Species richness: our EOFY stock-take reveals over 200 newly discovered species

By Andrea Wild

27 June 2018

3 minute read

Kuschelorhynchus macadamiae, a native weevil that has become a pest of macadamias grown in northern NSW and Queensland. It was named in honour of the late weevil expert Guillermo (Willy) Kuschel of New Zealand.

Fossil insects in Burmese amber, a deepwater catshark from Papua New Guinea, a daisy known from only 20 individual plants in Western Australia, an Australian native weevil that has become a pest of macadamias and more than 200 other new species have been named in the past year by taxonomists at our National Research Collections Australia.

Taxonomy, the naming of species scientifically, is not only necessary for referring to species, it’s also essential to other branches of biology and a starting point for managing biodiversity.

Our new species tally is diverse and includes three new fishes, three new plants, and a whopping 206 new insects. While most of the new species are from Australia, some of the insects are from Malaysia, Myanmar, China, Hawaii, New Zealand, South Africa and Mexico.

A new soldier fly, Apisomya bathae, named by Bry the Fly Guy (Dr Bryan Lessard) in honour of journalist Chris Bath.

Our insect discoveries far outweigh those in other animal groups because insects include some of the most diverse and abundant lifeforms on Earth. The insects included 73 new ants, 38 new beetles and 21 new flies.

Our species discovery research is not only adding to the fine detail of the tree of life, but also deeper branches. Among the new beetle and fly species we described three entirely new tribes (groups of genera), a profound and significant taxonomic discovery.

The three plants included two butterfly orchids from Queensland and a small, shrubby daisy from Western Australia, which has small white flowers and is known from just one population of fewer than 20 individual plants.

While not in our counts, approximately ten new species of fishes were discovered aboard our marine research vessel Investigator during a voyage of the North West Shelf in late 2017 and are yet to be scientifically named.

An unexpected source of species discovery is when a single species is recognised as two, such as the Chestnut Quail- thrush, which occurs in arid and semi-arid parts of Australia. It was recently renamed as two species, the Chestnut Quail-thrush and the Copper-backed Quail-thrush.

One of the best places in Australia to discover a new species, though, is our insect collection, which contains specimens dating back to the early nineteenth century. We hold more than 15 million natural history specimens in the National Research Collections Australia.

Centrophorus longipinnis (Longfin Gulper Shark)

Worldwide, scientists continue to utilise natural history collections to describe and name the estimated 10 million species on Earth. Australia is home to approximately 500,000 species and around three quarters of these occur nowhere else on earth. Around 25,000 plant species are native to Australia, 800 birds, 5,000 fishes and 250,000 insects.

The three new plant species were named by researchers at the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research, a joint venture between us and the Australian Government Director of National Parks.