Oral Presentation- Symposium 12th International Mammalogical Congress

The critical importance of palaeontological data in efforts to optimise conservation of endangered mammals: an Australian focus (#232)

Michael Archer 1 , Suzanne J Hand , Karen Black , Hayley Bates , Chris Palmer
  1. University of New South Wales, Maroubra, New South Wales, Australia

Australia has lost 24 mammals since 1788. Failure to understand how this continent’s unique lineages and species have been changing through time, whether they are declining, increasing or stable, has sometimes led to incorrect, even fatal misconstructions about their conservation status. The fossil record provides important information about changes in diversity, distribution, habitat and abundance through time. As we come to understand more about these factors which can indicate greater environmental adaptability than current distributions suggest, it becomes possible to envisage a wider range of options for translocations in a world where sustainability of habitats is under increasing threat. As an example, the alpine Mountain Pygmy-possum, Burramys parvus, is already threatened by climate change. Using conventional biological/ecological wisdom, there would be no viable strategy for stopping this iconic marsupial from becoming extinct. The fossil record, however, has inspired an innovative strategy for saving this species. For the last 25 million years this lineage has always been represented by a single species in cool, temperate, species-rich lowland forest communities spanning what is now the Simpson Desert (24 mya) to northwestern Queensland (24-15 mya) and northwestern Victoria (4 mya). This palaeontological understanding has led to the now-supported ‘paleoconservation’ proposal to construct a lowland breeding facility in Secret Creek Sanctuary, NSW, with the goal of introducing this critically endangered mammal back into the traditional core habitat for the lineage. If this project succeeds, and all indications are that it will, similar projects should be considered for other climate-change-threatened mammals in and beyond Australia.