A New Small Friend Just Dropped

A New Small Friend Just Dropped
Image: ANU

Wake up babe, researchers just discovered a new small friend in Queensland: a cousin to the White-footed Dunnart (the creatively named Wet Tropics White-footed Dunnart).

Scientists have long been perplexed by the Wet Tropics White-footed Dunnart, an unusually isolated mouse-like marsupial that lives in Queensland’s wet tropics.

“It’s around 1,800 kilometres from the nearest population of the same species, which is really strange for a mammal,” says Doctor Tyrone Lavery from the Australian National University. Lavery led the study.

“It also lives in a completely different habitat, in rainforests on mountain tops in north Queensland whereas the ones in Victoria and New South Wales tend to live in drier forests and heathland closer to the sea.”

Previously, researchers have only been able to catch and document the elusive Wet Tropics White-footed Dunnart three times. Information about the marsupial was scarce.

Until now!

“We set off on a mission to check they were still there and to find out how they are related to other dunnarts. We wanted to confirm if it was a new species or something else,” added Lavery.

“We looked at the morphology, so what it looks like, the shape of its skull, its fur colour and we compared its DNA with other dunnarts as well. It was different from its cousins in the southern states, but not different enough to be a completely different species.”

Though it’s not a completely new marsupial, it is different enough to inherit a new name: hence the “Wet Tropics” title before “White-footed Dunnart”. The humble tropical Dunnart has relatives elsewhere in Australia, but it has its own specific ecosystem adaptions.

“When we’re thinking about conserving biodiversity, it’s important to also protect this potential for new species to evolve,” Lavery added.

“That’s why we thought it was so important to track this group down and give it a name.”

Heck yeah, we love to see an Aussie marsupial winning.

You can read the study in Australian Mammalogy.