Research website of Dr Gilbert Price

Archives for March 2012

New species of Ice Age koala

A UQ Researcher has discovered fossils of an ancient koala that could provide insights into helping vulnerable creatures impacted by climate change.

The fossils, known as the Invincible Koala, where found at Mt Etna north of Rockhampton during systematic cave excavations in 2007.

Dr Gilbert Price said the discovery of the Invincible Koala provided a looking glass into the impact of climate change on rainforest animals, as well as koala diversity, from 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago.

“The new fossils show that the Invincible Koalas didn’t become extinct from rainforests 15 million years ago, as previously thought, but rather suffered extinction more recently,” Dr Price said.

“Our other data from Mt Etna shows there was a massive extinction of rainforests around 205,000—280,000 years ago and most rainforest species suffered extinction, including the Invincible Koala.”

Dr Price said the finding highlights the vulnerability of rainforest creatures to climate change and habitat disturbance and the need to protect this important ecosystem.

The modern koala and the Invincible Koala are separated by more than 24 million years of evolutionary history, and despite vastly different habitats and teeth to match; both species were similar in size.

“The Invincible Koala was a tough little critter, but even it couldn’t cling on in the face of the major climate change event 300,000 years ago,” he said.

“Most of the rainforest species suffered extinction and desert species such as bilbies became more prevalent.”

The new fossil will be lodged at the Queensland Museum and made available to other researchers.

Dr Price’s research was published in a British Journal, the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, which has global distribution.

Adapted from a media release by Belinda Berry / Lynelle Ross, The University of Queensland

Fieldwork at Chinchilla

Dr Julien Louys collecting dating samples

An incredible Pliocene vertebrate fossil site occurs at Chinchilla, about four hours drive west of Brisbane, Australia. Fossils have been known from the area since the 1800’s with numerous species identified to date. The fossil fauna includes animals as diverse as diprotodontoids (the same family of mega-marsupials as Diprotodon), short- and long-faced kangaroos, wombats, koalas, and lizards. Despite the richness of the assemblage, plus fact that Chinchilla represents one of few fossil deposits of its age in Australia, relatively little research has been directed towards understanding the significance of the site.

Part of my new work, in collaboration with Dr Julien Louys (also from The University of Queensland) and Joanne Wilkinson (QueenslandMuseum), aims to address this knowledge gap. Julien is presently writing a review on the fauna, but without firm geochronological control on the deposits, we are unsure exactly how old the site actually is. By comparing the types of fossils found at Chinchilla to those from other deposits acrossAustralia, we are confident that the site is Pliocene (between 2.6-5 million years old), but where in the Pliocene is unclear.

Joanne Wilkinson surveying the site

The goal of our recent fieldtrip to the site (late February 2012) was to collect new samples for dating. The samples predominantly included sediment that is associated with the fossils. In late March, the samples will be passed on to our colleague, Dr Andy Herries from the LaTrobe University in Victoria, who is a specialist in palaeomagnetic dating. If the dating is successful, they will be the first analytical dates ever produced for Chinchilla.

Dating is notoriously difficult, time consuming and expensive, but absolutely critical for placing the Chinchilla fossil site into a reliable temporal framework for understanding its significance on a continental scale. Fingers crossed that we can get some new dates very soon!