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New species of crocodile newt discovered in Vietnam

by News Staff
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A recent publication in the journal ZooKeys unveils an intriguing addition to the scientific community—the discovery of a new species of crocodile newt originating from the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

This remarkable find holds immense significance, as it boasts vibrant and captivating colors, distinguishing it as one of the most visually striking species within the Tylototriton genus. Equally noteworthy is the fact that this is the first recorded instance of a crocodile newt species hailing from the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Found at elevations ranging from 1,800 to 2,300 meters above sea level, this discovery sets a new record for the genus within the country, surpassing the previously documented distribution ranges of 250 meters to 1,740 meters.

Furthermore, this discovery, made possible by a collaborative effort between Vietnamese and German researchers, also marks the southernmost location known to host this genus. The habitat of this newfound species is located approximately 370 kilometers away from the nearest Tylototriton population, thus providing invaluable insights into the realms of evolution and zoogeography.

The species has been named “ngoclinhensis” in reference to its type locality, Ngoc Linh Mountain. This crocodile newt is exclusively found in the evergreen montane forests of the Ngoc Linh Nature Reserve, situated in Kon Tum Province within the Central Highlands of Vietnam. This discovery brings the total count of salamander taxa described from Vietnam to eight, while also contributing to the recognition of the thirty-ninth officially acknowledged Tylototriton species.

Crocodile newts, scientifically classified under the genus Tylototriton, encompass nearly 40 species found in montane forest areas throughout the Asian monsoon climate zone. Remarkably, 15 of these species have been discovered within the past five years alone, and there are still unidentified taxa containing cryptic species that pose challenges for morphological differentiation.

The Ngoc Linh Nature Reserve, established in 1986, holds considerable importance as a key biodiversity area, housing rare species such as the endangered Golden-winged Laughingthrush and the Truong Son Muntjac. The Ngoc Linh Crocodile Newt is certain to join the ranks of flagship species within this protected area and its surroundings, according to the researchers.

Ngoc Linh has emerged as a hotbed of amphibian diversity, harboring numerous species that are endemic to the region. A previous study highlighted the remarkable rate of endemism among amphibians in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

Newly described crocodile newt species Tylototriton ngoclinhensis. Credit: Prof. Dr. Tao Thien Nguyen, CC-BY 4.0

“The Central Highlands of Vietnam hold the record for the highest amphibian species diversity in the country, with a staggering 130 species, including 26 micro-endemic species unique to the region,” explained Prof. Dr. Truong Quang Nguyen, vice director of the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources (IEBR) in Hanoi.

This recent discovery serves as yet another remarkable example, highlighting the significant role that the Central Highlands play in the diversification and evolution of Vietnamese amphibians, stated co-author Dr. Cuong The Pham from IEBR.

Belonging to the group of range-restricted micro-endemic species, the Ngoc Linh Crocodile Newt is particularly vulnerable to the threat of extinction due to its limited population size. Unfortunately, its strikingly colorful appearance also makes it highly desirable to illegal collectors, exacerbating the risks it faces.

“Therefore, this discovery holds considerable conservation significance,” emphasized Prof. Dr. Tao Thien Nguyen from the Institute of Genome Research in Hanoi.

The researchers advocate for the provisional listing of the species as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. It is important to note that all species within the Tylototriton genus are already listed in the Appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as well as in Vietnam’s Governmental Decree No. 84/2021/ND-CP. Consequently, the new species automatically benefits from the protection provided by these regulations.

Conservation activities on-site are now a priority. Simultaneously, the team is actively developing breeding conservation measures in line with the One Plan Approach to Conservation, devised by the IUCN’s Conservation Planning Specialist Group. This approach combines in-situ and ex-situ efforts, leveraging various areas of expertise to ensure the optimal protection of a species.

“This approach has already been successfully implemented for another recently discovered micro-endemic crocodile newt species from Vietnam, Tylototriton vietnamensis. Over 350 individuals of this species have been successfully bred at the Cologne Zoo in Germany and the Melinh Station for Biodiversity in Vietnam. It serves as a promising example of the IUCN’s Reverse the Red campaign and the concept of conservation zoos,” shared Prof. Dr. Thomas Ziegler, a member of the Vietnam conservation team and coordinator from Cologne Zoo, Germany.

Source: Pensoft Publishers

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