River shark and blue goanna among 1000 new species discovered in New Guinea

Monitor lizard (Varanus macraei), Papua New Guinea. Found on the tiny islands off the Vogelkop (Bird’s Head) Peninsula of Papua in Indonesia and capable of reaching a metre in length. WWF/Lutz Obelgonner

A giant river shark, rainbow fish and a lurid blue monitor lizard are among the 1,060 new species discovered in the relatively untouched forests of New Guinea, according to a new report by conservationist group WWF.

The new animals and plants were found in the years between 1998 and 2008, with researchers discovering an average of two new species a week in the area between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

However, logging, mining, urbanisation, unsustainable fishing practices and palm oil crops pose serious threats to the habitats in which the new species were found, the report said.

“These environmental threats are exacerbated by global climate change which is increasing the number of fires within forests and savannas, erosion, and seawater incursion into coastal habitats,” the report said.

Professor Corey Bradshaw, Director of Ecological Modelling at the University of Adelaide’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said the New Guinea region boasted some of the richest biodiversity on Earth.

“It’s probably one of the least studied worldwide and one of the most rugged, remote places and the most biodiverse. If you go to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and you look, you will find a new species,” said Professor Bradshaw, who was not involved in the research.

“If you take an equivalent area in PNG and the Amazon [in Brazil], you find a lot more unique species in PNG by virtue of its incredible topography,” he said.

“It’s one of the areas in the world we stand to lose the most.”

“The take home message is that PNG is, relatively speaking, intact but is undergoing a lot of the threats that have wiped out species elsewhere.”

Here are some of the new species named in the report:

New Guinea is centred in a region known as the Coral Triangle, which supports the most diverse marine ecosystems on Earth. In just 10 years, 33 new fish species have been discovered in the oceans surrounding the island, including the damselfish Chrysiptera cymatilis. This striking blue fish was found in the waters of Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea, a region of pristine reef environments and home to 1,040 fish species. WWF/G.R. Allen
River Shark (Glyphis garricki), Papua New Guinea. The most extraordinary new freshwater discovery must be the new species of river shark, Glyphis garricki, discovered in 2008 in Port Romilly, Gulf District, Papua New Guinea. River sharks move along shorelines and can be found in some of Asia-Pacific’s largest rivers, including the Indus, Irrawaddy and Ganges. Glyphis garricki is the sixth species of the elusive Glyphis genus to be described. The largest specimen recorded of this new species, also called the Northern River Shark, is 2.5m in length. Despite its large size, the species is seldom seen and it remains rare, leading scientists to list the new species as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Since its discovery, a total of 16 individuals have been recorded, scattered across localities off New Guinea and northern Australia. WWF/Will White CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric
Soft Coral with a cloud of schooling fairy basslets or anthias, New Britain, Papua New Guinea. Jurgen Freund / WWF-Canon
Orchid (Dendrobium limpidum), Papua New Guinea. The forests of New Guinea harbour a rich variety of flowering plants. Orchids are the prime example of this plant diversity, and 100 new orchid species from New Guinea were officially described between 1998 and 2008 alone. These include the magnificent pink Dendrobium limpidum from Papua New Guinea, described in 2003. WWF/Peter T Lin
New Guinea has some of the most beautiful freshwater fishes found anywhere, including gobies, gudgeons and rainbow fish. Rainbow fish are small but breathtaking in colour, varying from a single vivid colour to a spectrum. Between 1998 and 2008, no fewer than seven new species of rainbow fish have been identified in Papua New Guinea and Papua in Indonesia, including Chilatherina alleni or Allen’s rainbow fish. WWF/G.R. Allen
Blue-eyed spotted cuscus (Spilocuscus wilsoni), Papua New Guinea. One new mammal species has been discovered in the region on average every year over the past ten years. The highest diversity of tree-dwelling marsupials in the world exists on New Guinea, with an incredible 38 species. One of these species, the Blue-eyed Spotted Cuscus (Spilocuscus wilsoni), a small possum endemic to Papua in Indonesia, was discovered in 2004. WWF/Tim Flannery

