Saturday, 21 November 2015

Iandumoema smeagol: A new species of Harvestman from caves in Minas Gerais State, Brazil.

Harvestmen, Opiliones, are carnivorous Arachnids resembling Spiders, though they are not closely related and are incapable of producing silk. They are found across the globe, but reach their maximum diversity in the tropics of Central and South America. The genus Iandumoema currently contains two species from cave systems in northern Minas Gerais State, Brazil. Iandumoema setimapocu is found in a single cave in the municipality of Coração de Jesus, while Iandumoema uai is found in two caves in the municipality of Itacarambi.

In a paper published in the journal ZooKeys on 18 November 2015, RicardoPinto-da-Rocha of the Departamento de Zoologia at the Universidade de São Paulo, Rafael da Fonseca-Ferreira of the Departamento de Ecologia e Biologia Evolutiva at the Universidade Federal de São Carlos and the Programa dePós-graduação em Biologia Comparada at the Universidade de São Paulo, and Maria Elina Bichuette, also of the Departamento de Ecologia e Biologia Evolutiva at the Universidade Federal de São Carlos, describe a new species of Iandumoema from two caves in the Monjolos Region of Minas Gerais State.

The new species is named Iandumoema smeagol, in reference to the cave dwelling creature Gollum/Smeagle from the writings of JRR Tolkein. It is an entirely cave-dwelling species, lacking in pigmentation and, unlike the previously described species in the genus, having completely lost its eyes.

Iandumoema smeagol, male specimen in right lateral view. Pinto-da-Rocha et al. (2015).

Iandumoema smeagol is known only from two caves, both within limestone rocks of the Bambuí Group at the edge of the Serra do Espinhaço Plateau. These caves are home to a large Bat colony, with extensive guano deposits that support a diverse assemblage of invertebrates. This population presumably provides a food source for the Harvestmen, though none was ever seen to approach the guano deposits.

Iandumoema smeagol has a known geographical distribution of 4.6 km2, which is fairly typical for a cave-dwelling invertebrate species, which tend to have high levels of endemism (very limited distributions). The area where it was found enjoys no legal protection, and deforestation and limestone extraction, as well as possible future hydroelectric projects, present a potential threat to the survival of the species. For this reason Pinto-da-Rocha et al. recommend that Iandumoema smeagol be regarded as Vulnerable under the terms of the  International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, and an effective conservation plan be developed to protect the area.

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