New Small Carnivore in Madagascar

ScienceDaily (Oct. 11, 2010) — A new species of small carnivore, known as Durrell’s vontsira (Salanoia durrelli) has been identified by researchers from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Natural History Museum, London, Nature Heritage, Jersey, and Conservation International (CI). The small, cat-sized, speckled brown carnivore from the marshes of the Lac Alaotra wetlands in central eastern Madagascar weighs just over half a kilogramme and belongs to a family of carnivores only known from Madagascar. It is likely to be one of the most threatened carnivores in the world.

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  • vladimir dinets

    Apparently, it doesn’t qualify even for a decent subspecies (or, as some people prefer to say, a “PSC species”).

  • vladimir dinets

    Molecular analysis showed that the genetic distance between the Alaotra mongoose and the Brown-tailed mongoose is close to zero (less than that observed within some other euplerid taxa uncontroversially regarded as monotypic species). The authors themselves admit that if they were relying on genetic data alone, separate species status would not be awarded to the new animal. The only basis for this description is slight difference in pelage color and (almost certainly very recent) geographical isolation. This is just another bogus description of the kind so popular nowadays, like all those owl splits based entirely on dialect variations. When PSC was first proposed, it was immediately obvious that it will lead to a splitting spree. It is going to take decades of unbiased re-evaluation to undo the damage to systematics.

    • Morgan Churchill

      I will have to ILL the original paper tomorrow (due to a recent change in the journal publishers, it doesn’t seem to be available to me at school. Although the publishing of the first carnivore in 20 years in a less high profile journal such as this probably lends credence to your evaluation.

      I am actually a bigger proponent of the Evolutionary Species Concept than the BSC for a variety or reasons, but at the end of the day all species criteria are entirely subjective and more philosophical than scientific.

      • vladimir dinets

        Any species criteria has to be a criteria. PSC is not a criteria, because it allows splitting virtually any population as a species. It’s a non-falsifiable approach. A good species criteria would be one that makes a new species very difficult to split or describe, because there is an enormous pro-splitting bias (especially in vertebrate zoology), and lots of personal incentives for describing new species, as opposed to proving splits and descriptions unjustified.

  • Morgan Churchill

    And reproductive isolation has the exact same problem. To what extent can reproduction occur before a given population is considered one or two species? And how do you determine whether or two or more taxa are interbreeding at all? Easy to test in birds, difficult if you are dealing with cryptic creatures such as salamanders, small rodents, etc,

    As for PSC, you would want to rule out clinal variation or variation in characters prone to individual variation. Large sample sizes with rigorous morphometric or genetic techniques applied would solve this.

  • vladimir dinets

    Did I say that reproductive isolation should be the only criteria?

    If a character is coded by one gene (for example), there might be no clinal variation. To exclude individual variation completely, you’d have to sample the entire population, and even that is meaningless. Whatever you do, PSC is just a new name for subspecies.

    What I am so firmly opposed to is splitting or describing any new species without supporting molecular data, and/or splits/descriptions based on just 1-2 characters. I think it’s time such papers weren’t even considered for publication. Strangely, virtually PSC species descriptions fall into those categories.

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