Frog (Litoria dux), Papua New Guinea. A large green tree-dwelling frog, Litoria dux, was discovered on the northern side of the Huon Peninsula, a 16,500 sq km area of montane and lowland forest surrounded by ocean. The frog’s name comes from the Latin dux, meaning leader, alluding to its bright coloration and impressive appearance, particularly its red iris. WWF/Stephen Richards

Orchid (Dendrobium limpidum), Papua New Guinea. The forests of New Guinea harbour a rich variety of flowering plants. Orchids are the prime example of this plant diversity, and 100 new orchid species from New Guinea were officially described between 1998 and 2008 alone. These include the magnificent pink Dendrobium limpidum from Papua New Guinea, described in 2003. WWF/Bob Bowser / B2 Photography
Dolphin (Orcaella heinsohni), Papua New Guinea. In the waters south of New Guinea, an unexpected discovery was made in 2005. The snub-fin dolphin, Orcaella heinsohni, was once thought to be a member of the Irrawaddy species of dolphin. However, researchers found that snub-fins have different coloration, skull, fin and flipper measurements. That makes them the first new dolphin species recorded for at least 30 years. A skull of the new dolphin species was collected from Daru, Papua New Guinea. Scientists believe these dolphins occur mainly in protected, shallow, coastal waters, especially adjacent to river and creek mouths. The expected range of O. heinsohni is the coastal zones of Australia and Papua New Guinea. WWF/Guido J. Parra
Wattled Smoky Honeyeater (Melipotes carolae), Papua New Guinea. In November 2005, a team led by Conservation International landed by helicopter into a lost world deep in the forests of New Guinea’s mist-shrouded Foja Mountains in Indonesia’s Papua Province. Within minutes of arriving in this isolated range, the field team discovered a new bird species, the Wattled Smoky Honeyeater (Melipotes carolae). The entire Foja forest tract covers some 9,712 sq km and is the largest road-free tropical forest in the Asia-Pacific. People from nearby villages do not enter the uplands, in part because of inaccessibility, but also because the summits are considered sacred. What also helped the honeyeater elude discovery was its silent nature. The scientists never heard or recorded the species making a sound, a characteristic that separates Melipotes carolae from other honeyeaters. WWF/Bruce Beehler
Orchid (Dendrobium crassilabium), Papua New Guinea. The forests of New Guinea harbour a rich variety of flowering plants. Orchids are the prime example of this plant diversity, and 100 new orchid species from New Guinea were officially described between 1998 and 2008 alone, including Dendrobium crassilabium. WWF/AndrC Schuiteman
Butterfly (Delias durai), Papua New Guinea. The 580 new invertebrate species described between 1998 and 2008 have displayed a large variety of types. They include four Delias butterfly species from the Foja Mountains in Papua in Indonesia. These add to the already impressive list of butterflies and moths, topped by the largest butterfly in the world, the giant Queen Alexandra Birdwing, which has a wingspan of up to 30cm, and the Atlas moth, the world’s largest moth. WWF/Henk van Mastrigt
Cadetia kutubu orchid, Papua New Guinea. Expeditions by WWF scientists, between 1998 and 2006, have also added significantly to the known orchid diversity found on the island of New Guinea. The WWF teams collected some 300 species of orchids in Papua New Guinea’s Kikori region. Eight of these were found to be new to science. They included Cadetia Kutubu, with a fleshy flower. WWF/Wayne Harris
Snail (Paryphantopsis misimensis), Papua New Guinea. The 580 new invertebrate species described between 1998 and 2008 have displayed a large variety of types. Nine new species of snails have been discovered, in the Louisiade Archipelago and the Owen Stanley Ranges in Papua New Guinea, including Paryphantopsis misimensis, an extraordinary brilliant bright yellow coloured snail found in 2006 in the forests of the Louisiade Archipelago. WWF/Fred Kraus
Giant Bent-Toed Gecko (Cyrtodactylus irianjayaensis), Papua New Guinea. Some 43 new reptile species were discovered on New Guinea between 1998-2008: this includes 5 snakes, 37 new lizard species and a soft-shelled turtle. New lizards found in the decade 1998 to 2008 include 17 species of skinks, 12 geckos, 5 forest dragons and 3 monitor lizards. The Giant Bent-Toed Gecko (Cyrtodactylus irianjayaensis) was discovered by scientists in Indonesian New Guinea in 2001. WWF/Paul Ritchie