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New research has found that one of the world’s biggest gliding mammals, the greater glider in Australia, is actually three separate species. While this discovery marks an increase in Australia’s already-rich biodiversity, it creates new challenges for protecting these animals which are under pressure from rising temperatures, bushfires and land-clearing.

Researchers from The Australian National University, James Cook University, the University of Canberra and CSIRO worked together to run genetic tests from tissue samples taken from gliders in parts of Queensland, Victoria and from museum specimens. The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports

It was known that greater gliders were different sizes and colours in different places along the eastern coast of Australia but there were disagreements about their classification and there wasn’t sufficient proof that the animals might be several species, according to the researchers. 

Dr Kara Youngentob, a wildlife ecologist at ANU and co-author of the study, says, “We found that they were profoundly different.” 

These marsupials are about the size of a cat, are nocturnal, and eat only eucalyptus leaves. They launch themselves from trees and spread out a membrane attached to their elbows that allows them to glide as far as 100 metres. 

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The new research finds that greater gliders, with the Latin name Petauroides volans, are three distinct species that now include Petauroides minor and Petauroides armillatus. Splitting the one species into three now means assumptions that the greater glider lives from Victoria to Townsville in northeastern Queensland will have to be rethought.

Professor Andrew Krockenburger of James Cook University and one of the researchers, says, “Australia’s biodiversity just got a lot richer. It’s not every day that new mammals are confirmed, let alone two new mammals.”

The researchers believe that the discovery highlights a “lack of information” about the two new greater glider species, which could affect future conservation actions and management legislation. The study says, “A lack of knowledge about the genetic structure of species across their range can result in an inability to properly manage and protect species from extinction. This is especially true in the wake of a natural disaster, when wildlife management decisions need to be made quickly and under challenging circumstances.” 

However, greater gliders are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as well as human activities, like land clearing. They were listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the federal government even before last summer’s devastating bushfires; an early assessment of the impact of Australia’s Black Summer bushfires of 2019 and 2020 suggested that about 29% of greater glider habitat overlapped with the fires. Greater gliders need older trees with hollows in which they can hide during the day. 

The researchers say that greater glider numbers have fallen sharply in recent decades due to tree clearing, bushfires and global warming that is raising night-time temperatures to levels difficult for the marsupials to tolerate. Australia has the highest rate of species loss of any area in the world; it is therefore crucial to devise conservation strategies that take this into account. 

Featured image by: Flickr 

For the first time in 3 000 years, Tasmanian devils have returned to the wild in mainland Australia. Aussie Ark, in partnership with Global Wildlife Conservation and WildArk, recently released 11 Tasmanian devils into a 400-hectare wildlife sanctuary on Barrington Tops in a bid to rewild Australia, which has the world’s worst mammal extinction rate. 

Tasmanian devils vanished entirely from mainland Australia partly because they were outcompeted by dingoes. Additionally, a transmissible, painful and fatal disease called Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD)—the only known contagious cancer—decimated up to 90% of the wild population of Tasmanian devils. Just 25,000 devils are left in the wild of Tasmania today.

The reintroduction took place on September 10 following a successful assisted trial release with 15 Tasmanian devils. 26 devils now call the wild of mainland Australia home. Aussie Ark selected the particular devils for reintroduction based on those most suitable to breed with one another without any inbreeding. The wild sanctuary will prevent the spread of disease, feral pests, noxious weeds and fire The wild sanctuary will also keep cars out, ensuring that the devils learn not to associate cars with food—an association that could be deadly when they are more widely released.

Tim Faulkner, president of Aussie Ark, says, “In 100 years, we are going to be looking back at this day as the day that set in motion the ecological restoration of an entire country. Not only is this the reintroduction of one of Australia’s beloved animals, but of an animal that will engineer the entire environment around it, restoring and rebalancing our forest ecology after centuries of devastation from introduced foxes and cats and other invasive predators. Because of this reintroduction and all of the hard work leading up to it, someday we will see Tasmanian devils living throughout the great eastern forests as they did 3,000 years ago.”

As apex predators and the world’s largest carnivorous marsupials, Tasmanian devils help control feral cats and foxes that threaten other endangered and endemic species. Additionally, because they are scavengers, they keep their habitats clean and free of disease.

The Tasmanian devil is one of seven species critical to Australia’s ecosystem that Aussie Ark plans to reintroduce to the wild sanctuary in the coming years: Eastern quoll, Brush-tail rock wallabies, Rufous bettong, long-nosed potoroo, parma wallabies and southern brown bandicoots.

This is the first of three planned reintroductions. In the next two years, Aussie Ark will do two additional releases of 20 devils each. The animals will be monitored through regular surveys, radio collars fit with transmitters and camera traps. This will give the researchers the opportunity to learn about how the devils are faring, where they are claiming territory, what challenges they are facing, what they are eating, and whether they’re reproducing. All of this information will help to inform future releases, including in Tasmania and elsewhere on the mainland.

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About Aussie Ark

Aussie Ark was established in 2011 as ‘Devil Ark’, with a focus on saving the Tasmanian devil from extinction. Since then, the role of the organisation has expanded, and now has a vision of creating a long-term future for threatened Australian species. Aussie Ark will secure wild sanctuaries to conserve native wildlife, free from unnatural predation. Learn more at www.aussieark.org.au

About Global Wildlife Conservation

GWC conserves the diversity of life on Earth by safeguarding wildlands, protecting wildlife and supporting guardians, maximising its impact through scientific research, biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention, endangered species recovery and conservation leadership cultivation.  Learn more at https://globalwildlife.org

About WildArk

WildArk is a global not-for-profit conservation effort that was founded in 2016, aiming to promote and support activities that educate, enable, provide resources or inspire humanity to sustainably conserve, protect or restore the environment and the world’s ecosystems, natural resources, wildlife and wild places. The mission is manifested through positive storytelling, scientific research, supporting wildlife conservation and investing in space for the wild. Learn more at www.wildark.org.

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