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Philippines' Luzon Island Has the World's Greatest Concentration of Unique Mammal Species

Jul 18, 2016 06:43 AM EDT

Luzon island in the tropical Philippines has been named as the place in the world with the greatest concentration of unique mammals.

According to a study published in the journal Frontiers of Biogeography, researchers discovered a plethora of 56 new mammal species, excluding bats, in Luzon, 52 of which are endemic.

The reason behind Luzon's rich diversity is the island's topography. Science Daily notes that spanning about 40,000 square miles, Luzon is the largest island in the Philippine archipelago. Considering that it has never been connected to a continent, the species in the island has been isolated.

This so-called isolation has resulted in a rapid increase in evolution, just like what happened in Hawaii and other islands.

Scientists say that in closed-off areas like Luzon, animals have few or no predators which enable them to develop into adaptations (whether physical or behavioral), turning into completely different species.

But of all the islands in the world, why Luzon? What makes this Philippine island unique is its abundant mountaintops that serve as "sky islands" for the animals where they could have a distinct habitat for further adaptation.

"There are individual mountains on Luzon that have five species of mammals that live nowhere else. That's more unique species on one mountain that live in any country in continental Europe. The concentration of unique biodiversity in the Philippines is really staggering," said Eric Rickart of the Natural History Museum of Utah.

He further explained that the 28 species they discovered in the mountaintops came from two principal origins that are confined to the Philippines.

Lawrence Heaney, the project's leader and Negaunee Curator of Mammals at The Field Museum in Chicago, said their aim when they started the project in 2000 was to understand why most of the native mammals in the island are unique to the area.

This recent discovery opens the door to learning and understanding more ways for conservation.

"In order to be effective at conserving an environment, we have to know what's out there," Heaney said.

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