New DNA Analysis Unlocks Secrets and techniques of Native Rodents’ Rat Race to New Lands

New DNA Research Unlocks Secrets of Native Rodents’ Rat Race to New Lands

A smoky mouse (Pseudomys fumeus) in Grampians-Gariwerd National Park, Victoria, Australia. Credit: David Paul/Museums Victoria

Recent research has mapped that

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is a molecule made up of two long strands of nucleotides that wrap around each other, forming a double helix. It is the genetic material of humans and almost all other organisms, containing genetic instructions for development, function, growth and reproduction. Almost every cell in the human body has the same DNA. Most DNA is found in the nucleus (there it is called nuclear DNA), but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the mitochondria (there it is called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA).

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute=””>DNA[{“attribute=””>DNA[{“attribute=””>DNA[{“attribute=””>DNA of more than 150 species of native rodents from across Australia, New Guinea and the Melanesian Islands. It paints a clearer picture of how they are related and how they eventually spread across the Pacific.

Lead Author Dr. Emily Roycroft from The

Australian National University
Founded in 1946, the Australian National University (ANU) is a national research university in Canberra, the capital of Australia. The main Acton campus includes seven colleges of teaching and research and several national academies and institutes.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute=””>AustralianNationalUniversity[{“attribute=””>AustralianNationalUniversity[{“attribute=””>AustralianNationalUniversity[{“attribute=””>AustralianNationalUniversity (ANU) said native rodents are a fascinating but often underestimated evolutionary group.

“Australia and New Guinea have over 150 species that are found nowhere else in the world, such as the rakali – or ‘water rat’ – which often swims around Canberra’s lakes,” said Dr. Roycroft.

“So far, we know very little about the evolution and origins of native rodents, particularly those in New Guinea.”

The research team used a new approach to extract DNA from museum specimens up to 180 years old, including many extinct and elusive species.

Australian water rat

A wild Rakali (also known as the Australian Water Rat).

“A specimen of the Guadalcanal rat from the Solomon Islands dates back to the 1880s and the species has not been seen since. It is listed as Critically Endangered and is very likely already extinct. We were curious to revisit these ancient specimens using modern technology,” said Dr. Roycroft.

Research shows that mountain building in New Guinea five million years ago was the trigger for the spread of native rodents in the region. The expansion of New Guinea opened up new environments for rodents to adapt to, including improved connectivity with Australia, the Solomon Islands, and the Maluku Islands.

“We have known for some time that Australia’s native rodents originated in Asia and entered our region via the water – possibly a single pregnant animal floating on a piece of driftwood. Now we have a precise timeline for that and an explanation of why we’re seeing so many species today,” said Dr. Roycroft.

“Our study shows that native rodents are excellent at colonizing new areas. When they first arrived in Australia, they adapted to many new environments – including the arid desert.

Additional information about the history of native rodents may emerge, according to Dr. Roycroft prove crucial to the future of these species.

“Native rodents have deep intrinsic value in our ecosystems. They are ecosystem engineers; They aerate the soil by digging and foraging, and they help disperse seeds and fungal spores,” she said.

“They also play a role in food webs as an important source of native predators, and in turn feed on plants, fungi and smaller animals.

“But they also have the highest rate of extinction of any Australian mammal group, due to extreme habitat loss and introduced predators. Losing even one native species can throw an ecosystem out of balance.

“Understanding how our native rodents evolved and adapted will help us conserve the ones we have left.”

The study was published in the journal Current Biology.

Reference: “New Guinea Uplift Opens Up Ecological Opportunities on a Continent” by Emily Roycroft, Pierre-Henri Fabre, Anna J. MacDonald, Craig Moritz, Adnan Moussalli, and Kevin C. Rowe, September 2, 2022, Current Biology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.08.021

The research was supported by Bioplatforms Australia through the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS).