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Curtin Scientists immortalised in the names of local animals

Media release

A survey into the identification of many rare and endangered invertebrate animals on Barrow Island has seen Curtin entomologists’ work celebrated by having a number of species named after them.

Acting in response to a Government request to protect the delicate ecology of the Island, the study funded Curtin and 25 taxonomists from around the world to spend a number of years surveying and identifying native invertebrates.

Curtin invertebrate conservationist and Project Team Leader, Professor Jonathan Majer, said over 2000 terrestrial invertebrate species were found on the Island, with up to 70 percent of discoveries being completely new to science.

“Using various entomological tools and techniques, our team managed to obtain species names for 20 percent of the revealed 2067 species of land-living invertebrates found on the Island, and the number is still growing,” Professor Majer said.

“Taxonomists have now commenced describing these new species, meaning that measurements are made, descriptions are recorded, and the finished product is published in a peer-reviewed scientific article.

“Much to our surprise, members of the team have had species from the Island named after them. In two cases, the genus itself bears the name of the Curtin researcher.”

Professor Majer, who has a long list of insects named after him, added a new thrips genus, Majerthrips barrowi , to his list and said it was a rare privilege for his team, including Dr Nihara Gunawardene, who had her own plant bug (Homoptera) christened Gunawardenea linnaei.

“Finding new species is relatively common but discovering a new genus is quite special and most certainly an honour to have one named after you, as in Dr Gunawardene’s case.”

Professor Majer said Barrow Island was very unique in that it represents a piece of the Australian ecosystem that, apart from a long-existing oil field, had been largely uninhabited and isolated for several thousand years.

“There are only 20 introduced, non-Indigenous invertebrate species living on the Island compared to the 100 or more introduced species on an equivalent area of the Australian mainland,” he said.

“With no introduced vertebrate herbivores or predators, such as house mice, rabbits and foxes to disrupt the delicate ecology surviving there. There are also minimal weeds growing on the Island.”

Professor Majer said his team would continue to monitor the Island two-three times per year to conduct baseline surveys in order to ensure no further non-Indigenous species were introduced.

Contacts:

Professor Jonathan Majer
Personal Chair, Department of Environment and Agriculture, School of Science, Curtin University
Email: j.majer@curtin.edu.au  

Andrea Barnard, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 4241, Mobile: 0401 103 755, Email: andrea.barnard@curtin.edu.au  

Web: http://curtin.edu.au