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: Radar search to find lost Aboriginal burial site

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

Radar search to find lost Aboriginal burial site

Jul 22, 2014

Scientists said Tuesday they hope that radar technology will help them find a century-old Aboriginal burial ground on an Australian island, bringing some closure to the local indigenous population.

Archaeologists excavate NY Colonial battleground

Jul 19, 2014

Archaeologists are excavating an 18th-century battleground in upstate New York that was the site of a desperate stand by Colonial American troops, the flashpoint of an infamous massacre and the location of the era's largest ...

User comments : 0