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Taxonomic revision reveals potential impacts of Black Summer megafires on a cryptic species

Taxonomic revision reveals potential impacts of Black Summer megafires on a cryptic species ContextSound taxonomy is the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation. Without a fundamental understanding of species delimitations, as well as their distributions and ecological requirements, our ability to conserve them is drastically impeded. Cryptic species – two or more distinct species currently classified as a single species – present a significant challenge to biodiversity conservation. How do we assess the conservation status and address potential drivers of extinction if we are unaware of a species’ existence? Here, we present a case where the reclassification of a species formerly considered widespread and secure – the sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps) – has dramatically increased our understanding of the potential impacts of the catastrophic 2019–20 Australian megafires to this species.MethodsWe modelled and mapped the distribution of the former and reclassified sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps). We then compared the proportional overlap of fire severity classes between the former and reclassified distribution, and intersected habitat suitability and fire severity to help identify areas of important habitat following the 2019–20 fires.Key resultsTaxonomic revision means that the distribution of this iconic species appears to have been reduced to 8% of its formerly accepted range. Whereas the 2019–20 Australian megafires overlapped with 8% of the formerly accepted range, they overlapped with 33% of the proposed range of the redefined Petaurus breviceps.ConclusionsOur study serves as a sombre example of the substantial risk of underestimating impacts of mega-disturbance on cryptic species, and hence the urgent need for cataloguing Earth’s biodiversity in the age of megafire. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Pacific Conservation Biology CSIRO Publishing

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Publisher
CSIRO Publishing
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s). Published by CSIRO Publishing
ISSN
1038-2097
eISSN
2204-4604
DOI
10.1071/PC21045
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

ContextSound taxonomy is the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation. Without a fundamental understanding of species delimitations, as well as their distributions and ecological requirements, our ability to conserve them is drastically impeded. Cryptic species – two or more distinct species currently classified as a single species – present a significant challenge to biodiversity conservation. How do we assess the conservation status and address potential drivers of extinction if we are unaware of a species’ existence? Here, we present a case where the reclassification of a species formerly considered widespread and secure – the sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps) – has dramatically increased our understanding of the potential impacts of the catastrophic 2019–20 Australian megafires to this species.MethodsWe modelled and mapped the distribution of the former and reclassified sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps). We then compared the proportional overlap of fire severity classes between the former and reclassified distribution, and intersected habitat suitability and fire severity to help identify areas of important habitat following the 2019–20 fires.Key resultsTaxonomic revision means that the distribution of this iconic species appears to have been reduced to 8% of its formerly accepted range. Whereas the 2019–20 Australian megafires overlapped with 8% of the formerly accepted range, they overlapped with 33% of the proposed range of the redefined Petaurus breviceps.ConclusionsOur study serves as a sombre example of the substantial risk of underestimating impacts of mega-disturbance on cryptic species, and hence the urgent need for cataloguing Earth’s biodiversity in the age of megafire.

Journal

Pacific Conservation BiologyCSIRO Publishing

Published: Jan 6, 2022

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