CEB Committe on Evolutionary Biology

Mountains Are Home to More Species Than Scientists Ever Imagined

A cloud rat, which is native to the Phillipines.

The Atlantic recently featured Lawrence Heaney's work surveying the biodiversity of the higher mountain elevations of Luzon. An excerpt of this article is below. The full article can be found here.

The questions from the village council on one of the forested mountains of Luzon went like this: What are you going to do with the animals you catch? How many people from the village will you hire and how much will you pay them? How deep will you dig your latrines?

Lawrence Heaney and his colleagues answered the questions with as much detail as possible. They explained that they wouldn’t be selling the mice and rats they caught, but preserving them for future study. They wanted to know more about the unique mammals of the tropical island nation—the cloud rats and earthworm mice that had intrigued Western biologists for more than a century. (In 1898, the mammalogist Oldfield Thomas described new species discovered on the island as “a proportion of novelty that has perhaps never been equaled in the history of mammal collecting.”) Finally, the council gave their permission for the American and Filipino scientists to trek through the mountains in search of new life forms.

This was 2000, when Luzon—the largest island of the Philippines and home to the nation’s capital, Manila—was known to be the home of 28 native non-flying mammal species. But no one had ever done surveys of the island’s higher mountain elevations. On field surveys over the next 12 years, Heaney and his team doubled the native-species number, discovering 28 new creatures on Luzon’s peaks. Their discoveries have earned an island the size of Indiana the title “most diverse place on earth.”

Read more here.