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Endangered Species Research

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ESR 14:127-134 (2011)  -  DOI:

Application of the precautionary principle to taxa of uncertain status: the case of the Bellinger River turtle

Arthur Georges1,*, Ricky-John Spencer1,2, Michael Welsh3, H. Bradley Shaffer4, Rachael Walsh1, Xiuwen Zhang

1Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia
2Native and Pest Animal Unit, School of Natural Sciences, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith South, New South Wales 2750, Australia
3Michael Welsh Fauna Consultant, 7 Chisholm Road, Gerringong, New South Wales 2534, Australia
4Department of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, One Shields Ave, Davis, California 95616, USA

ABSTRACT: Legislative and regulatory frameworks for conserving biodiversity often focus on the species as a fundamental unit for protection. In cases where the taxonomic or conservation status of a species is uncertain, the precautionary principle may be invoked in listing suspected but as yet undescribed taxa as vulnerable or endangered. In this paper, we present an evaluation of the taxonomic status of what has been regarded as a distinctive but as yet undescribed species of freshwater turtle, declared endangered in the Action Plan for Australian Reptiles and vulnerable in the schedules of state and federal conservation acts. Using mitochondrial sequence variation, we show that the Bellinger River turtle is an unremarkable population of a common and widespread species, Emydura macquarii. In addition, we present evidence suggesting that it may have been recently introduced to, or may be a recent invader of, the Bellinger River (New South Wales, Australia) where it may come to compete with Myuchelys georgesi, an endemic found only in the Bellinger River. Our study illustrates the need to couple fundamental research with on-ground action early in an adaptive management context, particularly where taxonomic status of the target species is uncertain. Short-term cost savings of failing to do so may come to be greatly exceeded by longer-term opportunity loss where conservation dollars are limited.

KEY WORDS: Taxonomic impediment · Emydura macquarii · Myuchelys georgesi · Elseya · ­Mitochondrial sequence variation

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Cite this article as: Georges A, Spencer RJ, Welsh M, Shaffer HB, Walsh R, Zhang X (2011) Application of the precautionary principle to taxa of uncertain status: the case of the Bellinger River turtle. Endang Species Res 14:127-134.

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