- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 26, 2009

BANGKOK | A gecko with leopardlike spots on its body and a fanged frog that eats birds are among 163 new species discovered last year in the Mekong River region of Southeast Asia, an environmental group said Friday.

WWF International said that scientists in 2008 discovered 100 plants, 28 fish, 18 reptiles, 14 amphibians, two mammals and one bird species in the region. That works out to be about three species per week and is in addition to the 1,000 new species cataloged there from 1997 to 2007, the group said.

“After millennia in hiding, these species are now finally in the spotlight and there are clearly more waiting to be discovered,” said Stuart Chapman, director of the WWF Greater Mekong Program.

Researchers working for WWF warned that the effects of climate change, including an upsurge in droughts and floods, threaten the diverse habitat that supports these species. There are also traditional threats such as poaching, pollution and habitat destruction.

“Some species will be able to adapt to climate change, many will not, potentially resulting in massive extinctions,” Mr. Chapman said. “Rare, endangered and endemic species like those newly discovered are especially vulnerable because climate change will further shrink their already restricted habitats.”

Among the stars in the new list is a fanged frog in eastern Thailand. Given the scientific name Limnonectes megastomias, the frog lies in wait along streams for prey including birds and insects. Scientists believe it uses its fangs during combat with other males.

Another unusual discovery was the Cat Ba leopard gecko found on Cat Ba Island in northern Vietnam. Named Goniurosaurus catbaensis, it has large, orange-brown catlike eyes and leopard spots down the length of its yellowish brown body.

Simon Mahood, a conservation adviser for BirdLife International in Indochina, welcomed WWF’s attention to the new species and said more could be discovered if additional money is put into conservation and countries make it easier to do field work.

Mr. Mahood’s group this year announced finding the first nest of white-eared night heron in Vietnam and the discovery of a baldheaded song bird in Laos called the barefaced Bulbul Pycnonotus hualon.

Experts said a range of factors contributed to the upsurge in new-specie finds, including better access to regions that have seen decades of war and political unrest and more spending by governments on research to protect and identify plants and animals.

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