Application for Scientific Permit – Available for Public Comment
Public comment on the following application for a Scientific Research (Fauna) Permit is open until 26 October.
Applicant: Ecology & Wildlife, Massey University, New Zealand
Species/Taxon: Tasmanian grasshoppers: Russalpia, Tasmaniacris, Tasmanalpina, Truganinia
Location: Wellington Park, Hobart. Cradle Mountain, Queenstown, Derwent Bridge: Cradle Mountain- St Clair NP Hartz Peak: Hartz NP.
Title of research: Biodiversity and evolutionary ecology of Tasmania’s endemic grasshoppers in a changing environment.
Aim of project: This project seeks to understand how grasshoppers in the cooler southern portion of Australasia have adapted to local conditions. We will use a combination of ecological data, climate niche modelling, morphometric analysis and phylogenetic analysis based on DNA sequence data to test hypotheses about the timing and pattern of diversification and species formation, and the morphological change associated with this. We already have substantial data on the New Zealand grasshopper fauna, which is considered to be closely allied to the Tasmanian grasshopper species. We will test the existing hypothesis that the NZ and Tasmanian grasshoppers share a common ancestor some 50 million years ago (with minimal morphological evolution), and the alternative that ancestry of these faunas is much more recent. Strikingly the grasshoppers in these regions share many ecological as well as morphological traits including being flightless and being able to overwinter at any life stage.
Documenting biodiversity is fundamental to conservation, as is developing an understanding of the spatial and temporal parameters that limit species distributions and abundance. This project provides a special opportunity to examine how grasshoppers with shared ancestry have independently responded to similar ecological conditions in two different regions (Tasmania and New Zealand). Our results will inform on the scale of genetic diversity among the species and between their separate populations, and will be invaluable in ongoing work to predict species response to anthropogenic climate change. The taxonomically diverse New Zealand grasshoppers have been the subject of recent phylogenetic, ecological and niche modelling analysis that indicates that we can expect a reduction of most populations during the next 30–50 years due to loss of habitat to climate change (Koot 2018 thesis, and resulting manuscripts). We also found that some species comprise two or more ecologically distinct, but cryptic, lineages. Extending this work to include the Tasmanian fauna is a natural step to test phylogenetic and adaptive responses in this group of related species.
Maximum likely numbers of individuals involved:
We aim to collect up to 40 individuals of each species, but with no more than 10 individuals per location.
Activities undertaken and methods:
Grasshoppers will be collected by hand. This approach allows targeted sampling and avoids unnecessary damage to unwanted individuals. Our technique, developed over many years of work with related grasshoppers in New Zealand, means we can examine, photograph and document live individuals and release them if not needed as preserved specimens. This is particularly important where several species that display sexual dimorphism and additional colour polymorphism coexist at the same location.
Fate of animals:
Grasshoppers will be euthanased by cooling and freezing before submergence in ethanol, to provide permanent morphological and genetic voucher specimens that will be retained for study and comparison. These will be held in the research collection until completion of the study, when the specimens will be available to be deposited at the National Museum of New Zealand or a nominated Australian museum.
Likely impact on species involved (including any by-catch):
As with most small insects, these grasshoppers typically exist in high numbers. The scale of sampling we propose is very small in comparison to the daily natural mortality of these invertebrates in the face of normal predation, and so is expected to be inconsequential for population viability. Even in New Zealand, where most ground predation is via introduced pest species, grasshopper species in upland regions remain abundant. That said, our searches in Tasmania will provide the opportunity to gauge current patterns of presence/absence and relative abundance among locations we visit. There will be no by-catch from our sampling activity, as we will collect by hand only individuals of the target taxa, and experience indicates no negative outcomes from handling grasshoppers. In the unlikely event that individuals be damaged during collecting these will automatically be kept and counted toward our maximum sample, rather than releasing injured individuals.