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New type of primate identified

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Researchers at the University of Kansas have identified a subspecies of Philippine tarsier, now known as the Dinagat-Caraga tarsier. Researchers, led by Rafe Brown, Curator-in Charge at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, used DNA analysis to differentiate the tiny animal from other subspecies of tarsier.

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Little is known about the tarsier, one of the world's smallest primates. "It's really not like any animals that Americans are familiar with," Brown stated. "A tarsier has giant eyes and ears; an extremely cute, furry body; a long tail with a furry tuft at the end; and interesting expanded fingers and toe tips that look a bit like the disks on the digits of tree frogs."

The tarsier's habitat in the Philippines is in jeopardy. Tourism, logging, and mining in the region have caused a decline in the natural environment, putting tarsiers at risk. This has caused the primate to become a "flagship" species for the promotion of environmental awareness in the region.

Brown expresses concern over environmental conditions faced by the tarsier. "They're threatened with habitat loss due to development... On Bohol, where [tarsiers] are a big part of the tourist economy, literally thousands of animals are taken out of the wild, essentially harassed by tourists, and die in captivity due to stress and inability of their captors to feed them an appropriate diet of live small animals."

Efforts to conserve the tarsier's habitat are curbed by lack of research. Scientists are only now beginning to discover the range of genetic diversity of the species. A previously "cryptic", or undocumented primate, the Dinagat-Caraga tarsier is now officially recognized by the scientific community.

A study by Brown et al. has been published in the Aug. 19, 2014 edition of the journal PLOS ONE, outlining the sequencing of the tarsier's mitochondrial DNA. The findings of this research, supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society's Committe for Research and Exploration, established the Dinagat-Caraga tarsier as its own distinct lineage of primate.

This subspecies has essentially no protection, and Brown urges that conservation of the tarsier's habitat is crucial to the survival of all known subspecies. According to the study, "Conservation of this flagship species necessitates establishment of protected areas and targeted conservation programs within the range of each genetically distinct variant of the Philippine tarsier."

As stated by the Philippine Tarsier Foundation, Inc., 67 percent of plants and animals native to the Philippines are not found anywhere else in the world.