Biology prof discovers new animal species

Posted October 08, 2013

While leading a student expedition in Ecuador’s Sangay National Park in 2010 Dr. Tom Lee, professor of biology, discovered a new species of opossum. Lee, along with one ACU student and one Ecuadorian student, were the first people to ever see the species.

The shrew opossum is making its scientific debut next month. It will be listed in the Oct. 2013 issue of the Journal of Mammalogy.

“It’s exciting to go to Ecuador to see new things that people have never seen before,” says Lee. “Ecuador is one of the most diverse places in the world, and taking students there is very rewarding.”

Lee’s Ecuador discoveries can often be found in ACU classrooms. In Lee’s ecology, animal biology and mammalogy science classes, students see pictures from his expeditions, if not the actual specimen itself.

Four specimens of the rat possum belong to ACU and are used for undergraduate research.

On another Ecuador trip, Lee had photographed an unknown mammal. One year later, the animal is now recently classified as the olinguito.

Scientists Reed Ojala-Barbour, C. Miguel Pinto, Jorge Brito M., Luis Albuja V., and Bruce D. Patterson from Ecuador, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Field Museum provided data analysis of specimens and DNA to confirm the new species.

Every other summer, Lee takes students to examine Ecuador’s ecosystems. The Ecuador project started in 2000 when Lee went to Ecuador with a friend who was carrying out separate research in the Galapagos Islands. The excitement of undiscovered species in the area pulled Lee to keep coming back, inviting students to learn alongside him.

Learn more about the Department of Biology 

Read more about Dr. Tom Lee 


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