Which are the top 10 new species of 2016?

Hominin.
Hominin.PHOTO: JOHN HAWKS, WITS UNIVERSITY

Experts pick them from about 18,000 new species named last year; millions more to be found

A hominin in the same genus as humans and a stunning ruby seadragon are among the discoveries identified by experts as the top 10 new species of 2016.

The list is compiled annually by the SUNY (State University of New York) College of Environmental Science and Forestry's (ESF) International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE). The institute's international committee of taxonomists selects the top 10 from among approximately 18,000 new species named during the previous year, said the college in a statement.

The list is made public on or around May 23 each year to recognise the birthday of Carolus Linnaeus, an 18th century Swedish botanist who is considered the father of modern taxonomy.

Established in 2008, the list calls attention to discoveries that are made even as species are going extinct faster than they are being identified.

"In the past half-century we have come to recognise that species are going extinct at an alarming rate. It is time that we accelerate species exploration, too," said Dr Quentin Wheeler, ESF president and founding director of the IISE.

"Knowledge of what species exist, where they live, and what they do will help mitigate the biodiversity crisis and archive evidence of the life on our planet that does disappear in the wild."

Scientists believe 10 million species have yet to be discovered, five times the number that are already known to science.


The best of the new species identified

SPARKLEWING

Umma gumma

LOCATION: Gabon


Sparklewing. PHOTO: JENS KIPPING

HOW IT MADE THE TOP 10: This new damselfly is just one of a staggering number of newly discovered dragonflies and damselflies from Africa. Sixty new species were reported in a single publication this year, the most for any single paper in more than a century and a surprising leap forward in knowledge for one of the better-known insect orders. Most of the new species are colourful and so distinct they are identifiable from photographs alone, emphasising that not all unknown species are small, indistinct or cryptic in appearance or habits. Given that the genus name is Umma, it was quick work to give this lovely and delicate damselfly a name that might be familiar to rock-and-roll fans: the band Pink Floyd named its 1969 double album Ummagumma (which has yet another meaning as a British slang term for sex).


FLOWERING TREE

Sirdavidia solannona

LOCATION: Gabon


Flowering Tree. PHOTO: THOMAS COUVREUR

HOW IT MADE THE TOP 10: This new tree species was "hidden" just metres from the main road in the Monts de Cristal National Park in Gabon, an area thought to have already been well explored. Its small size, less than 6m high with a diameter of 10cm, might have caused it to be overlooked. It is so different from related members of the Annonaceae family of flowering plants that it was described as a new genus. Its flowers resemble those of certain Solanum associated with the "buzz" pollination syndrome in which flowers have reflexed petals exposing the stamens and pistils. Bees, creating vibrations of the air with their wings, extract and spread pollen.


GIANT SUNDEW

Drosera magnifica

LOCATION: Brazil


Giant Sundew. PHOTO: PAULO M. GONELLA

HOW IT MADE THE TOP 10: This is believed to be the first new species of plant discovered through photographs posted on Facebook. It is also a record-setter, being the largest sundew ever seen in the New World, growing to 123cm. With nearly 200 species, the sundew genus is one of the most species-rich groups of carnivorous plants.


GIANT TORTOISE

Chelonoidis donfaustoi

LOCATION: Galapagos, Ecuador


Giant Tortoise. PHOTO: WASHINGTON TAPIA

HOW IT MADE THE TOP 10: No animal is more immediately associated with evolution or Charles Darwin than the giant tortoises of the Galapagos. Small differences that had been noticed between eastern and western populations of giant tortoises on Santa Cruz Island were assumed to be simply genetic variation within the known species, C. porteri. Researchers have found, however, that the smaller eastern population, with perhaps as few as 250 individuals, is a distinct and new species. The new species was named in honour of a park ranger known as Don Fausto who had worked for 43 years to conserve the giant tortoises of Galapagos.


TINY BEETLE

Phytotelmatrichis osopaddington

LOCATION: Peru


Tiny Beetle. PHOTO: MICHAEL DARBY

HOW IT MADE THE TOP 10: This species owes its Latin name to Paddington Bear, the lovable character who became a classic in children's literature. Like him, the new beetle hails from Peru. Researchers hope the name will draw attention to the threatened Andean spectacled bear that inspired the Paddington books.


HOMININ

Homo naledi

LOCATION: South Africa


Hominin. PHOTO: JOHN HAWKS, WITS UNIVERSITY

HOW IT MADE THE TOP 10: Fossil remains of this previously unknown species of the genus Homo represent at least 15 different individuals, the largest collection of remains of a single species of hominin ever discovered on the African continent. Similar in size and weight to a modern human, and with humanlike hands and feet, the new species has a braincase more similar in size to earlier ancestors living two million to four million years ago, as well as shoulders, pelvis and ribcage more closely resembling earlier hominins than modern humans. The exact age of the remains, once determined, will have implications for the early history of our genus.


ISOPOD

Iuiuniscus iuiuensis

LOCATION: Brazil


Isopod. PHOTO: SOUZA, FERREIRA AND SENNA

HOW IT MADE THE TOP 10: This might be the 15 minutes of fame that isopods have been waiting for. This blind, unpigmented, multilegged animal represents a new subfamily, genus and species of amphibious isopod discovered in a South American cave. It has a behaviour never seen in its family: it constructs shelters of mud.


NEW PRIMATE

Pliobates cataloniae

LOCATION: Spain


New Primate. PHOTO: MARTA PALMERO

HOW IT MADE THE TOP 10: This ape, nicknamed "Laia" by her discoverers, was a small female that lived about 11.6 million years ago in what is now Spain, climbing trees and eating fruit. She has challenged a lot of assumptions about the origins of, and relations among, living apes, gibbons and humans. It appears she was 4kg to 5kg in weight, suggesting a diminutive height of about 43cm. She lived before the lineage containing humans and great apes diverged from its sister branch, the gibbons, and she appears to be sister to the three combined. Her discovery suggests greater morphological diversity existed at that time than previously thought, and raises the possibility that early humans could have been more closely related to gibbons than the great apes. Her nickname is a popular Catalan diminutive of the name "Eulalia", the original patron saint of the city of Barcelona.


ANGLERFISH

Lasiognathus dinema

LOCATION: Gulf of Mexico


Anglerfish. PHOTO: THEODORE W. PIETSCH, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

HOW IT MADE THE TOP 10: If this fish, barely 50mm long, was angling for ugliest among the top 10 list, it might succeed. It was discovered during a Natural Resource Damage Assessment process conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Different species of anglerfish can be distinguished visually only by details of the unusual structure called the esca that is projected over their heads like a fishing pole. The esca in some anglerfish is home to symbiotic bacteria that are bioluminescent, producing light that is a rare commodity in the ocean depths, and is presumed to attract prey.


SEADRAGON

Phyllopteryx dewysea

LOCATION: Australia


PHOTO: JOSEFIN STILLER, NERIDA WILSON AND GREG ROUSE

HOW IT MADE THE TOP 10: Seadragons are related to seahorses and are a unique combination of the beautiful and bizarre. This new kind of marine fish (above, skeleton visualised using microcomputed tomography), 240mm in length, is a striking shade of ruby red with pink vertical bars and light markings on its snout. Only the third known species of seadragon, it is found in slightly deeper and more offshore waters than the related common or leafy seadragons. Aside from its spectacular appearance, it is a reminder of what we have yet to discover about marine species diversity. If ruby red dragons in shallow waters have escaped our attention, what else do we not know yet?

•Source: SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2016, with the headline 'Hominin among top 10 new species'. Print Edition | Subscribe