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Your Questions About How To Discover New Species

Ken asks…

When was the last time a new species of animal was found?

I don’t mean a new type of animal. Relative to (frog, elephant Etc) I mean a completely new species never seen before.

New Niche Finder answers:

New *animal* species are being discovered at least weekly. Just one lab where I work described 11 last year. If you mean new *mammals*, that’s more like a few a year, and almost all of these are “discovered” in the sense that genetic studies reveal that they haven’t interbred with animals that look like them for millions of years. But how long this lack of interbreeding has to go on for in order to “count” as a new species is debated by taxonomists. For example, most say there are three kinds of bears in North America (grizzly, polar, brown), but some have said they are all different races of the same species, others that they are actually 8 species, and one extreme scientist argues there are 17.

So in well-studied groups like mammals and birds, new species are more “agreed upon” than “discovered” by international groups of scientists like ITIS, or the IUCN Red List committees. One such decision was just made this week to add two new species to the Coendou genus (sort of monkey-porcupines).

Lisa asks…

Did the earliest primate species evolve in Africa?

Where was the earliest primate/ anthropoid fossil discovered and how old is it?

New Niche Finder answers:

Apparently so, in Morocco, North Africa. ~~~

The first primates may have evolved during the last part of the Paleocene Epoch. These were members of the genus Altiatlasius . Their bones have been found in 60,000,000 year old geological deposits in Morocco, but they probably lived in other areas at this time as well. They looked different from the primates today. They were still somewhat squirrel-like in size and appearance, but apparently they had grasping hands and feet that were increasingly more efficient in manipulating objects and climbing trees. It is likely that they were developing effective stereoscopic vision.

(lemur-like family Adapidae
from the Eocene Epoch)

The beginning of the Eocene Epoch coincides with the appearance of early forms of most of the placental mammal orders that are present today. Among them were primate species that somewhat resemble modern prosimians such as lemurs, lorises, and possibly tarsiers. This was the epoch of maximum prosimian adaptive radiation. There were at least 60 genera of them that were mostly in two families–the Adapidae (similar to lemurs and lorises) and the Omomyidae (possibly like galagos and tarsiers). This is nearly four times greater prosimian diversity than today.

Eocene prosimians lived in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. It was during this epoch that they reached the island of Madagascar. The great diversity of Eocene prosimians was probably a consequence of the fact that they did not have competition from monkeys and apes since these latter more advanced primates had not yet evolved.

Major evolutionary changes were beginning in some of the Eocene prosimians that foreshadow species yet to come. Their brains and eyes were becoming larger, while their snouts were getting smaller. At the base of a skull, there is a hole through which the spinal cord passes. This opening is the foramen magnum (literally the “large hole or opening” in Latin). The position of the foramen magnum is a strong indicator of the angle of the spinal column to the head and subsequently whether the body is habitually horizontal (like a horse) or vertical (like a monkey).

During the Eocene, the foramen magnum in some primate species was beginning to move from the back of the skull towards the center. This suggests that they were beginning to hold their bodies erect while hopping and sitting, like modern lemurs, galagos, and tarsiers.

Daniel asks…

Will humans ever discover all unknown living species?

So many animals and plants are discovered by humans each day, but eventually will all living animals, insects, and others be discovered? We the human population find all living things?

New Niche Finder answers:

No because evolution causes new species to form all the time. Also extinctions happen all the time.

Thomas asks…

What factors are currently playing a role in human evolution?

Scientists have discovered that humans have evolved from apes. Are there any known environmental factors that have contributed to the “human being” as it is today and is there any indication of the factors that will continue to effect it’s evolutional direction?

New Niche Finder answers:

One factor that appears to have a link have been ice ages. There is reasonably consistent evidence to support the proposition that the steps towards modern humans was driven by changes in climatic conditions. It probably started with the closing of the gap between north and south America, as the Panamanian isthmus rose the thermohaline circulation changed and this created the African savannah which our ancestors exploited.

It is difficult to ascribe cause as we can only see that the event occurred at the same time we see evidence in the fossil record. Still most “leaps” forward seem to be linked to climatic events that either caused bottlenecking or lasted for a considerable period.

There is an interesting question as to why Modern Man is the only survivor of our linage. Neanderthals who were more robust, and contrary to popular belief had large brain cavities seem to have died out (though there are suggestions that they disappeared due to interbreed with modern humans). Other potential lineages also seem to have died out and it would appear that the population of modern Humans arose from a population of around 20,000 individuals 70,000 ya. This is deduced from the low variation within the Human genome.

It is likely that environmental pressures will still continue to have an impact. Modern society may not be sustainable without finding an alternative fuel source and we do seem to be having anthropogenic affect on the world’s climate. Alternatively there may be an external event, such as a meteor strike or a supervocano, such as Yellowstone, that causes another bottleneck. In this case we’ll be lucky to survive at all, but it is also likely that such an event would create sufficient pressure, and produce sufficient genetic drift that a Post Homo Sapiens Sapiens species could arise.

Currently we seem to be in stasis. In a large part this is due to the intermingling of genetic variation. Human populations have not been isolated for several centuries, and there does not seem to be any significant drive for reproductive isolation, a condition for natural selection to give rise to a separate species, or at least a sub species. What is left is Genetic Drift, either through random increases in allele frequency or event driven drift such as disease resistance or survival after catastrophe. Certainly the outbreak of Spanish flu in 1917-1919 is likely to have had an impact on allele frequency as so many died, as did the proceeding and subsequent world wars and various famines.

David asks…

How can I identify what’s making holes in my yard?

I’ve discovered a few holes in my yard. They are about an inch or two in diameter. I assume that they are a mole or snake or some small animal, but I have no idea how to identify what.

New Niche Finder answers:

These sites shows how to identify what type of hole is dug by various creatures such as: voles which have dime sized holes, often around the roots of plants, or chipmunk holes which tend to be silver dollar sized.

Very small holes with no dirt mounds can be caused by birds looking for earthworms. Small pencil sized holes with little mounds of dirt are usually caused by earthworms.
If you find 1 inch high piles of small, granular pellets of soil, these castings were passed through the body of earthworms the night before and were brought to the surface as tunnels were cleared. They are more common in spring and fall when soil moisture and temperatures are conducive to earthworm activity. There is usually no hole in the top.
Tree squirrels will bury and dig up nuts in the lawn. Holes are typically 2 inches in diameter, shallow and there is no mound of soil around them.
Entrances to chipmunk tunnels are usually found in less conspicuous places such as near stumps, buildings, brush piles or log piles. They are about 2 inches in diameter.
Voles are small rodents, also called field mice. Tunnel entrances are 1 to 1½ inches in diameter and no mound of soil is present (moles, on the other hand, make a mound which raises up the soil above the length of their tunnel).

“Snakes do not create holes, but many species spend a large portion of their lives in and out of the burrows of rodents. Even the species we call burrowing snakes simply bury themselves in loose soil, they do not leave an opening at the surface.”

Most likely observation can help you identify for sure what’s making the holes…unless you’re tricked by a snake or another creature using a hole created by something else :)

Good luck!!! Hope this helps.

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