Italian research team identifies new “made in Italy” squirrel species
Is it still possible to discover new animal species in Italy? It seems it is, reading the new study published in the journal “Hystrix, the Italian Journal of Mammalogy” by a research team coordinated by the University of Insubria. The Italian researchers have discovered, between Calabria and Basilicata, a new squirrel species from which the different existing populations would derive.
The researchers examined the genetics, morphology and ecology related to the populations of squirrels already recognized at the beginning of 1900 as “peculiar” within the family of the “Eurasian red squirrel” (found throughout Italy except in Sicily and Sardinia), identifying the Sciurus meridionalis or “southern squirrel”, having a black coat characterized by a white ventral fur.
‘Teamwork – explained the researchers at the Environment Analysis and Management Unit of the Department of Theoretical and Applied Sciences, University of Insubria – is now a necessary step if we want to obtain quality results while ensuring the added value of constant discussion and permanent critical control over the activities’.
‘The certainty that we were dealing with a new species – continued the researchers – came after the analysis of a large amount of genetic and morphological data that enabled the researchers of our integrated and multidisciplinary group to publish a paper in a journal of theriology, i.e. the science that studies mammals, the world’s fourth most important journal of zoology and a source of pride for our Country as well as for the national scientific community of theriologists’.
‘Unfortunately, though, – explained Professor Adriano Martinoli, coordinator of the research team – we must point out that the new species, which appears to be present only in our Country, is already exposed to the threat of extinction due to habitat loss and competition with allochthonous squirrel species, i.e. those introduced by man, such as the grey squirrel from North America and the variable squirrel from Southeast Asia, real forms of biological pollution induced by man’.
According to the researchers from Varese, Italy hosts more than 58,000 known animal species, including almost 1300 species of vertebrates: of these, 5% are endemic to Italy, as are about 10% of Italian invertebrates; a unique heritage of biodiversity we should pay greater attention to. In addition to the researchers at Insubria, the team included researchers from the University of Milano-Bicocca, University of Florence, University of Calabria, La Specola Museum, Natural History Museum of Calabria, Società Italiana per la Storia della Fauna “G. Altobello” and Institute for Ecosystem Study of the National Research Council (ISE-CNR).