Newly discovered river crabs could be under threat

Insulamon palawanense crab
Proposed mining projects could pose a threat to colourful river crabs on the Philippine island of Palawan. Scientists from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Germany and De La Salle University in the Philippines, discovered four new species of Insulamon freshwater crab during their Aqua Palawana research programme. The team warns that if they are allowed to proceed, planned mining projects could put the creatures at risk.

"In the Aqua Palawana research programme I am head of, we have been investigating the biodiversity of Palawan's inland waters for over 10 years," said Dr Hendrik Freitag from the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden. "This also included taking a closer look at the Insulamon crabs and we discovered four new species in the process."

The island of Palawan is located between the Sundaic and Philippine regions, and combines two of the world's most important biodiversity hotspots. Around 50 per cent of the species living on Palawan are defined as endemic, as they are exclusively native to the island.

The reddish violet species of the Insulamon crab genus are the only varieties endemic to only one of a few islands. The sea prevents the creatures from spreading, as they skip the larval stage in seawater and depend on freshwater at every stage of their development. Separation from its relatives has led to the crab developing its own distinct species and genera over tens of thousands of years.

"We have proved that the only previously known type of Insulamon is restricted to the Calamian group of islands to the north of Palawan," said Dr Freitag. "The four newly discovered species live exclusively on the actual island of Palawan and make it a unique habitat."

However, the biodiversity of Palawan might be threatened by several planned mining projects, and Dr Freitag, whose research was published in the journal Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, is concerned that the developments could endanger the survival of the crabs.

"The smaller the remaining natural habitat, the greater [the] risk to endemic fauna and flora," explained Dr Freitag. "Even minor environmental changes can lead to extinctions. It is all the more important to do research in this region and show that the biodiversity of these islands is unique and worth protecting.

"That's why our next step is to investigate Palawan's species-rich freshwater prawns," he added.

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