Lincoln, Neb., July 18, 2014 -- A research team led by Scott Gardner of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has identified four new species of Ctenomys, a genus of gopher-like mammal found throughout much of South America.
Commonly called tuco-tucos, the burrowing rodents range from 7 to 12 inches long and weigh less than a pound. They demonstrate the broad range of biological diversity in the lowlands and central valleys of Bolivia, where all four new species were found, Gardner said.
It is very rare to identify a new species of mammal, said Gardner, director of the H.W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology and a curator for the University of Nebraska State Museum.
"In the current environment of human-caused environmental disturbance and degradation, the discovery of four previously unknown species that are relatively large in size is phenomenal," he said.
Three of the newly identified animals -- Ctenomys erikacuellarae or Erika's tuco-tuco; Ctenomys andersoni, or Anderson's cujuchi; and Ctenomys lessai, or Lessa's tuco-tuco -- were found in an area of high ridges that create deep river valleys in central Bolivia. Though the animals share common evolutionary forebears, the ridges, created by the same fierce geological pressures that thrust up the Andes, establish a geographical isolation that fostered the development of distinct species in different valleys.
The fourth new species, Ctenomys yatesi, or Yates' tuco-tuco, was found in the lowlands of eastern Bolivia. Though scientists earlier included it as part of previously identified Ctenomy species, Gardner's research team concluded it was distinctly different from any other species.
"The area from which these mammals were collected is still relatively unknown in a biological sense, even though this is the eastern foothills of the Andes, with among the highest level of biodiversity anywhere," Gardner said, adding that he expects more new
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University of Nebraska-Lincoln