An Australian mammal thought to have been wiped out over 150 years ago can nowbe crossed off our list of extinct animals, following a new study.

Researchers compared DNA samples from eight extinct Australian rodents, aswell as 42 of their living relatives, to look at the decline of native speciessince the arrival of Europeans in Australia.

The study showed the extinct Gould’s mouse was indistinguishable from theShark Bay mouse, still found on several small islands off the coast of WesternAustralia.

According to lead author Dr Emily Roycroft from The Australian NationalUniversity (ANU), the result is both exciting and sobering.

“The resurrection of this species brings good news in the face of thedisproportionally high rate of native rodent extinction, making up 41 per centof Australian mammal extinction since European colonisation in 1788,” DrRoycroft said.

“It is exciting that Gould’s mouse is still around, but its disappearance fromthe mainland highlights how quickly this species went from being distributedacross most of Australia, to only surviving on offshore islands in WesternAustralia. It’s a huge population collapse.”

In addition to Gould’s mouse, the study examined seven other extinct nativespecies.

All had relatively high genetic diversity immediately before extinction,suggesting they had large, widespread populations prior to the arrival ofEuropeans.

“This shows genetic diversity does not provide guaranteed insurance againstextinction,” Dr Roycroft said.

“The extinction of these species happened very quickly.

“They were likely common, with large populations prior to the arrival ofEuropeans. But the introduction of feral cats, foxes, and other invasivespecies, agricultural land clearing and new diseases have absolutely decimatednative species.

“We still have a lot of biodiversity to lose here in Australia and we’re notdoing enough to protect it.”

The study has been published in the journal PNAS.

Image: Pseudomys fieldi (Shark Bay mouse). Source: Australian WildlifeConservancy. Photographer: Wayne Lawler

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