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Articles / Flora and Fauna

By Ed Davies

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Dozens of new species of animals and plants including a catfish with protruding teeth and a tree frog with striking bright green eyes have been found in the past year in the forests of Borneo, a WWF report said on Tuesday.

The discoveries include 30 unique fish species, two tree frog species, 16 ginger species, three tree species and one large-leafed plant species, the conservation group said.

"These discoveries reaffirm Borneo's position as one of the most important centers of biodiversity in the world," said Stuart Chapman, WWF International Coordinator of the Heart of Borneo Program.

"The more we look the more we find," he added.

Scientists had found a miniature fish - the world's second smallest vertebrate, measuring less than 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) in length and living in the acidic blackwater peat swamps of the island, the report said.

Discoveries also included six Siamese fighting fish, including one with an iridescent blue-green marking, and a catfish with protruding teeth and an adhesive belly which allows it to stick to rocks.

In terms of plants, WWF said the ginger discoveries more than doubled the entire number of the Etlingera species, while three new tree species of the genus Beilschmiedia were found.

A number of the species were found in the "Heart of Borneo", a 220,000 sq. km (85,000 sq. mile) highland area covered with equatorial rainforest in the center of the island, it said.

The report said this habitat was being threatened by the clearing of forests for rubber, palm oil and paper pulp production.

Since 1996, deforestation across Indonesia had increased to an average of 2 million hectares (5 million acres) per year and today only half of Borneo's original forest cover remained, WWF said.

"The remote and inaccessible forests in the Heart of Borneo are one of the world's final frontiers for science and many new species continue to be discovered here," added Chapman.

He said the highland forests were also key because they were the source of most of the island's major rivers, as well as acting as a natural barrier against forest fires.

The forest fires that hit parts of Borneo and Indonesia's Sumatra island during this year's dry season were the worst in a decade.

The conservation group said that it hoped that Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia, which jointly administer Borneo, would follow through on a commitment to conserve the upland area.

Source: Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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