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Scientists probe 'Lost World' rainforest

New Guinea, new species

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An expedition to one of the world's most remote rainforests has turned up a bonanza of undiscovered species.

Western New Guinea's Foja mountains are home to one million hectares of pristine ancient tropical forest that, until December's month-long jaunt, were largely unknown to science. Dozens of new species, including 20 new frogs, plants, butterflies, and birds were found by an international team of biodiversity experts.

Conservation International expedition leader Bruce Beehler describes the region as: "As close to the Garden of Eden as you're going to find on Earth."

The group solved a major ornithological conundrum – the fate of a bird of paradise previously known only by feather specimens from native hunters. Berlepsch's Six-Wired Bird of Paradise had eluded past expeditions, but this time appeared in the scientists' camp on their second day in the jungle to perform a mating dance.

Many of the animals showed no fear of humans, making them easier to study. Large mammals, such as the Long-beaked Echidna, that have been hunted to near extinction elsewhere in the region were found in abundance in the Foja.

An unknown honeyeater bird with an orange face and wattle under each eye – unlike any other on New Guinea – delighted the party. One new species of frog measured just 14mm, while botanists came across a huge, world record-equaling six-inch rhododendron flower.

For scientists, the mountain forest represents an increasingly rare example of an undisturbed ecosystem, and the large numbers of unique species make it a 'laboratory' of evolution, where isolation has produced unusual adaptations.

The team hopes to return to the forest this year, having "only scratched the surface". ®

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