Discovery of two new species of tarsiers in Indonesia
Tarsier © Myron Shekelle
Conservation International scientists and collaborators in the USA, Indonesia and Australia have announced the discovery of two new species of tarsier.
Tarsiers – small nocturnal primates – are believed to have been the inspiration behind the Star Wars character Yoda.
Tarsiers have the largest eyes relative to body size of any mammal on earth, each typically larger than their brain. Similar to owls, tarsiers can rotate their necks a full 180 degrees in either direction. Their unique anatomy allows them to be vertical clingers and leapers – they can jump 40 times their body length in a single leap.
They are some of the oldest primates on the planet, dating back about 60 million years.
The two new species were found in Sulawesi – one of Indonesia's main islands – and have been documented in the journal Primate Conservation.
One of the two new species – Tarsius supriatnai – has been named after Dr. Jatna Supriatna, a primatologist and biodiversity specialist who led Conservation International's work in Indonesia for 15 years.
The second – Tarsius spectrumgurskyae – is named after Dr. Sharon Gursky, professor at Texas A&M University, a close colleague of Dr. Supriatna and an expert on tarsiers. She has dedicated more than 20 years of her academic career to studying them.
The discovery of these species is critical to conservation efforts in a region grappling with the effects of deforestation and climate change.
Sulawesi is home to species found nowhere else on earth. This discovery is key to conserving the habitats critical to these species and many more.
With these two new tarsiers, the total number of primates in Indonesia rises to 80 and the number of recognized tarsier species from Sulawesi and nearby islands rises to 11.
"These two new species of tarsier from Sulawesi are the 80th and 81st primate species new to science described since the turn of the century. This represents about 16 per cent of all primate species known, and is indicative of how little we know of our planet's unique and wonderful biodiversity," said Russ Mittermeier, founder of Conservation International and co-author of the publication.
"If we haven't even gotten a handle on the diversity our closest living relatives – which by comparison are relatively well-studied – imagine how much we still have to learn about the rest of life on Earth."
The authors of the study include Conservation International's Executive Vice Chair, Dr. Russell Mittermeier; Dr. Ibnu Maryanto, a senior scientist at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences; Professor Colin Groves, of Australian National University and world leader in primate taxonomy; and Dr. Myron Shekelle, from Western Washington University and Manado State University, who has been studying the evolution of tarsiers for over two decades.