Although there had been a few sightings of similar-looking insects in the region since then, this is the first time the animals have been conclusively identified since their disappearance almost 100 years ago. “The stick insect [story] illustrates the fragility of island ecosystems, and in particular, how vulnerable they are to manmade changes like invasive species,” Alexander Mikheyev, an evolutionary biologist at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, says in a statement. “It just took one shipwreck and the fauna of the island has been altered in such a fundamental way.”
In 2001, a survey of Ball’s Pyramid, the remains of a large volcano about 20 kilometers away from Lord Howe Island, turned up a handful of live insects that appeared similar to the supposedly extinct tree lobsters. But it took a genomic analysis of the animals to confirm that they were indeed members of the same species—revealing less than 1 percent divergence with historical museum specimens.
See "Finding Phasmids"
The researchers are now considering how the insects might be reintroduced to Lord Howe Island following a rodent eradication program being planned for the region from 2018. “In this case, it seems like we’re lucky and we have not lost this species forever, although by all rights we should have,” Mikheyev says in the statement. “We get another chance—but very often we do not.”