Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Remarkable Fossil Cave Shows How Ancient Marsupials Grew

15.07.2010
The discovery of a remarkable 15-million-year-old Australian fossil limestone cave packed with even older animal bones has revealed almost the entire life cycle of a large prehistoric marsupial, from suckling young in the pouch still cutting their milk teeth to elderly adults.

In an unprecedented find, a team of University of New South Wales (UNSW) researchers has unearthed from the cave floor hundreds of beautifully preserved fossils of the extinct browsing wombat-like marsupial Nimbadon lavarackorum, along with the remains of galloping kangaroos, primitive bandicoots, a fox-sized thylacine and forest bats.

Details of the find at a site known as AL90 in the famous Riversleigh World Heritage fossil field in Queensland are published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, by a team led by Dr Karen Black of the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences. The research was supported by the Xstrata Community Partnership Program North Queensland and the Australian Research Council.

By comparing the skulls of 26 different Nimbadon individuals that died in the cave at varying stages of life the team has been able to show that its babies developed in much the same way as marsupials today, probably being born after only a month's gestation and crawling to the mother's pouch to complete their early development.

"This is a fantastic and incredibly rare site," says Dr. Black. "The exceptional preservation of the fossils has allowed us to piece together the growth and development of Nimbadon from baby to adult. So far 26 skulls – ranging in age from suckling pouch young and juveniles right through to elderly adults – have been recovered, as well as associated skeletons.”

"The animals appear to have plunged to their deaths through a vertical cave entrance that may have been obscured by vegetation and acted as a natural pit-fall trap. These animals – including mothers with pouch young – either unwittingly fell to their deaths or survived the fall only to be entombed and unable to escape.

"The ceiling and walls of the cave were eroded away millions of years ago, but the floor of the cave remains at ground level. We have literally only scratched its surface, with thousands more bones evident at deeper levels in the deposit.”

The site is also scientifically important because it documents a critical time in the evolution of Australia’s flora and fauna when lush greenhouse conditions were giving way to a long, slow drying out that fundamentally reshaped the continent's cargo of life as rainforests retreated.

Dr. Black notes that the Nimbadon skulls also reveal that early in life, the emphasis of its growth was on the development of bones at the front of the face, to help the baby to suckle from its mother. As it grew older and its diet changed to eating leaves, the rest of the skull developed and grew quite massive by way of a series of bony chambers surrounding the brain.

Team member Professor Mike Archer says, "Yet we found that its brain was quite small and stopped growing relatively early in its life. We think it needed a large surface area of skull to provide attachments for all the muscle power it required to chew large quantities of leaves, so its skull features empty areas, or sinus cavities. Roughly translated, this may be the first demonstration of how a growing mammal ‘pays’ for the need to eat more greens – by becoming an ‘airhead’.”

"The abundance of Nimbadon fossils also suggests that they travelled in family groups or perhaps even larger gatherings; it’s possible that this also reflects the beginning of mob behaviour in herbivorous marsupials, such as we see today in grey kangaroos."

ABOUT THE SOCIETY OF VERTEBRATE PALEONTOLOGY
Founded in 1940 by thirty-four paleontologists, the Society now has more than 2,400 members representing professionals, students, artists, preparators and others interested in VP. It is organized exclusively for educational and scientific purposes, with the object of advancing the science of vertebrate paleontology.
The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (JVP) is the leading journal of professional vertebrate paleontology and the flagship publication of the Society. It was founded in 1980 by Dr. Jiri Zidek and publishes contributions on all aspects of vertebrate paleontology.

Information for this release provided by the University of New South Wales.

For complimentary access to the full article, visit:
http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/02724634.asp
The article appears in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 30(4) published by Taylor and Francis.

Journal Web site: Society of Vertebrate Paleontology: http://www.vertpaleo.org

CONTACT INFORMATION
Karen Black
UNSW
mobile + 61 (0) 428 591 429
k.black@unsw.edu.au
Mike Archer
UNSW
mobile + 61 (0) 423 553 333
m.archer@unsw.edu.au
Media liaison – Bob Beale
UNSW
+ 61 (0)411 705 435
bbeale@unsw.edu.au (from whom high-res images are available)
See also: http://vertebratepaleo.com/AL90/

Karen Black | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.vertpaleo.org

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Multi-year submarine-canyon study challenges textbook theories about turbidity currents
12.12.2017 | Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

nachricht How do megacities impact coastal seas? Searching for evidence in Chinese marginal seas
11.12.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

12.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Multi-year submarine-canyon study challenges textbook theories about turbidity currents

12.12.2017 | Earth Sciences

Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

12.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>