MY MONDAY morning was greeted by wonderful news: The Department of Environment and Natural resources (DENR) here in Central Luzon announced on its Facebook page the discovery of a new plant species scientifically named Pyrostria arayatensis. What’s exciting about this discovery is that it was found in our province, within the Mount Arayat National Park (MANP) in Pampanga, hence, the name "arayatensis." It was discovered way back 2017 by a team from the Angeles University Foundation in Angeles City and University of Sto. Tomas in Manila.

The new species was discovered during the three-year botanical exploration in the mountain ranges of MANP. The study also revealed that P. arayatensis is endemic to the Philippines and known only from the type of locality, which occurs in the lowland forest of MANP. The conservation status of this species is still unknown.

The discovery was in 2017 but it was only made public recently because the verification process for newly discovered species takes years. The process, according to the website, starts by closely examining the species to first determine that it doesn't belong to another already-described species. The specimen is compared to other similar species, including using descriptions and illustrations in published literature. If species appear very similar, genetic testing is increasingly used as a tool to determine new species.

Once the species is determined as new to science, researchers write a formal description of it, take photos and/or provide illustrations, and invent a new scientific name. After completing the paper, researchers then submit it to a scientific journal. In the case of Pyrostria arayatensis, it was published in the international scientific journal of Annales Botanici Fennici on August 10, 2020.

The editor of the journal will circulate the new finding to other experts with those particular types of animals or plants. If the other experts agree that the new species is valid, the journal accepts the paper and the specimen officially becomes a new species. This process is long and often takes years between initial discovery and formal acceptance of the new species.

The discovery is welcome news not just for Kapampangans, or Filipinos for that matter, but for all of humanity. We are currently experiencing a mass extinction of species. In fact, some species might become extinct before being discovered. The 2020 global Living Planet Index, a report published annually by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), shows an average of 68 percent fall in monitored populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish between 1970 and 2016. That’s only 50 years!

The main cause of the drops, according to the report, is habitat loss and degradation, including deforestation, as animals lose their grassland, savannah, forest and wetland habitats when humans clear land for agriculture, housing, roads, and development. Other important drivers include the overexploitation of species, climate change, and the introduction of alien species. Human activity is the main reason for the species population decline.

Mount Arayat itself has already experienced a decline in species. Wild animals are no longer as abundant as before. It’s a good thing it has been declared a protected area, but we cannot leave its protection solely to government. The public must also share in this responsibility.