A gecko named Jackie Chan in the Western Ghats

A new revision of Cnemaspis geckos (day gecko) in the Western Ghats has described 12 new species, including ones named, among others, after Jackie Chan and dragons from Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. Of the 12 species, 10 were found in southern Western Ghats.

The paper, ‘Diversifying on the Ark: multiple new endemic lineages of dwarf geckos from the Western Ghats provide insights into the systematics and biogeography of South Asian Cnemaspis (Reptilia: Squamata)’, authored by Saunak Pal, from the Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai, Princia D’Souza and Kartik Shanker from the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (IISc.), Bengaluru; and Zeeshan A. Mirza from the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bengaluru, was published in Zoological Research recently.

“Thegekkonid genus Cnemaspis Strauch is polyphyletic, with three distantly related and geographically isolated clades from Africa, South Asia (SA) and Southeast Asia. At present, there are 85 known species within SA, although the number continues to increase rapidly with focused surveys and rigorous taxonomic work,” the paper says, adding however that most studies lack sufficient sampling in the Western Ghats (WG), where the genus has its greatest diversity.

Prof. Shanker from Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc., told The Hindu that historically, species have been described on the basis of morphology for centuries. “However, in the last couple of decades, genetic data has shown that morphology might not tell the whole story i.e., some species might be deeply genetically separated without looking any different from each other. Hence, today we try and use a combination of genetic data, geographical separation and morphological distinctiveness to determine whether something is a new species.”

How did they get such eye catching names? “Typically, species are named for a morphological character, a geographical location or after someone well known in the field (such as Cnemaspis wallaceii, after Alfred Russel Wallace). However, sometimes its also fun to name them after cultural or musical icons. Saunak Pal, who worked on this project over the last decade, decided to name a species after one of his movie idols, Jackie Chan (Cnemaspis jackeii) for its tendency to move rapidly; he also named Cnemaspis balerion and Cnemaspis smaug after the dragons in Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings,” he said.

But in the paper, the researchers have pointed out that despite being one of the world’s “hottest biodiversity hotspots”, the Western Ghats have undergone substantial habitat loss and degradation due to changes in land-use patterns, and it has been suggested that significant parts of it will be urbanised by 2030 due to population expansion and development.

“Our work broadly shows that if you take a systematic approach to sampling, taking into account the different geographical regions and environments, you can uncover much of the hidden diversity in groups as we have done here for Cnemaspis geckos. While this has been done for groups such as frogs, lizards, birds and mammals, there are many others (including many fish and most invertebrates) that have not received the same attention,” said Prof. Shanker, adding that this means that we do not know the extent of diversity of these groups or their distributions, which is essential for making conservation plans.

What measures does this call for? On the one hand, development has to be done in a planned manner to minimise impact on the environment, especially in areas of high diversity and endemism, while on the other, it is absolutely critical to involve local people and communities, he said. “Conservation cannot come at a cost to people, especially already marginalised communities. A conservation approach that provides benefits to local stakeholders and at the same emphasizes the cultural and biological heritage that these habitats and fauna has the best chance of succeeding in the long run,” Prof. Shanker added.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 12:37:40 AM |

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