Fossils give glimpse into future

Mar 18, 2013
Fossils give glimpse into future

A Flinders University researcher is digging up the past to solve problems of the future.

As part of his PhD, School of student Matthew McDowell (pictured) has been unearthing fossils from Kelly Hill Cave on and South Australia's peninsulas to determine the impact that and have had on Australian native animals.

The research has involved an analysis of mammal bones buried in multiple layers of cave dirt, providing insights into how animals which lived in the area have changed with over time.

"As many of the animals we unearthed are still alive today, we know the environmental conditions they prefer – some animals like hot and dry deserts, others may prefer a wet forest," Mr McDowell said.

"Animals which lived around the cave in the past either fell in or were eaten by owls that roosted in the cave where they disgorged the bones of their prey," he said.

"By identifying some 30,000 individual bones we've been able to interpret how the animals responded to over the last 40,000 years.

"We found that the oldest fossils mainly belonged to animals which live in dry heath vegetation today but that the youngest fossils were mainly from animals that currently live in forests or woodlands. The taller vegetation suggests climatic conditions have become wetter with time."

Mr McDowell said his research suggests that native mammals were resilient to climate change, however rising sea levels posed a problem.

"Only three species disappeared during the driest period recorded but within a thousand years of isolation due to , 14 native mammals disappeared.

"The island biogeography theory predicts that as an area gets smaller the number of species that can survive gets smaller too and we found that prediction was pretty accurate."

He said the overall aim of the study was to find new and improved ways to protect Australia's native animals.

"Islands are like an analogue for national parks, and what we can learn from islands can be applied to park management.

"Unfortunately the vast majority of national parks aren't big enough to maintain animals over the long term, by which I mean thousands of years, so it's really important that we maintain animal populations on private as well as public property and allow them to move between those areas and their habitat."

Mr McDowell was a winner of Flinders University's 2012 Best Student Paper Awards, an annual competition which aims to recognise and reward outstanding student research.

Explore further: Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Prehistoric bird found in fossil treasure

Aug 15, 2011

A Flinders University-led expedition involving the WA Museum has found the fossilised remains of a prehistoric bird, possibly a wedge-tailed eagle, in a cave on the Nullarbor Plain. The bird is more than 780,000 years old.

Cavers find mass fossil deposit Down Under

Jul 25, 2012

Australian scientists said Wednesday cavers had stumbled upon a vast network of tunnels containing fossils that could offer key insights into species' adaptation to climate change.

Recommended for you

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

22 hours ago

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

Apr 17, 2014

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

Apr 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.

Low tolerance for pain? The reason may be in your genes

Researchers may have identified key genes linked to why some people have a higher tolerance for pain than others, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual ...

How to keep your fitness goals on track

(HealthDay)—The New Year's resolutions many made to get fit have stalled by now. And one expert thinks that's because many people set their goals too high.