The Admiralties Rat, found on Manus Island, part of the Papua New Guinea Admiralty Islands group, has been named as one of the top scientific discoveries of 2016 in the Year in Science issue of Discover Magazine.
The rodent, newly described by KU mammalogists Robert Timm, curator emeritus, and research affiliate Ronald Pine and colleagues is named Rattus detentus. It is larger than most of its relatives, and is one of the most poorly known rodents of the Melanesian Archipelago. It is characterized by large, powerful incisors together with small molars, suggesting that it uses its front teeth to break open hard nuts. The species has probably been isolated on the island for several thousand years.
Scientists had long known that an unnamed rat must occur on Manus, based on teeth and jaws from a several thousand-year-old archaeological site where early inhabitants left the remains of animals they used for food.
The Admiralties Rat is known from only three modern-day specimens, two of which are held in KU Biodiversity Institute collections. More recent efforts by zoologists to find a living population have been unsuccessful. This endemic species may be threatened by destruction of forests for human habitation and introduction of feral cats to the island. Environmental issues stemming from the refugee crisis on Manus Island were highlighted by the mammalogists’ naming of the species, who called it detentus to make a statement regarding the people being unwillingly detained for long periods on Manus by the Australian government.
Richard Williams, who completed his Ph.D. with Town Peterson, in collaboration with Robert Timm and colleagues in Spain, recently published their work on the genetics and distribution of Shope’s papillomavirus in rabbits (PLoS One). This virus is one of the few known to directly cause cancer and has served as a model for the study of human papillomavirus (HPV). Their research relied heavily on the extensive collections in the Biodiversity Institute; KU has by far the world’s largest collection of rabbits with the virus and Bob has added a number of new specimens to the collection. One of the highlights of their work is successfully demonstrating that the virus can be identified genetically from rabbit specimens that were obtained 100 years ago.
The recent cold and lean months are responsible for an increased coyote presence within Lawrence city limits, local ecology officials say. However, Lawrencians need not be afraid of the more active canines. Robert Timm of the KU Biodiversity Institute said there probably hasn't been an increase in the local coyote population, nor have the creatures been displaced by construction. Most likely, he said, the animals are more active simply because of the season.
Published in the Lawrence Journal-World
Andrea Romero, a KU Ph.D ecology and evolutionary biology student, successfully defended her dissertation "Ecology, habitat preference, and conservation of Neotropical non-volant mammal communities in Costa Rica’s Caribbean lowlands." She is soon headed to Costa Rica to coordinate courses for the Organization for Tropical Studies’ NAPIRE (Native American and Pacific Islanders). She was mentored by Bob Timm.
Jake Esselstyn's recent discovery of Styloctenium mindorensis, or the "flying fox bat," made the Top 10 List on livescience.com. Its discovery "highlights an increasing understanding of endemism on Mindoro, and the need for species exploration and conservation." Mindoro is an island of the Philippines, an area with surprisingly rich biodiversity that has become an area of interest for Biodiversity Institute mammalogists, herpetologists and Ornithologists.