On a mission to discover unknown Australian species

University of Adelaide insect expert Dr Erinn Fagan-Jeffries has thrown her support behind a new mission launched by the Australian Academy of Science’s Taxonomy Australia, to discover and document all unknown Australian species by 2050.

The 25-year mission follows the release of a report by Deloitte Access Economics, which has found for every $1 invested in mapping all remaining Australian species, up to $35 in economic benefit will be returned to the nation.

“We have over 600,000 species of animals, plants and fungi and other organisms in Australia, but sadly only around 30 per cent have been named and documented. This represents a huge untapped resource."Dr Erinn Fagan-Jeffries
Braggs insect collection

Insect collections in The Braggs laboratories at the University of Adelaide.

Dr Fagan-Jeffries of the University's School of Biological Sciences is currently researching the biodiversity and taxonomy of parasitoid wasps in Australia.

In a recent study, she worked with Australian schoolchildren on a biodiversity project which resulted in the discovery of a number of new insect species.

The Doilette report indicates taxonomy investment can benefit a range of industries including bio-security, agriculture, medical and conservation.

Dr Fagan-Jeffries says, in addition to economic benefits, investment in taxonomy can have enormous environmental impact, and assist to preserve Australia’s rich biodiversity for the enjoyment of generations to come.

“With many Australian species already at risk of extinction, it is difficult to understand and manage this problem with so many species unknown,” Dr Fagan-Jeffries said.

The Deloitte report estimates that without the mission, it it’s likely to take more than 400 years to discover all remaining Australian plants, animals, fungi and other organisms.

While Australian taxonomists acknowledge the 25-year goal is highly ambitious, Dr Fagan-Jeffries says, “we are up for the challenge and new technologies such as genome sequencing, artificial intelligence and super-computing will play an important role.

“It’s a huge scientific challenge, and will require a major collaboration and utilisation of new and emerging technologies, but it can be achieved.”

The mission’s initial focus will be to develop assets, including a national biobank and DNA sequence library, to ensure DNA sequences are available for all known Australian species. This would unlock enormous potential, from eDNA sequencing for environmental monitoring to bioprospecting, bioindustries and bioengineering.

Tagged in Research, Engagement and Industry, School of Biological Sciences, Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Science, Ecology