Tropical glider’s identity under microscope

09-Dec-2013

A Lambalk glider in Kakadu National Park … the subject of an enquiry into its identity. Photo courtesy Christopher MacGregor.


A tropical tree-dwelling marsupial with an identity crisis is the subject of a new Charles Darwin University research project in Kakadu National Park and other parts of the Top End.

Known to make a yapping sound like a small dog, the Lambalk glider had been regarded widely as a sub-species of the sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps) until recent genetic studies gave rise to questions about its real identity.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Sue Carthew said the finding came as a surprise to the scientific community.

“Results showed that it was probably more closely related to the squirrel glider and the mahogany glider, neither of which is known to live in the Territory,” Professor Carthew said.

“It immediately prompted questions about its taxonomy; about whether it was a tropical version of a squirrel glider or whether it’s a new species altogether. Unfortunately, we have had too few samples to really know. That’s why this study is so important.

“While research had shown concerning declines in populations of native terrestrial mammals across the Top End over the past decade, there is little data about tree-living species, such as gliders.

“It is important to find out which species we have here, where they live and exactly what their habitat requirements are,” she said.

With the support of Kakadu National Park and in collaboration with the South Australian Museum, CDU researchers will continue to trap gilders and other arboreal marsupials over coming months.

“We will also take a second look at glider specimens in museums and other collections as part of a broader exercise to reach a better understanding of the Lambalk.”

Professor Carthew said Lambalk gliders were small marsupials that could be seen at night gliding from tree to tree, where they eat sap, gum, nectar, and insects.

“While existing knowledge from traditional owners and park staff had already proved useful in understanding something of the glider’s distribution in Kakadu, CDU has asked people ‘on country’ to assist with the project,” she said.

“A fresh specimen or even the partial remains could provide valuable genetic and morphological information and I urge anyone who finds one to contact Research Associate Dr Montague-Drake at our Jabiru Centre as soon as possible.”

Dr Montague-Drake’s contact details are 0419 614 427, or Rebecca.montague-drake@cdu.edu.au.

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