THE WA Museum’s herpetology curator Dr Paul Doughty has just taken part in a birds and geckos survey of the Kimberley’s Gibb River Road.
Scientists and technicians form the WA Museum, Australian National University, University of Melbourne and the American Museum of Natural History travelled the 600-plus kilometre stretch of unsealed road between Derby and Wyndham.
Dr Doughty says the team collected about 200 reptile and 200 bird vouchers for future study.
“We are going out and getting targeted samples—we don’t grab too many from any one spot and it’s a massive area.”
Dr Doughty says the herpetology team’s main purpose was to “connect the dots” between gecko collections from several already-surveyed Kimberley locations.
“The region has been surveyed sporadically over the last few decades since the 70s, but a lot of those early collections were fairly basic and often focused on mammals,” he says.
“Tissue samples for later genetic analysis were not taken.”
He says while they did not discover any new reptile species in the field, “eureka moments” often occurred later, while analysing species in the laboratory.
“With these new collections in the North West and the beginning of the application of genetic tools to look at these ‘species’, we found a lot of what we call ‘cryptic species’.”
He says “cryptic species” were new finds that may end up being classified as new species.
“Because we are just one small museum covering a third of a continent … we do a genetic screen of the ‘species’ and often we find some quite interesting patterns, often we find deep genetic divergences between different areas.
“It’s by using these genetic techniques along with re-examination of the morphology that we can say ‘OK, these are very similar species but there actually are two different species’.”
He says the American scientists were there to collect bird skeletons.
“It’s in the American Museum’s [of Natural History] brief to have representative skeletons of all the bird species in the world, so there was an opportunity for those [guys] to come along the Gibb River Road,” he says.
“A lot of the bird species aren’t rare, it’s just more a matter of getting a nice skeleton.
He says the WA Museum has a good relationship with the American Museum of Natural History whereby both exchanged specimens and worked together.
This story pertains to deliveries in theme 3 of the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy.