How the new Australasian Mammal Taxonomy Consortium is contributing to conservation

The Australasian Mammal Taxonomy Consortium (AMTC) was founded in 2021, with CBCS’s Associate Professor Diana Fisher sitting on the first steering committee.

Taxonomy – the scientific description and naming of organisms – is critical to biodiversity conservation (and biology, biosecurity, agriculture and many other disciplines), because species are at the centre of conservation discussion, actions and law. Taxonomists are working to describe global biodiversity even as species vanish. There is a lot to do. However, taxonomic change can cause heated debate – people sometimes have conflicting interests in species classification. It is ever more important that taxonomic decisions are evidencebased, consistent with modern methods, accessible and transparent. The AMTC was established to meet this need.

Setting goals for mammals

The AMTC is part of the Australian Mammal Society. It has a broad membership of 31, and a steering committee of eight researchers affiliated with the Queensland Museum, the Australian Museum, the Western Australian Museum, The University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, and the Australian National University. The AMTC has made substantial progress to meet its goals in recent months. These goals are to:

  1. Promote stability and consensus in the use of Australasian mammal scientific names via updatable online species lists approved by AMTC members, thereby supporting more rigorous study of mammals and their biodiversity
  2. Provide advice and guidance on taxonomy, and promote its cause and importance, to scientists and laypersons
  3. Promote the importance of taxonomicbased research as well as foster and enable collaborative taxonomy-focused research projects.

Australian mammal species list

A major success is the new AMTC species list, which is now on the Australian Mammal Society website at https://australianmammals.org.au/publications/amtc-species-list.

This list is an accurate, updatable and unified checklist of Australian mammalian taxa recognised by experts and accepted by the mammal research community. It will continue to be updated annually as robust  taxonomic research is published. The list is supported by a publication “The importance of appropriate taxonomy in Australian mammalogy”.

On the Australian Mammal Society website, the AMTC has also published a governance document, a position statement on taxonomic vandalism, and a set of transparent criteria that it considers sufficient to recognise species boundaries. To promote the work of taxonomists in the conservation of mammals, the AMTC has recently published an article in The Conversation: “Australia has hundreds of mammal species. We want to find them all – before they’re gone”.

The current AMTC species list recognises 404 Australian mammal species, including two monotremes (platypus and echidna), 175 marsupials, and 227 placentals (native rodents, bats and cetaceans). The list includes 11 new species of mammals that have been described just in the last decade (see, for example, Antechinus argentus and Antechinus arktos, pictured). The AMTC has also identified more than 100 New Guinean marsupial species. These are not yet listed. A future task of the AMTC will be to work with research groups in Melanesia and Wallacea to add mammals from our broader Australasian region to the AMTC species list, and so identify Australasian mammals before more species are lost.

 

Pictured are two species of marsupials described in 2013: the nationally Endangered carnivorous marsupials the silver-headed antechinus Antechinus argentus (teaser image) and black-tailed dusky antechinus A. arktos (above). Diana Fisher, QUT researcher Andrew Baker and QUT PhD student Stephane Batista are searching for new populations and working to protect these species in collaboration with Queensland Department of Environment and Science Principal Conservation Officer Ian Gynther, the New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment, Canines for Wildlife and Gidarjil Indigenous Rangers. Photos by Andrew Baker

Project members

Associate Professor Diana Fisher

Associate Professor
School of Biological Sciences