A team of biologists have identified a new species of spiny pocket mouse in Venezuela.
The new species was identified by Dr. Robert P. Anderson, Associate Professor of Biology at The City College of New York (CUNY), and Ph.D. student Eliecer E. Gutierrez.
It resides on four wet, mountainous forest regions of the rugged and steep-sided Cordillera de la Costa along the Venezuela's northern coast.
Several features differentiate the Overlook Spiny Pocket Mouse from the more common Heteromys anomalus, known as the Caribbean Spiny Pocket Mouse.
H. catopterius has darker fur and lacks the distinctly rounded ears of H. anomalus. In addition, its skull is wider and less elongated.
The Overlook Spiny Pocket Mouse is found in elevations ranging from 350 to 2,450 meters above sea level, although mostly above 700 meters.
In contrast, H. anomalus resides mostly in lowlands and lower elevations of the mountains of the region.
"Most people are surprised to learn that new species of mammals are still being discovered," Professor Anderson said.
"Sometimes they are discovered based on genetic work, but this is a case where anatomical studies made it clear a species existed that had never been recognized by biologists before," he added.
Professor Anderson, a leader in using GIS (geographic information systems) analysis to model species distributions (ranges), said that his goal is to use the genus Heteromys as an example of how to integrate GIS, evolutionary biology and climate studies.
With an aim toward conservation, he hopes to compare areas with suitable habitat for the species with the location of protected areas.
He and his collaborators at Brigham Young University and the Universidad Simon Bolivar are also currently performing genetic research to study evolutionary relationships in the genus.
To complement this, Professor Anderson and his students are building GIS models of the species' climatic requirements and applying them to reconstructions of past climates.
During the peak of the last Ice Age, when glaciers were extensive and temperatures were generally colder even in the tropics, distributions of this montane species were probably more contiguous, according to Professor Anderson.
"We can take the same model of the species' requirements and apply it to projections of future climate to predict what habitat will remain for the species as the climate gets warmer," he said.