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Gene study finds two new glider species

Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, November 9, 2020 7:00PM New York Post

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Greater glider in forest south of Brisbane, Qld. Picture: Josh Bowell/WWF media_cameraGreater glider in forest south of Brisbane, Qld. Picture: Josh Bowell/WWF

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Australian scientists have discovered two new species of one of our cutest and most-loved animals, the greater glider.

Or, rather, that the greater gliders we thought were one species are actually three different species — with two new, distinct and smaller species of gliders in northern and central Australia, outside of the marsupial’s known habitat in Victoria and New South Wales.

A team of researchers from James Cook University (JCU), The Australian National University, the University of Canberra and CSIRO* analysed the genes* of the greater glider, a possum-sized marsupial that can glide up to 100m.

JCU’s PhD student Denise McGregor and Professor Andrew Krockenberger were part of a team that confirmed a long-held theory that the greater glider is actually multiple species.

Scientists were interested in why greater gliders varied so much across their geographic range.

Ms McGregor discovered that the genetic differences between the populations she was looking at were profound*.

“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,” she said.

“Australia’s biodiversity* just got a lot richer. It’s not every day that new mammals are confirmed, let alone two new mammals,” Prof Krockenberger said.

The already-known southern glider, which is about the size of a common possum, sleeps in hollowed-out trees in the forests of Victoria and NSW during the day and sets out at night in search of eucalyptus leaves and buds — sometimes soaring up to 100m through the air.

Zoo Calendar for the Sunday Herald Sun from Melbourne Zoo, Werribee Open Range Zoo, and Healesville Zoo. Greater Glider media_cameraGreater gliders are much-loved and very cute native Australian marsupials that sleep in hollowed-out trees.

In recent years, it has been classified as an at-risk species, with its population declining by as much as 80 per cent over the past two decades. Habitat destruction, climate change and urban development have all contributed to the decline.

Now there are three species to look after, the researchers said.

The newly discovered northern species, which lives in the eucalyptus forests between Mackay and Cairns in Queensland, is the smallest, growing to the size of a little ringtail possum, which is up to about 30cm long.

That’s compared to the southern glider, which can grow to almost twice that size.

The newly found central species lives in southern Queensland up to Mackay and is between the two others in size.

The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

This story was first published on the New York Post and is republished with permission.

David Fleay Wildlife Park's proud greater glider parents, Dusky and Mickey, are at last able to show off their joey who until now has been hiding in mum's pouch. media_cameraA greater glider joey at David Fleay Wildlife Park, Burleigh Heads, Qld.

GLOSSARY

  • CSIRO: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australian Government’s scientific research agency
  • genes: the way inherited traits are passed from one generation to the next
  • profound: very great or intense
  • speculation: forming of a theory without firm evidence
  • DNA: the carrier of genetic information in living things
  • biodiversity: range of living things in a habitat or on Earth

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is the main point of this story?
  2. How do gliders move from tree to tree?
  3. What do gliders eat?
  4. What things threaten the survival of the gliders?
  5. Which species is the smallest?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Identification Card
Scientists have only just discovered that there are in fact 3 different species of greater gliders not one as previously thought. It will take some time for people to learn the similarities and differences between these species when identifying them in nature.

Help them out by creating an Identification Card that they can use to help identify which of the three species they are looking at. Your identification card should be no bigger than A4 in size and should include a picture, the main features of each and significantly the features that are different between them. Be sure to also include the distribution map of each species (where it can be found).

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension
‘Now there are three species to look after.’

Unfortunately, the greater glider has been classed as at-risk in recent years.

Help to raise awareness of the plight of gliders across Australia by creating a poster to inform people of their decline. Include details of how much their population has declined, and some of the causes. What can people do to help to prevent further decline of the populations? Where will you display your poster?

Think about who you should target your poster towards. Who can make the most difference? How?

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative thinking, The Arts – Visual Arts

VCOP ACTIVITY
Proper Noun Police
A proper noun is a noun that names a particular person, place or thing. It always has a capital letter.

How many proper nouns can you find within this article? Find them all and sort them into the category of name, place, time (date/month).

Can you find any proper nouns included in your writing?

What are they?

Can you sort them into their categories?

HAVE YOUR SAY: What would you call the three species so we know the difference?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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