Researcher joining fossilised bones togetherAustralia’s Pleistocene environments are unique, including giant predators like the giant terrestrial crocodile, 6m long possibly venomous lizards, marsupial lions with meat-cleaving teeth, and even predatory bats! Fossils of these creatures have been found throughout the Fitzroy River Basin (FRB), found in caves and rivers were bones have accumulated by the actions of these predators. 

What the Pleistocene food web looked like in Australia is a great palaeontological mystery. Researchers will use a series of pilot projects to break down this food web and better understand how predators and prey interacted during a major time of global climatic change. These predator – prey relationships now no longer exist and we want to find out what holes they left in the ecological landscape of Australia.
 
Research aim

This research will characterise collections of fossil bones recovered from the FRB to define and refine the food web from Australia’s Pleistocene using a combination of approaches including:

3-D high fidelity surface scanning and scanning electron microscope (SEM) photogrammetry
Bite mark characterisation
Modern feeding experiments
Isotope geochemistry 
New proteomic methods
 
Samples from South Walker Creek, Mt. Etna, Capricorn Caves, Carnarvon Gorge and other Pleistocene sites throughout Queensland will be used in this study to determine the diversity of carnivores and their prey. Researchers will study bite marks on bones, coprolites (fossil poo) and pellets to explore the diets of both predator and prey, building up a food web.
 
The study will explore new methods for identifying the prey and predator species through bite mark analysis, protenomic markers and isotope geochemistry to determine the diets and migratory patterns of both predator and prey. This will help resolve the food-web for Queensland’s Quaternary fauna and decipher the impacts of these now lost ecological relationships.

This research is collaboration between Max Planck Institute (Germany) and University of Wollongong.