A THOMASIAN biologist has discovered another beauty in the country’s rich biodiversity.

Mae Lowe Diesmos, a biology professor at the College of Science, together with her team, uncovered three new species of the genus Brachymeles, a type of lizard also known as skink, in the forests of Camiguin Sur, Samar, and South Cotabato.

In the paper “Phylogeny-Based Species Delimitation in Philippine Slender Skinks (Reptilia: Squamata: Scincidae) III: Taxonomic Revision of the Brachymeles gracilis Complex, with Descriptions of Three New Species,” authors Mae, her husband Arvin from the Zoology Division of the Philippine National Museum, and foreign herpetologists Cameron Siler, Robin Jones, and Rafe Brown of the University of Kansas, named the new lizard species as Brachymeles vulcani, Brachymeles samad, and Brachymeles tiboliorum which are all proven to be exclusively found in the country.

Before the discovery, there were already 31 species belonging to the said genus, whereas 29 are said to be endemic, or species of animals or plants only found in a particular geographic region, in the Philippines.

The research also summarizes the changes in the taxonomic information of a specific species group of Brachymeles, which provides comprehensive descriptions of the distinct physical features of these organisms.

Mae, who is also a researcher from the Research Center for the Natural and Applied Sciences, said skinks have diverse physical features—one of the most noticeable is the variation in the number of digits, which are the fingers and the toes.

“Some [skinks] have five digits [per limb], others have three to one while some have totally lost their digits,” she said.

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Meanwhile, Arvin noted that molecular data were used in order to support the morphological description provided by their team, as well as the claim that the lizards discovered are not similar with other Brachymeles species previously described.

“Many scientific researches today in taxonomy and systematics utilize traditional morphological data with novel techniques like DNA sequencing,” he said. “Scientists make use of both techniques to see if the results complement each other and these [methods] provide solid support to our taxonomic descriptions.”

Natural habitat

Among the new species found, B. samad are seen particularly in the Eastern Visayas, while B. vulcani and B. tiboliorum can be located from Camiguin Sur and South Cotabato, respectively.

“The skinks of genus Brachymeles are typically found in forested areas, although some species are found in human environments like agricultural plantations, so long as those habitats are close to forests,” Mae said.

The study also noted that the International Union for Conservation of Nature criteria for the conservation status of animals classified B. vulcani as vulnerable and may likely become endangered if their survival becomes threatened due to destruction of natural habitats and decline of species reproduction.

More fortunate than the first species, B. samad, is classified as least concern due to “broad geographic distribution” and abundance in its localities, while B. tiboliorum is classified as “data deficient” because of lack in adult specimens sampled in the area.

The study was published in the 26th volume of Herpetological Monographs, a scientific journal focusing on reptile and amphibian biology, last December 2012.

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