Uncovering hidden biodiversity

Australia has a unique and charismatic animal fauna, with many animals known only from small pats of Australia. Good old fashioned detective work in the field wedded to new highly sensitive genetic techniques enable us to detect previously unknown species and properly document the true biodiversity of Australian ecosystems. This kind of research is rapidly fading in popularity, as public funds for this field of work diminish. Moreover, most scientists who have led this work for decades across all animal groups are reaching retirement age, and public institutions, such as museums, rarely replace them. Targeted philanthropic investment in this space is likely to have rapid impact in uncovering hidden biodiversity, with conservation benefits.

As a case in point, a recent project funded solely by philanthropy, allowed University of Melbourne researchers to traverse the remote rivers of the Kimberley region in Australia’s north from 2012-2014. This effort resulted in discovery of a treasure trove of 20 new freshwater fish species. The discovery increased the biodiversity estimate of Australia’s freshwater fish by 10% and is the greatest single addition to Australia’s freshwater fish fauna since the first Australian fish species was described more than 187 years ago. Now that we know these species exist, we can mount arguments for their protection.