Deepak Veerappan was in-between research jobs when, out of boredom, he started exploring the parched open lands in the south and west of India. He ventured out on his own into sun-baked landscapes in search of a “fan-throated lizard” – a small lizard with a large double chin. His post-doctoral position at the Indian Institute of Science, and thus funding, were yet to come but he had already laid the foundation of what would keep him busy for the next few years.
Only two species of the unusual lizards Veerappan loved watching had been known from India. From observing them in the wild, he knew there were actually more than two. This led Veerappan to discover five new species of fan-throated lizards – named so because the males have loose, stretchable skin hanging from their necks.
This spectacular find is one among a slew of discoveries we have seen so far this year in India. Wherever you look, be it the shores in the south or mighty mountains in the north, sun-scorched lands of the west or wet hills of the east, new species are being found everywhere. And yet scientists say there’s more to come. What on earth is going on?
Five new species of brightly coloured freshwater crabs have been found in the Western Ghats, India’s wildlife haven. Of these, two species belong to the genus Ghatiana (discovered in 2014) and the remaining to Gubernatoriana (known since 1970).
Behind the discoveries are an undergraduate student and researchers from the Zoological Survey of India and the Indian Herpetological Society. They described the five new species, named Ghatiana atropurpurea, Ghatianasplendida,Gubernatorianathackerayi, Gubernatorianawaghi, and Gubernatorianaalcocki, in the journal Zootaxa on February 23.
Prior to this, 36 species belonging to 14 different genera were known from the Western Ghats in the family of freshwater crabs called Gecarcinucidae. So the latest discoveries bring the total species count to 41.
Indian researchers, in collaboration with the Natural History Museum in London, have found a new species of burrowing, non-venomous snake that has smooth, shiny scales.
The species remained misidentified and stashed among museum specimens for a long time before scientists thought it might be distinct. To confirm their doubts, they looked in the wild – and unlike many museum finds that are extinct by the time they are discovered, this one still existed. And it continues to do so in the semi-evergreen forests of the Western Ghats of India.
Ecologists have mapped Asian elephants in the Indian state of Karnataka down to the smallest forest administrative unit. The detailed map, which shows where elephants exist inside and outside protected areas, could help conservation planning and minimize human–elephant conflicts.
Karnataka has the largest population of Asian elephants (Elephasmaximus) in India. But recent decades have witnessed increased pressure on their habitat and clashes between people and the jumbos. A detailed map of elephant distribution is crucial to understand where humans should get priority, where elephants should and where they can coexist. Yet, there is no microscopic map of Asian elephants anywhere.
An online repository of maps has been launched to make information on freshwater biodiversity available on a common platform for use by scientists, policymakers, conservationists and NGOs.
The Global Freshwater Biodiversity Atlas will help developing countries identify biodiversity-rich areas for conservation.
It was launched last month (29 January), as part of an EU-funded project called BioFresh, with the aim of putting together published maps and sharing them under a creative commons licence.
Experts say it could help developing nations better manage their biodiversity and meet targets, for example by identifying the areas where conservation can be most effective.
Vanessa Bremerich, the technical editor of the atlas who is based at the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, in Germany, says that in contrast to maps published in scientific papers — which are scattered across different journals and are often hard to access — the atlas will be an “an open platform that presents all the research results and data in one place”.