Small Mammals of Mainland Southeast Asia

The CBC has been engaged in research in Mainland Southeast Asia since 1997. Part of our integrated research, conservation, and capacity building efforts in the region incorporated a strong focus on small mammals. This collection of diverse species included moles, shrews, bats, squirrels, mice, rats, pikas, and rabbits; groups that are among the region's (and the world's) most diverse yet least studied mammalian groups.

An illustration of a striped rabit from the book Vietnam Vietnam: A Natural History.
Striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi), an illustration from the book Vietnam: A Natural History. © Joyce Powzyk

Our work focused on the adjacent countries of Vietnam and Lao PDR (Laos), which lie in the heart of the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot, an enormous and geographically complex area south of China recognized for its globally significant levels of biodiversity. Vietnam and Laos are home to the southern and eastern-most extensions of the Himalayas as well as a number of unique habitats, including isolated mountain ranges (such as the Annamites), complexes of limestone (karst) outcroppings, and enormous river systems (the Red and Mekong Rivers) with their associated deltas.

Small Mammals Survey

This past project focused on addressing knowledge gaps about the regional diversity and natural history of mainland Southeast Asia's small mammals in the face of severe threats from human-induced pressures such as land use change, deforestation, and hunting and trading practices. In addition, small mammals have largely been left out of regional conservation decision-making processes in favor of better-known plants and animals.

Beginning in 1998, researchers from the CBC, in collaboration with scientists and conservation workers from Asia, Europe, and North America, surveyed five sites in Vietnam and Laos for small mammals. This work documented both previously described species and species recorded for the first time in Vietnam. New descriptions included two new species of shrew and both new genera and species descriptions for two rats. New country records included the rarely documented Long-tailed Mole (Scaptonyx fusicauda), previously known only from central China and the Tibeto-Himalayan region. The described rats are part of a suite of at the time recently described small mammals adapted to the harsh, rocky environments of eroded limestone hills. Although long recognized as centers of plant, invertebrate, and bat diversity, these new discoveries indicate that the isolated karst outcroppings of both Vietnam and Laos are also home to a unique community of small terrestrial mammals as well.

The CBC's small mammal surveys also contributed to conservation decision-making by assessing the health and integrity of forested ecosystems where large mammal numbers have been reduced by hunting. Finally, in addition to surveying regional species diversity, CBC researchers have contributed to organizing, documenting, and conserving older small mammal collections held in Vietnam, including the publication of a taxonomic guide to the country's rodents.

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