Refereed Article Taxonomic uncertainty and the loss of biodiversity on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean

Citation: Eldridge MDB, Meek PD and Johnson RN. 2014. Taxonomic uncertainty and the loss of biodiversity on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean. Conservation Biology. 28. 572-579.

DOI: DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12177

Abstract:

The taxonomic uniqueness of island populations is often uncertain which hinders effective prioritization for conservation. The Christmas Island shrew (Crocidura attenuata trichura) is the only member of the highly speciose eutherian family Soricidae recorded from Australia. It is currently classified as a subspecies of the Asian gray or long-tailed shrew (C. attenuata), although it was originally described as a subspecies of the southeast Asian white-toothed shrew (C. fuliginosa). The Christmas Island shrew is currently listed as endangered and has not been recorded in the wild since 1984–1985, when 2 specimens were collected after an 80-year absence. We aimed to obtain DNA sequence data for cytochrome b (cytb) from Christmas Island shrew museum specimens to determine their taxonomic affinities and to confirm the identity of the 1980s specimens. The Cytb sequences from 5, 1898 specimens and a 1985 specimen were identical. In addition, the Christmas Island shrew cytb sequence was divergent at the species level from all available Crocidura cytb sequences. Rather than a population of a widespread species, current evidence suggests the Christmas Island shrew is a critically endangered endemic species, C. trichura, and a high priority for conservation. As the decisions typically required to save declining species can be delayed or deferred if the taxonomic status of the population in question is uncertain, it is hoped that the history of the Christmas Island shrew will encourage the clarification of taxonomy to be seen as an important first step in initiating informed and effective conservation action.

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