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Paradise Found But About To Be Lost

14 March 2006
 Dransfieldia micrantha

 Dransfieldia micrantha has only just been described
but is under threat from climate change

Exotic and rare species in a newly discovered  "Garden of Eden" in the mountains of New Guinea island are under threat from global warming, New Scientist magazine has reported.

"A paradise world of undiscovered species and tropical glaciers in the mountains of New Guinea is disappearing faster than it can be explored," the British-based magazine said.

It quoted Michael Prentice, a climatologist at Plymouth State University, New Hampshire, as saying that temperatures in the highlands of the tropical island were rising far faster than previously thought.

Climate records compiled since the 1970s by mission stations, coffee plantations and mining companies "show a real step change, with warming of 0.3C (0.5F) every decade," he said.

That rate would make it among the fastest in the world. Scientists say global temperatures rose about 0.6C in the entire 20th century. It was unclear why the rate should be so fast on the island, shared by Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

Prentice said glaciers around the 5,030-metre (16,500-ft) Mount Jaya, the island's highest peak, had been in retreat for a century and estimated that they ended about 300 metres higher than when last fully mapped in the 1970s.

Last month, a group of international scientists led by Conservation International said they had found dozens of new species of birds, butterflies, frogs and plants in the Foja mountains in the west of the island.

Among other rare creatures were a tree kangaroo and an egg-laying echidna.

Researchers from London's Royal Botanic Gardens Kew said last week they had found a new genus of palm trees on the island.

Most scientists say gases from burning fossil fuels in factories, power plants and autos are warming the planet, threatening everything from more floods and heatwaves to droughts and rising sea levels.

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