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Bushfires & biodiversity – QM’s Martin Rix

‘Assassin’ spiders feared extinct after Kangaroo Island bushfires, ABC News, 18 January 2020

An ancient species of spider found only on Kangaroo Island is feared extinct after bushfires tore across the region last week.

Key points:

  • The species is only known from one region on Kangaroo Island
  • All its known habitat was burnt in bushfires
  • Insects and spiders play a crucial role in ecosystems and many are feared extinct following the bushfire crisis

The species of assassin spider — Zephyrarchaea austini — also called the pelican spider, is only known to occur in the Western River Wilderness Protection Area on Kangaroo Island.

The entire region where the spider is found was burnt in the blaze, which razed more than 200,000 hectares of bush and farmland, according to Mike Rix from the Queensland Museum, who first described the spider.

“It’s only known from the…north-west of the island,” Dr Rix said.

“As far as we know that area was significantly impacted. We’re very concerned that they may have been gravely impacted if not wiped out.”

Unlike some spiders that are able to burrow, or when young, to “balloon” through the air to escape fires, assassin spiders, which measure only 2 millimetres tall, live in the leaf litter on the forest floor.

“They’re really only found in rainforests and wet complex habitats,” Dr Rix said.

“As far as we know, the only way they can deal with fire is if there are untouched patches of habitat. Our biggest concern with the Kangaroo Island fire is that it was so destructive and so hot.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2020
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