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'Lost World' revisited

Tim Laman / National Geographic
Click for slideshow: Get a good look at the long-nosed tree frog and other new species from Indonesian New Guinea's Foja Mountains.

Biologists returned to an exotic "Lost World" in Indonesian New Guinea - and found a fresh assortment of new species, including the kangaroo's smallest cousin and a frog with a Pinocchio nose.

Conservationists are so heartened by all the creatures they're finding in the world's wild places that they're aiming to double or triple the pace of discovery.

"While animals and plants are being wiped out across the globe, at a pace never seen in millions of years, the discovery of these absolutely incredible forms of life is much-needed positive news," Bruce Beehler, a senior research scientist at Conservation International, said in today's announcement of the species discoveries. "Places like these represent a healthy future for all of us and show that it is not too late to stop the current species extinction crisis."

If you think "crisis" is too strong a word, take a look at recent developments:

  • In March, a top U.N. official said that tigers were on "the verge of extinction" in the wild, due in large part to poaching and illegal trade in tiger products.
  • A week ago, another U.N. report declared that the world's nations were experiencing a "collective failure" in their efforts to preserve biodiversity. For example, nearly a quarter of all plant species are endangered.
  • A few days ago, scientists published a report predicting that 20 percent of the world's lizard species would go extinct by 2080 if temperatures continued to rise at current rates.
  • The potential for massive environmental damage caused by the Gulf of Mexico's deep-sea oil spill is just beginning to sink in ... literally.

All this bad news comes in the midst of the International Year of Biodiversity - which makes the latest bit of good news from New Guinea particularly welcome.

The Foja Mountains of Indonesian New Guinea encompass an area of more than 1,150 square miles (300,000 hectares) of unroaded, undeveloped, undisturbed rainforest. Back in 2006, Conservation International, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences and other groups hailed the region as a "Lost World" with dozens of species that were new to science. (Click through this slideshow to see a sampler.)

Many of those researchers, including Beehler, returned in late 2008 for the latest survey of the region. This time, the "rapid assessment" survey received an extra boost from the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian Institution. CI says the modern-day explorers battled torrential rain storms and flash floods as they tracked species from the Foja's foothills to the mountain range's 7,200-foot (2,200-meter) heights.

National Geographic is featuring the fruits of the expedition in its June issue. We've put together a slideshow of our own that shows off some of National Geographic's pictures, including shots of these amazing new types of animals:

  • "The Pinocchio of Frogs," a tree frog with a spiky nose that points upward when the male is calling but deflates and points downward when he's less active.
  • A dwarf wallaby that represents the smallest documented member of the kangaroo family.
  • Two imperial pigeons with reddish, white and gray feathers - rare birds that went unnoticed during past surveys but showed up repeatedly during the latest expedition.

Conservationists see areas such as the Foja Mountains as more than mere menageries. These "lost worlds" serve as reservoirs of biodiversity, carbon sinks that moderate global climate, potential sources of new medicines and materials, and living space for the region's forest-dwelling inhabitants. The region is already a national wildlife sanctuary, but Conservation International hopes that the additional documentation of the region's biodiversity will encourage the Indonesian government to beef up long-term measures to protect it.

Conservation International itself has been encouraged by its string of "rapid assessment" successes - so much so that it's embarking on a project to double or triple the number of species discoveries in "lost worlds" over the next few years.

"Many of the still-undescribed species may be beneficial to people's health, food and fresh-water security, and therefore important for conservation," the group says.

Feast your eyes on more new species:

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