Two new mammals have been discovered in Australia, giving the country three “greater gliders” where there once was thought to be just one.
DNA testing has proved that the greater glider Petauroides volans, a tree-dwelling marsupial that can glide up to 100m across forests, is actually one of three glider species down under. P. volans is now joined by P. minor and P. armillatus. The results of the testing were published in Nature’s public access Scientific Reports journal.
“It’s really exciting to find this biodiversity under our noses.” study researcher Kara Youngentob told The West Australian. “The division of the greater glider into multiple species reduces the previous widespread distribution of the original species, further increasing conservation concern for that animal and highlighting the lack of information about the other greater glider species.”
“There has been speculation for a while that there was more than one species of greater glider but now we have proof from the DNA. It changes the whole way we think about them,” study researcher Denise McGregor told The Guardian.
The study involved researchers from Australian National University, the University of Canberra, CSIRO and James Cook University. This sort of discovery might not have been possible a few years ago, the team of researchers including McGregor, Amanda Padovan, Arthur Georges, Andrew Krockenberger, Hwan-Jin Yoon, and Youngentob wrote in the study abstract.
“Until now, genetic evidence to support multiple species has been lacking. For the first time, we used DArT sequencing on greater glider tissue samples from multiple regions and found evidence of three operational taxonomic units (OTUs) representing northern, central and southern groups. The three OTUs were also supported by our morphological data.”
These findings show that the glider family is more diverse than previously assumed, “and highlight the role of genetics in helping to assess conservation status,” the researchers wrote.
Now more than ever before, Australia is in need of ecological support. Bushfires that covered eastern Australia in 2019 and early 2020 could just as easily return with the dry season, once again driving native species closer to extinction.
“There’s been an increased focus on understanding genetic diversity and structure of species to protect resilience in the face of climate change,” Youngentob said.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the greater glider is currently classified as “threatened” and its numbers are still in decline.
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