ECOLOGY/EVOLUTION

The Largest of the Small

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Science  01 Feb 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5863, pp. 549
DOI: 10.1126/science.319.5863.549a

The moist forests of the Udzungwa Mountains in south-central Tanzania have yielded an astonishing number of previously undescribed vertebrate species during the past decade. The latest of these, reported by Rovero et al., is a remarkable new elephant shrew or sengi, named Rhynchocyon udzungwensis. Related neither to elephants nor to shrews (being much smaller than the former and much larger than the latter), the elephant shrews are an order of mammals that appear to have evolved hardly at all since the Miocene. The new species is the largest sengi of all, weighing in at an average of 700 g and measuring half a meter from the elongated snout to the tip of its tail. On the basis of sighting frequency, Rovero et al. estimate a total population of 15,000 to 24,000 occupying an area of 300 km2. This giant sengi lives in mountain forests 1000 m above sea level; its habitat, along with those of other endemic species of the Udzungwa Mountains, is currently protected and relatively little disturbed by humans. The discovery of yet another new species is a further confirmation of the conservation value of these mountains. — AMS

J. Zool. 274, 10.1111/j.1469-7998.2007.00363.x (2008).

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