Thursday, May 19, 2005

New Monkey Species

Update: Majikthise points out that the headline of this piece is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Update: Not really wrong. My mistake. These monkeys are the first to be found in Africa in 20 years. Other reports said it was the first new monkey species found anywhere in 20 years, which is wrong wrong wrong. Don't update posts late at night.

New Monkey Species is First in Africa for 20 Years:
The highland mangabey could elude scientists for only so long.

This secretive monkey was recently found in the trees of Tanzania, becoming the first new species of monkey discovered in Africa in over 20 years. The find was announced today.

Its body is about three feet long and covered with shaggy brown hair, except for an off-white belly. The long coat comes in handy since the Highland mangabey lives at high elevations where the temperatures frequently drop below freezing.

Highland mangabeys (Lophocebus kipunji) have two distinguishing characteristics. They sport a mullet-like hair style – a long crest of hair on its forehead and long hair on the back and sides of its face. They also have an unusual call, described as a "honk-bark" by the discoverers.

Surprised scientists

The discovery itself is unique since the monkey was actually found by two different groups, each believing they were the first to spot the primate.

First was Tim Davenport’s team of biologists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, who first saw the monkey hiding on the sides of Mt. Rungwe, a 10,000 foot volcano in Kitulo National Park.

"This discovery proves that there is still so much to learn about the more remote and less well-known areas of Tanzania, and Africa as a whole," said Davenport, director of the WCS Southern Highlands Conservation Program.

The second spotting occurred more than 230 miles away and a few months later in the Ndundulu Forest Reserve in the Unzungwa Mountains. Carolyn Ehardt’s group from the University of Georgia was studying another species of mangabey monkey when they came across the new species.

Last October, the two groups became aware that they had made the same discovery, and joined forces to publish their findings in the journal Science, in the May 20 issue.
This is just good stuff. A new family of rodents, a new mangabey, what's next? This article is right that finding two populations simultaneously is fascinating.

This is a Golden Age for biology. The combination of DNA technology, Geographic Information Systems, better phylogenetic techniques, and better scientific methods, biology from the molecular level to the organismal level and on up to the biosphere are easier to explore, understand, and study rigorously. That's why it's so annoying that people get distracted by the evolution arguments. Evolution is what ties all of biology together.

It's the Grand Unified Theory of biology. We should be celebrating it, but we treat it like some sketchy, ill-fitting piece of speculation.