Hello, goodbye to new lizard

Thursday 8 November 2012
The Endangered 'Coastal Plains Skink'. Photo by Brad Maryan.

A team of scientists from The Australian National University has discovered a new species of lizard hidden among the sand dunes of Western Australia’s coastline. However, mankind’s encounter with this new species may be short-lived. Urban sprawl and habitat destruction are already pushing the tiny creature towards extinction.

The 6cm long Ctenotus ora, or the Coastal Plains Skink, only lives in the dunes along the Swan Coastal Plain between Dunsborough and Mandurah, south of Perth.

The discovery, detailed in the journal Zootaxa, took place during research to determine the levels of biological diversity in South-western Australia by ecologists Mr Geoffrey Kay from the Fenner School of Environment & Society, and Professor Scott Keogh from the ANU Research School of Biology.

“The discovery of a new species is a momentous occasion in science,” said Mr Kay.

“To find something as yet undetected, so close to one of the country’s largest cities, demonstrates how much we’ve still got to discover.

“Although it’s a fantastic discovery, it’s poor cause for celebration. Our new lizard is under serious risk of being erased just as suddenly as it appeared to us.

“Only a few of these lizards have ever been found in the wild, so while we know numbers are low, we are not sure of the exact size of the remaining population.”

The small stretch of sand the skink calls home is steadily being converted into residential developments to accommodate growth in Perth and the surrounding regions.

“Developments along the coastline near Perth need to consider this new lizard and potentially a large number of other species yet to be discovered in this diverse part of the world,” said Mr Kay.

South-western Australia is recognised as one of the top 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world, alongside places such as Madagascar, the tropical jungles of West Africa, and Brazil’s Cerrado.

“We’ve known for a long time that the southwest has an outstanding diversity of plants, as exhibited by its stunning wildflowers. But only now with this research are we seeing that the level of diversity in animals, in particular reptiles, is far deeper and more extreme than we previously imagined,” said Mr Kay.

“In some cases, by using new genetic techniques and technology, we’re finding what we thought was only one species is in fact 9 or 10 very different ones.”

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