Science

Genome Sequence Data Supports Existence of New Orangutan Species

Genome Sequence Data Supports Existence of New Orangutan Species

Orangutan from Batang Toru, which scientists now say belongs to a new species.

He added: "It has a smaller skull, but larger canine teeth than other orangutan species".

"We will conduct further examination concerning the crisis of the Tapanuli orangutans".

Last year, the IUCN classified Bornean orangutans as critically endangered due to a precipitous population decline caused by destruction of their forest habitat for palm oil and pulp wood plantations.

Orangutans living in forested foothills on the Indonesian island of Sumatra represent a previously unknown species, researchers say.

"It's the first declaration of a new great ape species in about 100 years", Ian Singleton, co-author of the study and director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, told AFP.

The primates are confined to a range of about 1,100 square kilometers (425 square miles) in the Batang Toru forest in the Tapanuli districts of Northern Sumatra, according to the Fox News.

"One consistent result was that we identified three very old evolutionary lineages among all orangutans, despite only having two species now described".

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Using computer modeling to reconstruct the history of the Tapanuli population allowed Zurich scientists to calculate that the population possibly isolated itself from all other Sumatran populations of orangutans for at least 10,000 to 20,000 years, the university statement said. The results confirmed their observations, with another surprising revelation: not only did they uncover three very old evolutionary lineages, but the newly discovered population was the oldest.

Meanwhile Bornean and Sumatran orangutans separated only 700,000 years ago.

Skeletal and genetic evidence puts these apes on a separate evolutionary trajectory from other orangutans in Sumatra (Pongo abelii) and Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), says a team led by evolutionary anthropologist Michael Krützen of the University of Zurich. Forests in the Batan Toru ecosystem are now being logged to make way for palm oil plantations, and there's even a plan to raise a new hydroelectric dam which could also impact the habitat of Tapanuli orangutans.

The team notes that we will need to quickly implement conservation measures to ensure that illegal logging, road construction, and other human threats don't impact the long-term survival of the species.

Early research indicated both behavioural and genetic differences, but it wasn't enough to warrant the designation of a new species - since the world only has six great ape species overall, that would be a pretty big deal.

It is the most endangered of the now seven known species of great apes.

Erik Meijaard of the Australian National University said: "Great apes are among the best-studied species in the world".


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