Two New Species of Greater Gliders Discovered in Australia

Once the greater gliders, the world’s biggest gliding mammals, roamed the Australian lands freely. However, with the climate changes and human activities, the animal now falls in the category of endangered species. To the delight of conservationists, researchers have recently revealed that there are actually three separate species of greater gliders in Australia.

According to genetic research, two more species of greater gliders have been added to the rich biodiversity of the island continent, which has been facing threat from rising temperatures, bushfires and land-clearing.

Two New Species of Greater Gliders Discovered in Australia

Image: Steven Kuiter

Greater gliders are listed as vulnerable by the federal government. The quiet marsupials are roughly the size of a cat. These nocturnal animals have distinctly fluffy fur and only eat eucalyptus leaves. They can glide as far as 100 meters.

Earlier it was thought that there was only one species of greater gliders in Australia, though their different sizes and colors were recognized. Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU), James Cook University, the University of Canberra and CSIRO came together to conduct genetic tests from tissue samples taken from gliders in parts of Queensland, Victoria and from museum specimens.

The research indicates greater gliders, with the Latin name Petauroides volans, are three different species that now include Petauroides minor and Petauroides armillatus. Earlier the species was thought to have a range as far north as Townsville, but are much less widely-dispersed and concentrated more to the south. The 2019-20 bushfire season took a heavy toll on Australian wildlife.

The division of the greater glider into multiple species reduces the previous widespread distribution of the original species, further increasing conservation concern for that animal and highlighting the lack of information about the other greater glider species.

says co-author and ecological scientist Kara Youngentob from Australian National University.

Two New Species of Greater Gliders Discovered in Australia

Image: Alamy

The division of one species into three indicates that their habitats and other behaviors will have to be revised. Ph.D. student at JCU, Denise McGregor, who led the study, said that there have been assumptions for a while that there were more than one species of the greater glider but the study has provided concrete evidence from the DNA.

Prof Brendan Wintle, a conservation ecologist at the University of Melbourne who did not participate in the research, said that Petauroides volans was known to be quickly declining in numbers and if the other two species were suffering a similar fate, then there is a significant challenge to conserve these endangered species.

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