Letter

Nature 445, 422-425 (25 January 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature05471; Received 25 August 2006; Accepted 21 November 2006

An arid-adapted middle Pleistocene vertebrate fauna from south-central Australia

Gavin J. Prideaux1, John A. Long1,2, Linda K. Ayliffe3,4, John C. Hellstrom5, Brad Pillans4, Walter E. Boles6, Mark N. Hutchinson7, Richard G. Roberts8, Matthew L. Cupper5, Lee J. Arnold8, Paul D. Devine9 & Natalie M. Warburton1

  1. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Western Australian Museum, Perth, Western Australia 6000, Australia
  2. Museum Victoria, PO Box 666, Melbourne, Victoria 3001, Australia
  3. Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA
  4. Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200, Australia
  5. School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia
  6. Terrestrial Zoology, Australian Museum, Sydney, New South Wales 2010, Australia
  7. Herpetology Section, South Australian Museum, Adelaide, South Australia 5000, Australia
  8. GeoQuEST Research Centre, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales 2522, Australia
  9. Speleological Research Group Western Australia, PO Box 1611, East Victoria Park, Western Australia 6981, Australia

Correspondence to: Gavin J. Prideaux1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to G.J.P. (Email: gavin.prideaux@museum.wa.gov.au).

How well the ecology, zoogeography and evolution of modern biotas is understood depends substantially on knowledge of the Pleistocene1, 2. Australia has one of the most distinctive, but least understood, Pleistocene faunas. Records from the western half of the continent are especially rare3. Here we report on a diverse and exceptionally well preserved middle Pleistocene vertebrate assemblage from caves beneath the arid, treeless Nullarbor plain of south-central Australia. Many taxa are represented by whole skeletons, which together serve as a template for identifying fragmentary, hitherto indeterminate, remains collected previously from Pleistocene sites across southern Australia. A remarkable eight of the 23 Nullarbor kangaroos are new, including two tree-kangaroos. The diverse herbivore assemblage implies substantially greater floristic diversity than that of the modern shrub steppe, but all other faunal and stable-isotope data indicate that the climate was very similar to today. Because the 21 Nullarbor species that did not survive the Pleistocene were well adapted to dry conditions, climate change (specifically, increased aridity) is unlikely to have been significant in their extinction.

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