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Ralph Tate Memorial Lecture: Mammal evolution and environmental change over 25 million years
June 7 @ 6:15 pm - 8:00 pm
Professor Gavin Prideaux, Flinders University.
Gavin Prideaux leads the diverse palaeontology team at Flinders University. He studies links between patterns in Australian mammal evolution, extinction, biodiversity and environmental change. He knows too much but not enough about the evolution of kangaroos, the most diverse group of marsupial herbivores ever to have evolved, and an ideal group for investigating long-term biotic responses to climatic changes. Gavin and his team also spend long intervals in the field digging up old bones, especially out of caves, with the aim of better resolving the past impacts of climate change and humans on Pleistocene vertebrates.
How has Australian mammal evolution been shaped by environmental change, over the past 25 million years?
Cenozoic climatic changes have had a profound effect on the nature of terrestrial ecosystems and, in turn, mammalian herbivore evolution. Yet, much of our understanding is based on inferences drawn from the dental adaptations of hoofed mammals, especially those of northern continents, where tectonic activities and large-scale migrations have heavily influenced evolutionary patterns. As Professor Tate pointed out more than a century ago, there is no sound basis for assuming that Australia and its biota should follow all of the rules written in Europe or, for that matter, North America. Australia has a very different history, and its fauna offers a potentially excellent test of Holarctic models. Separating from Antarctica 45 million years ago, Australia was long isolated from non-flying immigrants until rodents island-hopped from southeast Asia five million years ago. Moreover, most of its endemic mammals are marsupials, which diversified in situ, filling a spectrum of niches variably comparable with placentals elsewhere. Australia thus harbours a unique evolutionary experiment: an isolated radiation of fundamentally different mammals that adapted to environmental changes in the virtual absence of competing immigrants. Through the late Cenozoic, the continent became drier and more climatically variable, changes linked to the emergence of a diverse, aridity-adapted biota. This talk will review what we know about Australian mammals against this tumultuous backdrop, and highlight some key points of difference with Northern Hemisphere patterns. It will reflect on some of the more interesting known unknowns of Australian mammal evolution and extinction, and how current research is directed toward resolving them.
Thanks to the Royal Society of South Australia, GSA-SA Division, and the Field Geology Club of South Australia there will be nibbles and drinks before the talk! There will be multitudes of palaeos in attendance, so come on down and say hi beforehand!