Published: Sat, November 04, 2017
Science | By Nancy Frank

Genome Sequence Data Supports Existence of New Orangutan Species

Genome Sequence Data Supports Existence of New Orangutan Species

Along with crucial morphometric and behavioral data, their genomic comparison pointed to a genetically distinct orangutan falling outside the known Sumatran (Pongo abelii) and Bornean (P. pygmaeus) species.

A new species of orangutan has been found hidden from the rest of the world in remote jungle in Indonesia.

The research was conducted in collaboration with 34 institutions including the University of Zurich, the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, Bogor Agricultural Institute and Liverpool John Moores University.

Unfortunately, the population of these newfound orangutans is so small, they've immediately joined the list of some of the most endangered primates in the world.

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Researchers have discovered a new great ape species in Sumatra, Indonesia.

She also said she hoped it would spark new scientific debate on whether the three subspecies of the Bornean orangutan should themselves be elevated to full species of great ape, in particular the orangutan of eastern Borneo.

Found in the Batang Toru ecosystem in the highland forests in three districts of Tapanuli, North Sumatra, this handsome animals are rare and even more endangered than African mountain gorillas. The researchers named the new species Pongo tapanuliensis, or the Tapanuli orangutan. The first hints suggesting the orangutans belonged to a distinct new species surfaced in 2013, when scientists examined the skull of an orangutan male killed in the area.

"We identified three very old evolutionary lineages among all orangutans, despite only having two species now described", added Maja Mattle-Greminger, a postdoctoral researcher at UZH.

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"When we realized that Batang Toru orangutans are morphologically different from all other orangutans, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place", said Dr Michael Krützen, a professor at the University of Zurich and a member of the research team. The oldest evolutionary line in the genus Pongo is actually found in Tapanuli orangutans, which appear to be direct descendants of the first Sumatran population in the Sunda archipelago.

A new orangutan species has been found living in Sumatra, occupying an isolation location in the northern portion of the island. Historically, the population had low levels of interbreeding with Sumatran orangutans further north but that completely ceased 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, according to the genetic study. Forests in the Batan Toru ecosystem are now being logged to make way for palm oil plantations, and there's even a plan to raise a new hydroelectric dam which could also impact the habitat of Tapanuli orangutans.

There are only believed to be around 800 Tapanuli orangutans left. Conservation efforts in Sumatra must now take into account that there is a new species which requires protection.

It's especially surprising that scientists were able to find this species of ape, because apes are among the most well-studied animals on the planet.

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