Dung-Eating Koala Moth Named After CSIRO Head in Honour of Biodiversity Efforts

Dung-Eating Koala Moth Named After CSIRO Head in Honour of Biodiversity Efforts

The CSIRO's chief executive Dr John Stocker is to have a remarkable and newly discovered Australian insect named after him. The insect, a small mallee moth which feeds on koala droppings, was discovered in the Tantawangalo State Forest in south-east New South Wales earlier this year. It has not yet been given a scientific name.

The head of the Australian National Insect Collection, Dr Ebbe Nielsen, said he had suggested the moth should be named after Dr Stocker in recognition of the CSIRO chief executive's strong support for biodiversity research. He said Dr Stocker had been instrumental in boosting the priority of biodiversity research within CSIRO. Dr Stocker had also encouraged koala-breeding on his own property by planting appropriate eucalypts.

"This moth is an excellent example of Australia's importance as a world centre of biodiversity," Dr Nielsen said. "There are thought to be some 6,000 species of small mallee moths in Australia, all of which are essential in breaking down fallen eucalypt leaves and recycling their nutrients back into the harsh Australian soil.

"It is biodiversity in action: without these many different species of moths large tracts of Australian bush and farmland could not survive. Each species of moth does something different, but all are part of the recycling process. The new moth is really a modified leaf eater, which makes sense because koala droppings consist of part-digested gum leaves."

Dr Stocker said he was "pleased" that such a peculiarly Australian species was to be his namesake.

"I believe research into biodiversity is essential for Australia's future economic prosperity and for our environmental health - the two, after all, are inseparable. In this world it's not always the cuddly and cute things which are important; the message of biodiversity is that all kinds of strange creatures are essential to keep the planet healthy," he said.

"In the name of biodiversity I don't mind being identified with a creature which spends its whole life in the poo, especially in the droppings of such a celebrated Australian. It seems the perfect metaphor for public service."

Biological diversity (or "biodiversity") means simply the variety of life on Earth. It includes three levels - genetic variation within a species, variation between different species and variation between different ecosystems.

Many major industries rely entirely on biodiversity. For example, world agriculture - worth an estimated $3 trillion a year - depends on new varieties of livestock and crops being bred continually from their wild cousins. Scientists use wild genetic stocks to keep domesticated crops and animals a jump ahead of pests and diseases, to breed drought-resistance and other desirable traits, to boost yields and to change the nutritional content and other attributes of food and agricultural products.

The pharmaceutical industry also depends largely on biodiversity from the wild to provide new drugs and processes. Most pharmaceuticals now used were first found in wild plants and animals. Major searches are continuing around the world for possible new drugs in wild species which might hold cures for cancer or other human ailments.

CSIRO recently began a new Biodiversity Multi-Divisional Program which will bring together researchers from many scientific disciplines to study Australia's rich biodiversity, and also to seek ways to conserve it. Australia, with an estimated 475,000 of the Earth's 10 to 30 million species, is one of the world's 12 "megadiverse" countries.

And what will the new moth be called? Dr Nielsen said it would be named after Dr Stocker, but that the exact name had to remain a secret until it was formally published by biodiversity researchers Drs Ian Common and Marianne Horak in a scientific journal next year. The rules of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature did not allow for prior publication of the moth's full scientific name.

David Mussared (author). Department of the Environment and Water Resources. November 1993

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