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Night barks reveal new species of tree hyrax in Africa

By on June 14, 2021 0

June 14 (UPI) – The new nocturnal barking of several populations of tree hyrax in West and Central Africa first alerted scientists that the region’s forests may be home to a unique, yet named species.

Now, a new investigation – published Monday in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society – has confirmed that hyraxes living between the Volta and Niger rivers are genetically and anatomically distinct from their relatives in neighboring forest regions.

Scientists recorded and analyzed the calls of the newly named species, Interfluvial Dendrohyrax, found in humid and dry forests of southeastern Ghana, southern Togo, southern Benin and southwestern Nigeria.

“Sometimes a listening ear is as important as a keen eye,” said study co-author Eric Sargis, curator of vertebrate mammalogy and paleontology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, in a statement. Press.

“My co-authors John Oates and Simon Bearder were in Nigeria in 2009 looking for galagos, a group of primates, when they noticed that the hyrax’s calls were different from one side of Niger to the other. the evidence we then studied, including the distinctive vocalizations, indicates a unique species in the forests between the Niger and the Volta. “

Hyraxes are unusual animals. About the size of a groundhog, arboreal mammals are closely related to manatees and elephants. Although they are nocturnal, their eyes do not glow in the dark, which makes them quite difficult to study.

Sargis and his colleagues compared the calls of the new species to hundreds of hyrax calls recorded between 1968 and 2020 at 42 sites in 12 countries.

Measurements of duration, frequency range, repetition rate, and other characteristics of calls confirmed that the “barks” of the new species were distinct from the howling calls recorded in the forests west of the Volta and beyond. eastern Niger.

The researchers also performed an anatomical analysis of several dozen museum specimens, in addition to sequencing genetic samples from a handful of tree hyrax specimens.

Analysis confirmed that the arboreal hyrax populations found between Niger and Volta are distinct from neighboring hyrax lineages.

“There is growing evidence that the Niger and Volta rivers are important biogeographic barriers for a range of mammals,” said Oates, professor emeritus of anthropology at Hunter College in New York.

“Hyrax, for example, do not pass through water easily, so it makes sense that through millions of years of climate change, as African forests have grown and contracted, new species would have differentiated into isolated forest fragments called refuges, then were limited in their subsequent dispersal by large rivers.

The latest research has brought to light the unique biodiversity found between the Niger and Volta rivers. Unfortunately, the many new species in the region are increasingly threatened by human development.

Large-scale logging and agricultural expansion have fragmented the region’s forests, and researchers say stronger protections and extensive nature reserves are needed to ensure vulnerable ecosystems remain intact.

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