Hunt for ‘never-before-seen’ species in Queensland rainforests

New technologies will be used to hunt for undiscovered species in the rainforests of Queensland.

New technologies will be used to hunt for undiscovered species in the rainforests of Queensland. Photo: James Cook University

Mystery creatures are set to be discovered in far north Queensland’s rainforests, but yowie hunters shouldn’t get too excited.

James Cook University’s Professor Bill Laurance is confident new technology used by his research team will unearth “never-before-seen species” in the region’s rainforest canopies.

“There’s heaps of stuff in a rainforest that hasn’t been discovered yet,” he told AAP.

“Any time you start looking in strange places like a canopy all kind of things pop up.

“It’s one of the great biological frontiers left on the planet.”

Prof Laurance is director of JCU’s Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science (TESS), a group of about 160 scientists working across far north Queensland aiming to “reveal the secrets of the rainforest”.

But he warned yowie enthusiasts shouldn’t get their hopes up.

“There is a vanishing, small chance in my view that they exist,” he said.

“For something that big and that conspicuous to go undiscovered is going to the fringes of reality.

“It would be a great story. Are you kidding? The scientist who discovers it would be made for life, but there is a very tiny chance.”

Professor Laurance does keep an open mind on what other secrets the region may hold after leading a 2017 expedition to Cape York in search of the Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine.

“Some of the people we spoke to swore that they had seen one but we found no Thylacines,” said Professor Laurance, who analysed more than 100,000 photos taken in the region.

“I think there is a very small probability (Tasmanian Tigers still exist).

“But scientists have discovered too many times when we think something is completely gone, it reappears – you never know.”

Professor Laurance is excited by what TESS is set to discover thanks to new technology, saying “half to two-thirds of all insect species” in rainforest canopies are yet to be found.

TESS researcher Dr Sandra Abell has already been credited with finding a population of the endangered northern bettong or rat kangaroo – thought to be extinct – on the Atherton Tableland near Cairns.

“There are new technologies and genetic techniques that are being used to discover lots of species,” Professor Laurance said.

“Lots of weird and wonderful things have been discovered by things like environmental DNA used to sample water and amplify DNA samples.

“Just a rare animal pooing in the water is all it takes to identify it.”


Topics: rainforests
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