615 New Species Found in Madagascar in Ten Years

Photo: Frank.Vassen / cc

Sometimes it seems as if centuries of careful study has left little to be discovered on this planet of ours, but nature holds plenty of secrets yet. According to the WWF, 615 unique species were discovered on the island of Madagascar -- and that's just between1999 and 2010! Despite the excitement over each of these new discoveries, however, there exists the troubling reality that countless other creatures will become extinct before they are ever found, what with the specter of environmental crises continuing to loom.Of the over 600 new species are 42 invertebrates, 17 fish, 69 amphibians, 61 reptiles, 385 plants, and 41 mammals. Although they range from large to small (from the world's tiniest known primate, to a spider which builds a web over three feet in diameter), each of the new discoveries is hugely significant in terms of advancing our understanding of Earth's incredible biodiversity.

And as far as biodiversity goes, few places match Madagascar's ecosystems teeming with life. One thing that makes it so special, and the creatures found there so unique, is its long history as a land largely set apart from the rest of the world. The WWF's Mark Wright spoke with The Guardian about of the world's eighth largest island came to be such a hotspot of biodiversity:

It split from Africa a long time ago and then subsequently split from the Indian block 80m years ago. It has had 80m years for evolution to have a bit of fun. It is a very odd island. In terms of its geography, it helps speciation. There's a mountain ridge down the middle, so on the east of the island you've got rainforest, but everything on the west is a rain shadow. So you get an enormous variety of environments from the very wet to the very dry. It's a fantastic range of environments into which species can adapt.

Unfortunately, however, Madagascar is also host to a variety of harmful human activities which threaten the very homes of organisms both known to science and those countless that have yet to be discovered. In the last two decades, millions of acres of forest ecosystem has been cleared, largely to make room for agriculture and to burn as fuel.

Each new discovery, and there are bound to be many more in the years to come, only serve to highlight not only how precious Madagascar is as a sight of immense biodiversity, but the need to educate and empower individuals to works towards its preservation. After all, once it's gone, it's gone for good.

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Tags: Biodiversity