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Australian megafauna died out due to climate change

Robyn Wuth, May 26, 2020 6:45PM The Courier-Mail

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Artist’s impression of a billabong in the time of the megafauna. media_cameraArtist’s impression of a billabong in the time of the megafauna.

environment

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Giant kangaroos and enormous crocodiles that lived 40,000 years ago in tropical Northern Australia died out because of climate change, a study has found.

As the rest of the world was running from giant man-eating carnivores*, Australia was home to a kangaroo that stood 2.5m tall and weighed 274kg.

It fought for its place in the food chain alongside a marsupial like a lion and the world’s largest wombats.

They were hunted by giant reptiles, from an extinct freshwater croc around 7m long to huge lizards, including one called megalania that was 6m long.

The discoveries come out of an area near Mackay, Queensland, called South Walker Creek, which is the youngest megafauna site in Northern Australia and once home to at least 16 species of giant animals.

Some of the megafauna found at South Walker Creek including quinkana, a crocodile, Thylacoleo, the marsupial "lion"; megalania, the world's largest land-dwelling lizard; and palorchestes, a giant marsupial plant-eater. Picture: Queensland Museum media_cameraMegafauna found at South Walker Creek including quinkana, a crocodile; thylacoleo, the marsupial “lion”; megalania, the world’s largest land-dwelling lizard; and palorchestes, a marsupial plant eater. Picture: Queensland Museum

Extreme environmental change and not humans was the most likely cause of their extinction, according to the study published in Nature Communications.

The loss of water flow, intensified* drying, increased burning and vegetation* change created the conditions to drive the extinction of at least 13 species of super-sized megafauna species, the study led by Queensland Museum found.

“The megafauna at South Walker Creek were uniquely tropical, dominated by huge reptilian carnivores and mega-herbivores* that went extinct around 40,000 years ago, well after humans arrived on to mainland Australia,” said palaeontologist Scott Hocknull.

“Their extinction is coincident* with major climatic and environmental deterioration* both locally and regionally, including increased fire, reduction in grasslands and loss of freshwater.

“Together, these sustained* changes were simply too much for the largest of Australia’s animals to cope with.”

Megafauna media_cameraDr Scott Hocknull, who has discovered megafauna at South Walker Creek near Mackay, Qld. Picture: Peter Wallis

The South Walker Creek site was the stomping ground of several new species, which are yet to be formally described.

Never before-seen megafauna fossils ranging from minute* fish scales to colossal limb bones have been discovered at the site.

media_cameraJaw bone from an extinct giant marsupial diprotodon at South Walker Creek, Qld. Picture: AAP/Queensland Museum Network

The fossils were discovered in 2008 by the Barada Barna people during a cultural heritage clearance at the South Walker Creek mine site.

State Minister for Science Leeanne Enoch said the research highlights the historical effects of climate change not only on our environment, but native species.

“After more than a decade, Queensland Museum’s research into megafauna and fossil collections continues to lead the way in uncovering more about our planet.

“We can learn so much from our prehistoric past through valuable research such as the work performed by scientists like Dr Hocknull,” Ms Enoch said.

GLOSSARY

  • carnivores: meat eaters
  • intensified: got more intense, stronger, worse
  • vegetation: plants
  • herbivores: plant eaters
  • coincident: happening at the same time
  • deterioration: getting worse
  • sustained: continued for a long time
  • minute: tiny

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. How tall and heavy were the ancient kangaroos?
  2. How many megafauna species are known to have lived at South Walker Creek?
  3. What three things happened to the environment and weather as a result of climate change?
  4. Apart from looking for fossils, why is there excavation at South Walker Creek?
  5. In what year were the fossils discovered?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Megafauna Extinction
“Extreme environmental change and not humans” is how a recent study attributes the extinction of at least 13 super-sized species of megafauna that lived in Queensland 40,000 years ago.

Work with a partner, discuss the reasons mentioned in the Kids News article listed in the table below, and give your reasons as to why you think these factors led to the extinction of these unique species all those years ago.

Set your table up something like this. media_cameraSet your table up something like this.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and creative thinking, Personal and social

2. Extension
Using the information from the Kids News article, create a food chain diagram on how these megafauna species survived and who ate who when they were living in Queensland 40,000 years ago.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Science, English

VCOP ACTIVITY
Read with Penny Punctuation
Pair up with the article between you and stand up to make it easy to demonstrate your Kung Fu Punctuation.

Practice reading one sentence at a time. Now read it again, while acting out the punctuation as you read.

Read and act 3 sentences before swapping with your partner.

Have 2 turns each.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What sort of fossil would you like to find and study?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in environment