A recent study into the Grassland Earless Dragon has determined that what was once thought to be one species is in fact four, and one of these is specific to Canberra.
A joint genetic and taxonomic study conducted by Museums Victoria, South Australia Museum, the University of Canberra and the University of Melbourne, has revealed the new findings in a paper published today on Royal Society Open Science.
Professor Stephen Sarre from the University’s Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) said that the findings have important implications for Canberra.
“Not only does our beloved Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon get a change of scientific name to Tympanocryptis lineata, but this change means that its distribution is now confined to some small remnant patches of grassland in the ACT and nearby Queanbeyan,” he said.
“The populations of Grassland Earless Dragons that live near Cooma, which were formally believed to be the same as those living in the ACT, have also been recognised as distinct. They have been named after prominent ACT ecologist and IAE Adjunct Dr Will Osborne.”
The Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon also looks slightly different from the others. It has a longer tail, a wider snout and somewhat longer hindlimbs than the other species.
The four new species are spread across south-eastern Australia and are found in Canberra, Victoria (Tympanocryptis pinguicolla), near Cooma (Tympanocryptis osbornei) and near Bathurst (Tympanocryptis mccartneyi).
The paper also highlights the importance of long-term monitoring and research to understand the population status and ecological requirements of the Canberra species.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news – researchers think the species in Victoria may already be extinct, since it hasn’t been sighted for over 50 years.
“If that is the case, it would sadly be the first documented extinction of a reptile on the Australian mainland since European colonisation,” said Professor Sarre.
With four species of Grassland Earless Dragons now identified, it is important to update conservation plans to account for the different needs and smaller distributions of these new species.
The full paper, Taxonomy and conservation of grassland earless dragons: new species and an assessment of the first possible extinction of a reptile on mainland Australia, can be accessed here.