© CI/Photo by Stephen Richards
In April 2009, a team of scientists from CI and the Papua New Guinea Institute of Biological Research joined forces
with local landowners to survey the biodiversity of East New Britain's rugged, rainforest-covered Nakanai Mountains.
These mountains contain some of the deepest and most spectacular cave systems in the world and have been nominated for World Heritage Site status. However, the region’s biological riches remain poorly documented. The 2009 RAP survey aimed to collect information on the diversity and status of local fauna, and to use these data to help support the World Heritage nomination.
The team spent one month in the field at three sites spanning 200-1600 meters (656-5,250 feet) in elevation. At each site, scientists worked closely with local community members to learn about their indigenous knowledge of the local fauna. They also gathered data about the local wildlife using modern field survey techniques. Techniques used in the field included harp trapping for bats, mist-netting for bats and birds, hand-netting of insects by day and audio-transects to detect frog and katydid calls at night.
Results of the survey are still being finalized, but some spectacular results were obtained. More than 100 species of spiders were documented, of which at least 50 appear to be undescribed. The survey of katydids (family Tettigonioidae) yielded 36 species, with most (20 species) found at the mid-elevation site at 850-900 meters (2,788-2,953 feet). The lowland site (200 meters, or 656 feet) had 17 species, and the high elevation site at 1550-1670 meters (5085-5479 feet) had only eight species. At least four katydids are new to science, including one beautiful species that appears to represent a new genus.
Results of the vertebrate surveys proved to be particularly interesting. A total of at least 15 reptiles and 21 frogs were found, with at least four species of frogs, one of which may represent a new genus, being new to science. It appears that three species of mammals from the high elevation site are also undescribed, including two rats and a beautiful white-tailed mouse that represents a previously unknown genus. The survey also documented more than 80 bird species, including a number of endemic New Britain birds. The most significant of these was a very rare sighting of the slatey-backed goshawk (Accipiter luteoschistaceus), an uncommon species endemic to New Britain and nearby Umboi Island.
The RAP team traveled back to PNG in September 2009, and discovered even more species new to science, bringing the total for these two expeditions to over 200 species potentially new to science.