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Borneo bio-hunt turns up treasures

Constantijn Mennes / Naturalis

An atlas moth shows off its colors during the Sabah Parks / Naturalis expedition to Borneo.

A Dutch-Malaysian expedition to the remote "Heart of Borneo" have turned up more than 160 species previously unknown to science — and perhaps more importantly, enough DNA samples to figure out how more than 1,400 species in one of the world's hottest hot spots for biodiversity are related.

"It has been a successful expedition," the project's leader, Menno Schilthuizen of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, said in a news release from the center, based in the Dutch city of Leiden. Forty researchers from Naturalis and from Sabah Parks, a Malaysian conservation group, journeyed to Borneo's Mount Kinabalu last month to survey the area.

Scientists collected 3,500 DNA samples during the two-week expedition. Back in the lab, Naturalis' biologists will analyze the genetic code to generate family trees for all the collected plants, fungi and animals. A close look at the relationships among the novel species found on Kinabalu, compared with the wider spectrum of species throughout Borneo, could tell researchers whether Kinabalu's species evolved long ago or only recently.

"It's the first time that such an extensive expedition will go to Borneo with evolution as their main focus," Schilthuizen said. "We are following in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace, who formulated a first version of the theory of evolution on Borneo."

Naturalis said spiders and fungi accounted for the largest numbers of new species found on Kinabalu. Other new species included true bugs, beetles, snails, stalk-eyed flies, damselflies, ferns, termites and possibly a frog.

The expedition came across an "El Dorado" for fungi, said József Geml, one of the researchers. "While the plant and animal life of this mountain has been the focus of numerous research projects, Kinabalu has remained terra incognita for scientific studies on fungi," Geml said. "It is difficult not to feel overwhelmed by this task. One of the manifestations of this diversity comes in the endless variety of shapes and colors that sometimes are truly breathtaking."

The researchers expect that the DNA studies will result in a scientific publication about evolution in the Heart of Borneo within a year. In the meantime, feast your eyes on these snapshots from the hot spot:

Joris van Alphen / Naturalis

The expedition to Borneo came across a long-nosed horned frog and other striking species.

Peter Koomen / Naturalis

Researchers came face to face with a jumping spider.

Joris van Alphen / Naturalis

Dutch botanist Frederic Lens collects samples during the expedition to Mount Kinabalu.

Luis Morgado / Naturalis

A striking mushroom known as Entoloma aff. purpurea was found at an altitude of 6,500 feet (2,000 meters).

Luis Morgado / Naturalis

Red mushrooms add a dash of extra color to the forest greenery in the "Heart of Borneo."

More about species:

Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.