Research website of Dr Gilbert Price

Archives for March 6, 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