Fresh lizard species out of Western Australia

Rebecca Bray's blog | Created 2 weeks ago

Four new species from the Kimberley and Pilbara have been described by teams led by Dr Paul Doughty, our WA Museum Herpetology Curator (reptiles and amphibians).

Three new gecko species of the genus Gehyra from the Kimberley region (and one from the Northern territory) were discovered through the workDetailed genetic analyses were conducted at the Australian National University (ANU), led by Professor Craig Moritz and a morphological study of specimens was carried out at the WA Museum led by Dr Doughty.

The initial genetic analyses1 revealed that a variable widespread species Gehyra nana was actually a complex of species, and after detailed examination of the specimens a further four new species were described in the new paper in the international journal Zootaxa2. The new species include:

Gehyra granulum sp. nov. from the southern Kimberley ranges and north-west, including many near-shore islands,

Gehyra paranana sp. nov. from the western Northern Territory,

Gehyra pluraporosa sp. nov. restricted to the northern Kimberley and,

Gehyra pseudopunctata sp. nov. from the southern Kimberley ranges.

Northern Kimberley gecko (Gehyra pluraporosa) Copyright Ryan Ellis/WA Museum

Northern Kimberley gecko (Gehyra pluraporosa)
Image copyright Ryan Ellis/WA Museum 

            Northern Kimberley gecko (Gehyra pluraporosa)
            Image copyright Ryan Ellis/WA Museum 

Most of the species have large distributions, but ‘Northern Kimberley geckos’ (Gehyra pluraporosa - photo above) are only known from two locations at the extreme north of the region in the rugged high rainfall region.

The Kimberley is an ancient region and is known as a hotspot for endemic species (those found nowhere else in the world). “The diversity of the Kimberley keeps increasing the longer biologists explore and document the animals and plants there” Dr Doughty said. “These are very fast, rock-climbing geckos that are hard to catch, but there was a concerted effort by all the [field] teams to go out at night among the rocks with head torches to look for them, as we knew there were unknown species lurking under the single name of Gehyra nana”.

This study would be not be possible without investment in surveys to explore remote areas, in particular, new field work initiatives in the Kimberley region by the WA Museum, ANU and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA-WA).

Gehyra pseudopunctata Image Copyright Stephen Zozoya

Gehyra pseudopunctata
Image copyright Stephen Zozoya

            Gehyra pseudopunctata
            Image copyright Stephen Zozoya

A second publication documents a new skink species from the Pilbara region Eremiascincus rubiginosus sp. nov. or the ‘rusty skinks’, with lead author Dr Sven Mecke from the University of Marburg in Germany3. This species was discovered in the deep gorges of the Hamersley Range by environmental consultants carrying out surveys and by DBCA and WA Museum biologists.

“Rusty skinks are unusual compared to other members of the group because they are reddish like the colour of the Pilbara rocks, and not like the yellowy-browns of species that live in the arid zone” said Dr Doughty. “The new species likely evolved from a sand dune-dwelling species, but got trapped within the rocky Pilbara gorges long ago, adapting to the hard surfaces and new background colouration.” Investigation of the evolutionary history of this species through detailed genetic work is ongoing.

Rusty skink (Eremiascincus rubiginosus)

Rusty skink (Eremiascincus rubiginosus)
Image copyright Ryan Ellis/WA Museum 

            Rusty skink (Eremiascincus rubiginosus)
            Image copyright Ryan Ellis/WA Museum 

Remote Western Australia is still full of many undescribed species and this research illustrates the increasingly collaborative nature of biodiversity studies and the value of multiple organisations working together.

“We couldn’t have put these species on the map without massive efforts by all the institutions involved. These are my two favourite places on the planet owing to the large number of fascinating reptile and frog species there. The Kimberley and Pilbara are very special areas with amazing species, and probably some more new species to come.” [Dr Doughty]

 

1Moritz, C., Pratt, R.C., Bank, S., Bourke, G., Bragg, J.G., Doughty, P., Keogh, J.S., Laver, R.J., Potter, S., Teasdale, L.C., Tedeschi, L.G. and Oliver, P.M. (2018). Cryptic lineage diversity, body size divergence and sympatry in a species complex of Australian lizards (Gehyra). Evolution 72: 54–66.

2Doughty, P., Bourke, G., Tedeschi, l.G., Pratt, R.C., Oliver, P.M., Palmer, R.A. & Moritz, C. (2018). Species delimination in the Gehyra nana (Squamata: Gekkonidae) complex: cryptic and divergent morphological evolution in the Australian Monsoonal Tropics, with the description of four new species. Zootaxa 4403: 201‒244.

3Mecke, S. & Doughty, P. (2018). A new species of Eremiascincus (Squamata: Sauria: Scincidae) from the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Vertebrate Zoology 68: 27‒37.