New tarsier species found in Dinagat Island

Posted at 08/21/2014 1:58 PM | Updated as of 08/21/2014 1:58 PM
Screengrab from UP website

MANILA - It's bigger in size, has darker hair and has stubbier fingers and toes. Genetic tests have also proven the Dinagat tarsier is a new Philippine tarsier species.

According to a report on the University of the Philippines (UP) website, the UP Diliman Institute of Biology (IB) has published a study by a multi-country team of scientists that revealed the tarsier found on Dinagat Island is distinct from its relatives in the Bohol-Samar-Leyte and Zamboanga-Mindanao phylogeographic clusters.

Dr. Perry S. Ong said the "cryptic" or hidden species is part of the Dinagat-Caraga cluster, along with Surigao del Norte tarsiers.

As early as 1973, Dr. Dioscoro Rabor, dubbed the “father of Philippine wildlife conservation,” has recorded his physical observation of the Dinagat tarsier as “somewhat larger in size.”

In the 1980s, American zoologist Dr. Guy Musser noted that the Dinagat tarsier's fingers and toes were shorter, wider, and more “stubby” in appearance.

Even members of the research group said that the Dinagat tarsier has darker hair and skin, especially on its fingers. But physical observations were not enough, according to Dr. Ong.

He explained that the differences were too subtle and views are subjective, so these alone could not support the argument that the Dinagat tarsier was a different species.

Examination of mitochondrial data has changed all that. There is now definitive evidence that the Dinagat tarsier is indeed a different species.

With this discovery, Ong is hopeful that their research would be the springboard for improved tarsier conservation efforts in the country even as the Dinagat tarsier’s “taxonomic status is [still] being finalized.”

Co-author and IB Professor Mariano R.M. Duya added that this collaborative research allowed scientists to consolidate their work on tarsiers in the Philippines.