Wednesday, September 17, 2008

100+ species of sharks and rays named

That's not a typo. An exhaustive review using the latest DNA analysis has resulted in the identification of over 100 new species. Some are "new new:" most are identifications of species improperly lumped together or otherwise reclassified. Most were known to exist by 1994, but are only now getting their taxonomic due. One example is the Northern River Shark, a freshwater shark about 2m long from Australia. There are only 3-6 known species (not counting the new one) of river sharks in the world.
COMMENT: This is an important demonstration of the power of DNA analysis, even if it's still true that there is no universally accepted definition of how much variance in DNA is needed to separate full species. This new information is not only of scientific interest. It's vital to conservationists to know how many species are out there and where they are. Finally, this is a spectacular reminder of how much we still have to learn about the animal kingdom.

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