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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Lost & Found Worlds

Lost & Found Worlds

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Sunday, April 14, 2019/Categories: natural history, photography, sustainability, environment, adventure , Archive Pick of the Week

            Sky Island in Cape Melville NP, north Queensland (credit: Conrad Hoskin, James Cooke University)

Biogeography rules that strange things evolve on islands. Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace discovered this fact of natural selection while investigating strange plants and animals in the Galapagos and Indonesia. Their discoveries led to the unpinning, central tenant, of evolutionary biology. "Islands" can be surrounded by water, savannas, deserts, or even boulders but a defining characteristic is that organisms living there are separated by distances and an inability to disperse to surrounding landscapes. This separation allows evolution to create unique organisms that often have odd characteristics.

Amazing discoveries are still to be made on 'lost worlds' of isolated islands. Conrad Hoskin, of James Cook University in Queensland, Australia has been investigating unknown species on a mountain 'sky island' in tropical north Queensland. The animals have been isolated from any related species for millions of years. Hoskin, and colleagues from Harvard University, had to be helicoptered into the mountains of Cape Melville National Park at the northern tip of Cape York Peninsula because access was impossible otherwise. The entire mountain range consists of massive boulders the size of houses.

Cape Melville NP "Sky Island" Mountaintop Forests   (credit: photos by Conrad Hoskin, JCU)

Hoskin, a postdoctoral fellow at James Cook, identified  new species as a leaf-tailed gecko and commented: “Finding three new, obviously distinct vertebrates would be surprising enough in somewhere poorly explored like New Guinea, let alone in Australia, a country we think we've explored pretty well." He might have also commented that the gecko is perfectly camouflaged to its strange and isolated boulder strewn environment. Its skin patterning perfectly blends in with the trees and rocks of its 'island' habitat.

Leaf-tailed gecko, Saltuarius eximius  (credit: photo by Conrad Hoskin, JCU)

The field investigator continued: “The top of Cape Melville is a lost world. Finding these new species up there is the discovery of a life time - I'm still amazed and buzzing from it.”

Other discoveries remain to be uncovered in 'lost worlds' elsewhere. Darwin and Wallace would have understood Hoskin's excitement in making such findings.






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