It used to be that broader understanding of zoology meant intuitively that new species would be harder to find and so it followed that there would be fewer of them when found - that is the nature of rarity.

Now, because newer species are so rare, it is fashionable to label them nearly extinct even though they have just been discovered and so may not have been prolific any time in recent memory, or at all.  It can be a little numbing to the general audience. - when everything is rare, nothing is (see special snowflake).

So it goes with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and their discovery of Pezoporus flaviventris, which they immediately declared critically endangered.  How is that possible when they didn't even know until recently the western version of the ground parrot was different than that in eastern Australia?   That distinction, provided by DNA analyses from museum specimens from the 19th century, is now important because the ground parrot population in western Australia has declined in the last 20 years, with only 110 birds alive and those in a single national park, which means since it is now a different species, it automatically becomes one of the rarest birds in the world.

Pezoporus flaviventris
Pezoporus flaviventris photographed in Fitzgerald River National Park, Western Australia.  Credit: Brent Barrett, WA Department of Environment and Conservation.

What to do?   Well, the days when suspect claims that any tiny species extinction would lead to cataclysm are long gone but diversity is good and we are developed enough as a world culture we can protect even brand-new-species-that-are-immediately-endangered without much effort so it makes sense to do so.   Since they are in one national park, and a fire or an aggressive cat could wipe them out pretty easily, one idea is to place them somewhere else also - an 'insurance population', Dr. Allan Burbidge of the Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation calls it.  

It is interesting how much value museums now have in genetic forensics and analysis.   Says Dr. Jeremy Austin, Deputy Director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide, "Our findings demonstrate that museum collections, some going back more than 150 years, continue to be relevant and can provide critical information for understanding and conserving the world's biodiversity into the future."

Let's hope museums are not the only place to find this little guy in the future.