to invade other islands and need to be differentiated from the endemic melanistic iguanas of the area.

The IUCN Red List lists the green iguana to be of “Least Concern”, but failed to differentiate between populations, some of which are threatened by extinction. With the new taxonomic proposal, these endemic insular populations can be considered as a conservation unit with their own assessments.

“With the increase in trade and shipping in the Caribbean region and post-hurricane restoration activities, it is very likely that there will be new opportunities for invasive iguanas to colonize new islands inhabited by endemic lineages”,

shares the lead researcher prof. Frédéric Grandjean from the University of Poitiers (France).
Iguana melanoderma sunbathing at dawn on the Windward coast of Saba.
Сredit: M. Breuil
License: CC-BY 4.0

Scientists describe the common melanistic iguanas from the islands of Saba and Montserrat as a new taxon and aim to establish its relationships with other green iguanas. That can help conservationists to accurately differentiate this endemic lineage from invasive iguanas and investigate its ecology and biology population on these two very small islands that are subject to a range of environmental disturbances including hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

“Priority actions for the conservation of the species Iguana melanoderma are biosecurity, minimization of hunting, and habitat conservation. The maritime and airport authorities of both islands must be vigilant about the movements of iguanas, or their sub-products, in either direction, even if the animals remain within the same nation’s territory. Capacity-building and awareness-raising should strengthen the islands’ biosecurity system and could enhance pride in this flagship species”,

concludes Prof. Grandjean.

The key stakeholders in conservation efforts for the area are the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA), the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), the Montserrat National Trust (MNT) and the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF), which, the research team hope, could take measures in order to protect the flagship insular iguana species, mainly against alien iguanas.

Geographical distribution of the three iguana groups identified by Lazell (1973) in the 1960s and new taxonomic proposition.
Credit: Breuil et al. (2020)
License: CC-BY 4.0

***

Original source:

Breuil M, Schikorski D, Vuillaume B, Krauss U, Morton MN, Corry E, Bech N, Jelić M, Grandjean F (2020) Painted black: Iguana melanoderma (Reptilia, Squamata, Iguanidae) a new melanistic endemic species from Saba and Montserrat islands (Lesser Antilles). ZooKeys 926: 95-131. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.926.48679

Contact:

Frédéric Grandjean 
Email: frederic.grandjean@univ-poitiers.fr

New species with heart-shaped fruits inspires a love for biodiversity in Hawai’i

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, botanists from Hawai’i have discovered a new species of plant with small heart-shaped fruits. The new species is a member of the coffee family (Rubiaceae) and part of the genus Coprosma, which occurs across many remote islands of the Pacific Ocean. They named the new Hawaiian species after the symbol of love – calling it Coprosma cordicarpa – meaning the Coprosma with heart-shaped fruit. Their research is published in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

 

The botanists, who discovered C. cordicarpa, describe their finding as the result of a loving adventure with Hawaiian biodiversity. It began when Hawai’i’s State Botanist Dr. Maggie J. Sporck-Koehler noticed the little heart-shaped fruits in the Kanaio Natural Area Reserve on the Island of Maui, while attending a work meeting with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW).

 

One of the primary mandates of DOFAW is to conserve Hawai’i’s native ecosystems and the species that reside in them. As State Botanist, Sporck-Koehler is most often working on issues relating to rare or State and Federally listed threatened and endangered (T&E) plant species. Gaining a better understanding of native Hawaiian plant conservation status and helping to facilitate conservation efforts is one of the main objectives of the work she does for the State. Therefore, when something extraordinary gets under her nose, such as an unusual Coprosmapopulation, she takes a note and a sample.

 

Sporck-Koehler attempted to identify the species using a key so that she could know what she was looking at. She got to Coprosma foliosa, but was not satisfied. So, she turned to Dr. Jason T. Cantley, who at the time was finishing his PhD research on the genus Coprosma at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa Department of Botany. “I was very taken with it,” Sporck-Koehler told Cantley. “It seemed different than any other [Coprosma] foliosas I’ve seen.”

Image2_CantleyCoprosmacordicarpa

Then, Cantley concluded that the heart-shaped fruits and other characteristics looked different enough that it was worth it to visit specimens at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu, and then to examine the plants themselves. “We needed to get all our ducks in a row, making sure we knew what we were looking for before we flew to Maui,” Cantley says. “Part of that planning was to think about the long-term conservation of Coprosma cordicarpafrom the start. That’s one reason it was necessary to bring Dr. Chau into this project.”

 

Dr. Marian M. Chau is the Seed Conservation Laboratory Manager at Lyon Arboretum’s Hawaiian Rare Plant Program in Honolulu. The Seed Conservation Lab‘s mission is to aid in the prevention of extinction of Hawaiian plant species by maintaining a long-term seed bank collection, to propagate plants for use in approved restoration projects, and to conduct research on seed storage and germination for the Hawaiian flora. The Seed Conservation Lab currently stores over 11 million seeds from about 40% of all Hawaiian native species, with the ultimate goal to represent the entire flora with research and/or long-term germplasm collections. This includes under-described biodiversity, like the heart-shaped fruits of C. cordicarpa.

 

From early on, it was clear that C. cordicarpa was not all that common, as it can only be found on one island. In fact, the botanists determined the new species fell within the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red Vulnerable Category (VU) for extinction risk. The VU is the lowest of the three threatened Red List categories, but indicates that C. cordicarpastill faces threats of extinction in the wild. Chau suggested that they collect seeds for long-term germplasm storage at the Seed Conservation Lab.

 

Two field adventures on Maui and many herbarium specimen measurements later, the authors were confident they were looking at a new species. All in all, 609 seeds from 32 plants were collected, which are going to help preserve the biodiversity of this species for many years to come.

 

The authors had a passion for Hawaiian plant biodiversity and conservation well before this project, but it was the discovery of the heart-shaped fruits that brought these three botanists together. With their naming of this new species, they hope to also inspire others with a love for biodiversity that will continue long into the future.

 

###

Original source:

Cantley JT, Sporck-Koehler MJ, Chau MM (2016) New and resurrected Hawaiian species of pilo (Coprosma, Rubiaceae) from the island of Maui. PhytoKeys 60: 33-48. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.60.6465