New Guinea makes up about 0.5 percent of Earth’s landmass, but it is estimated to be home to an outsized 7 percent of our planet’s biodiversity.
The incredible variety of life hosted by the island’s largely undisturbed tropical rain forest ecosystems made the South Pacific island a fitting destination for the Museum’s 2015 Explore21 Expedition, part of the larger initiative that supports fieldwork focused on discovering new species, developing new collection methods, preserving biodiversity, and uncovering new knowledge about the natural world.
In September 2014, a team of four vertebrate specialists from the Museum—ornithologists Brett Benz and Paul Sweet, mammalogist Neil Duncan, and herpetologist Christopher Raxworthy—began a seven-week expedition in the central highlands of Papua New Guinea, the nation that governs the eastern half of the island.
Accompanied by three local field biologists, Museum researchers conducted intensive surveys of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians at five sites at elevations ranging from 550 meters to 2450 meters to learn more about the evolutionary processes and environmental factors that shaped this island’s unique fauna.
Researchers found a bounty of wildlife in this previously unsurveyed region. While study of the specimens is ongoing, the team has already identified more than 20 species that are potentially new to science, including reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Genomic tissue samples gathered on the expedition will add about 180 new samples to the Museum’s Ambrose Monell Cryo Collection. Other collections from this fieldwork include parasite samples collected from reptiles, birds, and mammals under the direction of Curator Susan Perkins, as well as extensive behavioral data ranging from amphibian audio recordings to ultra high-definition recordings of avian courtship displays that are being archived in the Macaulay Library at Cornell University.
The team also worked with community leaders in Malaumanda, the village where the expedition team had its base camp, to record the local Nete language names of species collected during this survey, which will allow for survey findings to be shared with local landowners and aid in future conservation efforts.
The Museum’s Explore21 Initiative is generously supported by the leadership contributions of Katheryn P. and Thomas L. Kempner, Jr., Linda R. and William E. Macaulay.