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New discovery gives hope of survival for critically endangered Wollemi pine

Dr Hiedi Zimmer in a secret grove of translocated Wollemi Pines. Photo: Nick Moir

By Marcus Strom

An Australian conifer that traces its lineage to the Jurassic period 150 million years ago was long thought extinct. Only traces of its ancestor Agathis jurassica existed in the fossil record.

Then one day in 1994 David Noble, a park ranger on a bushwalking holiday, abseiled into a secluded Blue Mountains canyon to find the fossils alive and well and the Wollemi pine was reborn.

At the time of its discovery the then director of the Royal Botanic Garden, Professor Carrick Chambers, said: "The discovery is the equivalent of finding a small dinosaur still alive on Earth." 

However, fewer than 100 adult trees exist in the wild. It is classified as critically endangered. The Wollemi pine face threats from climate change, illegal harvesting, fire and, most recently, fungal disease.

Its other great handicap is its genetics. Tests on this small isolated population of trees showed no genetic variation whatsoever – and that's bad for species survival.

However, new technology and research have given botanists hope.

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Date: 
Tuesday, January 10, 2017