South African scientists have discovered more than a dozen new species in the Karoo

Business Insider SA
Pseudocordylus microlepidotus namaquensis. (Photo: Nicolas Telford)
  • Scientists have discovered 15 new species in the Karoo.
  • The Karoo is one of the most understudied areas in South Africa.
  • The Karoo BioGaps Project is calling on citizens to help digitise historic records.

Scientists have discovered 15 new species in the arid Karoo region, ranging from a worm through to a new reptile species.

"Isn’t it amazing how scientists are still discovering new species in this modern age?”, said Domitilla Raimondo, principal investigator of the Karoo BioGaps Project

(Photo: Ismail Ebrahim)

The new species include two new scorpions, a reptile, two wandering spiders, and a plant.

“The findings are exciting,” says Carol Poole, project manager at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)

Stasimopus species. (Photo: Ian Engelbrecht)

When scientific organisations in the country began assessing what shale gas exploration would do to the arid Karoo environment, “we realised that we don’t know [enough] about the Karoo to make informed decisions”, says Poole.

See also: Spain boosts South Africa's cash-strapped mega-telescope plan

The Karoo BioGaps Project, a consortium of 20 institutions, aims to fill in the “gaps” in our understanding of biodiversity in the Karoo. A study published in the South African Journal of Science last year found that the extent of the country’s shale gas reserves may be substantially less than expected. 
Pseudocordylus microlepidotus Namaquensis. (Photo Nicolas Telford)

The Karoo has historically been under-sampled scientifically. It is very hot for most of the year, large tracts of it are privately owned and the distances are vast.

“We don’t have many species records,” she says.

The three-year project ends this year, and the team expects to produce dozens of scientific papers, as well as distribution maps of biodiversity for policy makers.

Redfin Minnows. (Photo: Dr Martin Jordaan)

Although the project ends later this year, the BioGaps teams are calling on the public to help them digitise old records from previous centuries through their online transcription portal

“A lot of [samples and creatures] were collected before computers, and we need to capture things in the correct format,” Poole says.

Stasimopus trapdoors, closed and open. (Photo Ian Engelbrecht)

“We have old specimens from the 1800s and we really, really need the public to be involved in this project and digitise historic records from the Karoo. All they need is an internet connect.”

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