Fourteen New Shrew Species Discovered in Indonesia

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An international team of scientists has examined 1,368 specimens of shrews from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and found clear, mostly consistent evidence for the existence of 21 species on the island, only seven of which were previously recognized.

Crocidura pallida, one of the 14 new species discovered by Esselstyn et al. Image credit: Kevin Rowe.

Shrews are a diverse group of mammals — 461 species have been identified so far — and they have a nearly global distribution.

These small insectivorous animals are closer relatives to hedgehogs and moles than to any other mammals.

“It’s an exciting discovery, but was frustrating at times,” said Dr. Jake Esselstyn, a mammalogist in the Museum of Natural Science and the Department of Biological Sciences at Louisiana State University.

“Usually, we discover one new species at a time, and there is a big thrill that comes from it.”

“But in this case, it was overwhelming because for the first several years, we couldn’t figure out how many species there were.”

Dr. Esselstyn and colleagues examined an extensive collection of genetic and morphological data from new specimens of the shrew genus Crocidura they collected between 2010 and 2018, combined with old specimens collected in 1916.

In total, they examined 1,368 specimens, and they recognized 21 species on Sulawesi, including the 14 new species.

The known diversity of shrews on Sulawesi is now three times more than is known from any other island.

“Taxonomy serves as the foundation of so much biological research and conservation effort,” Dr. Esselstyn said.

“When we don’t know how many species there are or where they live, our capacity to understand and preserve life is severely limited. It’s essential that we document and name that diversity.”

“If we can make discoveries of this many new species in relatively well-known groups like mammals, imagine what the undocumented diversity is like in less conspicuous organisms.”

The team’s paper was published in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.

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Jacob A. Esselstyn et al. 2021. Fourteen New, Endemic Species of Shrew (Genus Crocidura) from Sulawesi Reveal a Spectacular Island Radiation. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 454 (1): 1-108; doi: 10.1206/0003-0090.454.1.1

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