Washington, April 30 : Scientists from Conservation International (CI) and Brazilian universities have discovered a legless lizard and a tiny woodpecker along with 12 other suspected new species in Brazil's Cerrado, one of the world's 34 biodiversity conservation hotspots.
The Cerrado's wooded grassland, which once covered an area half the size of Europe, is now being converted to cropland and ranchland at twice the rate of the neighboring Amazon rainforest that has resulted in the loss of native vegetation and unique species.
The researchers have discovered eight fish, three reptiles, one amphibian, one mammal, and one bird - in and around the Serra Geral do Tocantins Ecological Station, a 716,000-hectare (1,769,274-acre) protected area that is the Cerrado's second largest.
They have found a lizard, of the Bachia genus, which resembles a snake due to its lack of legs and pointed snout that help it move across the predominantly sandy soil formed by the natural erosion of the escarpments of the Serra Geral.
Other suspected new species include a dwarf woodpecker, of Picumnus genus and horned toad, of Proceratophrys genus.
"It's very exciting to find new species and data on the richness, abundance, and distribution of wildlife in one of the most extensive, complex, and unknown regions of the Cerrado," said CI biologist Cristiano Nogueira, the expedition leader.
"Protected areas such as the Ecological Station are home to some of the last remaining healthy ecosystems in a region increasingly threatened by urban growth and mechanized agriculture," Nogueira added.
The researchers also discovered several threatened species such as the hyacinth macaw, marsh deer, three-banded armadillo, the Brazilian merganser, and the dwarf tinamou among more than 440 species of vertebrates documented during the 29-day field expedition.
Cerrado, which comprises 21 percent of Brazil, is the most extensive woodland-savanna in South America.
Large mammals like the giant anteater, giant armadillo, jaguar and maned wolf struggle to survive in the fast-changing habitat also know as Brazil's breadbasket.
"The geographic distribution of some of the species registered is restricted to the area of the ecological station; thus their survival depends on the good management of the protected area and its immediate surroundings," said Luis Fabio Silveira, of the Department of Zoology of the University of Sao Paulo.
"From the survey we can obtain data concerning the anatomy, reproductive biology, life cycle, and distribution of the species, all of which help us in future conservation programs," Silveira added.
The final results of the study, including the formal description of new species, will be used to back the development of a management plan for the Ecological Station, which was created in 2001.
"We need to know our protected areas better, especially the ecological stations whose principal objective is to generate scientific knowledge of Brazilian biodiversity, so little studied and already so severely threatened," Nogueira said.
"Unfortunately, extensive areas of the Cerrado, like the Ecological Station, are becoming increasingly rare, thus making the data collected even more important. Above all, it is necessary to know to conserve," Nogueira added.