A team of herpetologists, led by Dr. Eli Greenbaum, associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso, has discovered three new species of chameleons.
The reptile trio — historically thought to be a single species, the Ituri chameleon (Kinyongia adolfifriderici) — was found in different parts of the Albertine Rift, a center for vertebrate endemism in Central Africa.
Two of the new species, the Rugege highlands forest chameleon (Kinyongia rugegensis) and the Itombwe forest chameleon (Kinyongia itombwensis), are named after the mountain ranges in which they’re found.
The third species, the Tolley’s forest chameleon (Kinyongia tolleyae), is named after Krystal Tolley, principal scientist at the South African National Biodiversity Institute in Cape Town, South Africa.
“We are hopeful that the formal descriptions of these three endemic chameleon species will be used to increase conservation awareness and galvanize transboundary protection efforts across these irreplaceable regions,” said team member Daniel Hughes, doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at El Paso.
The specimens were collected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 2009 and 2014.
“We had this really nice dataset with samples collected all throughout the range of a particular species which meant we could really figure out its true diversity,” Hughes said.
“We took to the next step and ultimately described three new species.”
The authors were able to describe the three new chameleon species after carefully analyzing geographical, morphological, and DNA data.
“The Albertine Rift is not only geologically unique, it also harbors more endemic vertebrate species than any other area of similar size on continental Africa,” Hughes said.
“In these remote regions that are sometimes thousands of miles away from many people, it can be hard to relate.”
“So, hopefully with our work we can start to bridge that gap to broaden our awareness that everyone’s actions have implications for these species from threatened regions they may never see.”
“If conservation efforts in the various countries of the Albertine Rift cannot rapidly improve, many rare and potentially other new species will be lost.”
The new species are described in a paper published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.
Daniel F. Hughes et al. Integrative taxonomy of the Central African forest chameleon, Kinyongia adolfifriderici (Sauria: Chamaeleonidae), reveals underestimated species diversity in the Albertine Rift. Zool J Linn Soc, published online May 20, 2017; doi: 10.1093/zoolinnean/zlx005