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600 new species found in Madagascar

More than 600 new species, including the world's smallest primate and a colour-changing gecko, have been found in Madagascar in just over a decade, a report said.

But many of the newly discovered plants and creatures are under threat, particularly from the destruction of Madagascar's forests, conservation charity WWF warned.

The Treasure Island: New biodiversity in Madagascar report from WWF compiles scientific discoveries made on the African island between 1999 and 2010. It reveals that experts identified more than 615 new species in that time.

Among the new finds were 41 mammals, alongside 385 plants, 69 amphibians, 61 reptiles, 17 fish and 42 invertebrates.

Key discoveries include a 10cm long (4in) Berthe's mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae), found in 2000, which is the world's smallest known primate, and the Tahina palm (Tahina spectabilis) a massive fan palm which flowers just once in a lifetime.

Researchers also found the Komac's golden orb spider (Nephila komaci) which spins golden webs that can be more than 1 metre (3ft) across, and in 2009 a colour-changing gecko which resembles the bark of tree but can quickly change from brown to bright blue during courtship was discovered.

WWF said many of the newly discovered species are facing a bleak future, largely due to deforestation.

According to the wildlife group, Madagascar has lost more than a million hectares of forest in the past 20 years, and in the aftermath of a coup in March 2009 and the subsequent political turmoil tens of thousands of hectares were raided for hardwoods.

Mark Wright, conservation senior adviser at WWF-UK, said: "This report highlights the unique and irreplaceable ecosystems that exist in Madagascar. WWF is working hard to establish a network of protective areas across the island and to promote sustainable livelihood alternatives, which would help people in Madagascar to live in harmony with the natural world surrounding them."

He added: "Consumers can play a vital role and so we trying to raise awareness of the enormous global trade in illegal timber and encourage people to only choose responsibly sourced and sustainable wood and paper."

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