Shark Bay Mouse, or Djoongari, (Pseudomys gouldii) CREDIT: Photography by C.Ching, Courtesy of the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

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Natural History Museum collection resurrects Australian rodent thought to be extinct for over 160 years

Gould’s mouse, an Australian rodent thought to be extinct for the last 164 years, has been resurrected thanks to an international team of scientists and the Natural History Museum’s world-leading collection. 

Genomic data from eight extinct Australian rodent species were studied using Museum specimens that are over 180 years old, along with 42 of their living relatives, to examine the decline of endemic species since European arrival. The study was led by the Australian National University and specimens from Museum’s Victoria were also sampled.

The team found Gould’s mouse (Pseudomys gouldii), which disappeared from Victoria and New South Wales over 160 years ago, to be genetically and visually indistinguishable from the Shark Bay Mouse (Pseudomys fieldi), known to currently exist on three islands in Shark Bay, Western Australia.

The species will still be known by the common name Shark Bay Mouse, or Djoongari, while reverting to the original scientific name Pseudomys gouldii.

Roberto Portela Miguez, Senior Curator in Charge of Mammals at the Museum and author on the paper says ‘The specimens used in this study are over 180 years old, and yet are still providing us with novel and really meaningful information.  The Museum’s collections are more relevant today than ever before. They are clearly key to help us better understand how historic events shaped our present biodiversity and hopefully will help informing conservation management in Australia and worldwide.’

Lead author on the study Dr Emily Roycroft says, ‘Australia has the highest historically recorded rate of mammalian extinction in the world, with 34 terrestrial species declared extinct since European settlement. It’s a rare and fantastic treat to be able to move one from the list of extinct to extant species.’

The team found no evidence for reduced genetic diversity in the extinct species prior to or during their decline. This suggests that that the extinction was rapid and likely due to human impact such as the introduction of invasive species, changing landscapes to facilitate agricultural farming and the destruction of habitats stemming from the arrival of European settlers. It also indicates that a thriving genetic diversity does not provide guaranteed insurance against extinction.

Treasures of the Natural World, a touring exhibition bringing together the very best of the Museum’s collection, is now open at Melbourne Museum. Treasures of the Natural World showcases objects unrivalled for their scientific and cultural importance from the Museum’s collection, from birds that inspired Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to extraordinary fossils and minerals. Melbourne is the final stop of the worldwide tour, which has also visited visit Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and Canada to audiences approaching 750,000 people.

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It is custodian of one of the world’s most important scientific collections comprising over 80 million specimens. The scale of this collection enables researchers from all over the world to document how species have and continue to respond to environmental changes - which is vital in helping predict what might happen in the future and informing future policies and plans to help the planet.

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