Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – A group of small chameleons thought to have become extinct due to deforestation have been discovered, but they survive.
The endangered Rhampholeon chapmanorum is just 5.5 centimeters long and belongs to the low-altitude rainforests of southern Malawi in southeastern Africa, according to an international study published in The Orix on Monday.
First described by herpetologist and author Colin Tilbury in 1992, Chapman’s Pygmy Chameleon is one of the rarest creatures in the world.
“Most of her skin is brown but she can change to a very beautiful blue-green color with small spots all over her body,” said Crystal Dole, research lead author and professor of research on National Biodiversity in South Africa. Report. Way of communicating with each other.
“Other chameleons may be frantic, whining, and biting, but Chapman’s pygmy chameleons are cute and beautiful.”
The study authors wrote that the risk of extinction of chameleons averaged more than 15%, with 34% of chameleon species classified as endangered and close to 18% endangered.
Most of the threatened species can only survive in a certain type of environment.
Survive through farm acquisitions
When Tilbury first described the dwarf chameleon in 1992, earlier researchers noted signs of significant deforestation in the Malawi Mountains, the authors of the current study wrote.
To protect the species from further damage, in 1998 37 pygmy chameleons were released in the Malawi Mountains, 95 km north of the town of Mykovi, Malawi.
When evaluating the Tilbury launch site between 2001 and 2012, the chameleon was still there.
Because dwarf chameleons do not tolerate deformed areas and dole did not find dwarf chameleons during a related assessment mission in 2014, they were considered extinct, and their work led the International Union for Conservation of Nature to add the chameleon to its red list of endangered species. With destruction.
Using historical (1984-1985) and recent (2019) satellite imagery from the Google Earth and another geographic information system in the Malawi Mountains, the authors of the current study estimate that approximately 80% of the Malawi mountain forests were destroyed between 1984 and 2019.
Also in 2016, on the trails of three reefs in the forest, the study authors found and recorded chameleons using incandescent lights at night.
“The first thing we found was in the transition zone at the edge of the forest, where there are some trees, but mostly maize and cassava,” Dole said.
“When we found it, we had heartburn. We didn’t know if we could see it yet, but there were a lot of them when we entered the forest, but I don’t know how long it would last.”
The researchers found seven-year-old chameleons in the first forest in the Malawi Mountains and 10 chameleons within a site more than 6 km southwest of the first place; A further 21-year-old chameleons and 11 juveniles are within the area in Mykondi.
Dwarf chameleons still face threats
After clipping 2 millimeter-long tail segments from some adult chameleons, the authors performed genetic analysis.
The researchers found that the genetic variation of chameleons was normal compared to other chameleons and small body reptile species, but there were significant differences in genetic makeup between groups in different regions, suggesting that humans who broke into the wild had disrupted reproductive ability. The effect of chameleons on neighboring reefs and thus the genetic flow, increasing the risk of extinction due to lack of mating options.
Eric Rodman, a professor of biology at San Francisco State University who was not involved in the study, said the authors of the study may have exaggerated the level of genetic variation between groups without taking into account the way some DNA inherited. Atom.
“Although the study authors had a lot of good genetic sites and estimates, they did not have an assessment of these genetic parameters before fragmenting the habitat, so they could not predict any genetic effect on deforestation,” Rodman added.
“If I had reviewed this study, I would have suggested major revisions, and the genetic part of their study is endless,” he continued.
The authors believe it may take time for the effects of deforestation on genetic diversity to emerge, but Dole said rainforest loss needs immediate attention to prevent chameleon species from reaching irreversible levels.
“Urgent conservation measures are needed, including the restoration of habitats to stop deforestation and improve connectivity,” the study authors wrote. The performance of the forest is questionable, as most of the destruction was within its borders.
They added: “Although expanding the reserve to include all the reefs of the forest is the first step, steps are needed to avoid destroying the remaining reefs.”
The authors note that these efforts are important for any other organism that lives among these chameleons, and they note that there may be more pygmy chameleons in areas where they cannot be explored.