Palaeontologists on the hunt for new megafauna

22 August 2016

Queensland Museum palaeontologists will be on the hunt for new species of extinct megafauna when they undertake their field expedition to South Walker Creek mine in August.

The South Walker Creek mine site was once a stomping ground for megafauna – an extinct, super-sized species of mammals, reptiles and marsupials and is operated by BHP Billiton Mitsui Coal.

From minute fish scales to colossal limb bones, the South Walker Creek fossil sites are of international significance to science as they preserve a rare and diverse tropical fossil fauna and flora from the Pleistocene Epoch, a period of global climatic change.

Queensland Museum Network CEO and Director Professor Suzanne Miller said palaeontologists from the Museum had visited the fossil site several times since 2011.

“The fossils uncovered reveal fascinating new insights into our ancient past and this particular site at South Walker Creek, could potentially be the youngest megafauna site in Australia,” Professor Miller said.

“Our scientific research into the site has revealed this is unlike any other site known in Australia and could be of major importance in determining why Australia’s megafauna went extinct.

“From huge crocodiles to giant lizards and a variety of megafauna species, the last six years working at the site has revealed so much about Queensland’s ancient past, but there are potentially new species of extinct megafauna just waiting to be uncovered.”

James Palmer, Asset President, BHP Billiton Mitsui Coal (BMC) said the project supported important research into Queensland’s palaeontological history.

“It’s terrific we can support a partnership like this because investing in STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths – is core for us. We are deeply committed to partnering with the communities in which we operate and this investment aligns very strongly with our objectives,” Mr Palmer said.

“The partnership means we can access expert paleontological services, which we’ve then been able to share as historical ‘South Walker Creek stories’ with all Queenslanders.”
The South Walker Creek field trip is part of a broader partnership between the Queensland Museum Network and BHP Billiton Mitsui Coal which includes megafauna-themed learning resource kits for Queensland schools, professional development and the Lost Creatures: Stories from Ancient Queensland gallery at the Queensland Museum & Sciencentre in Brisbane. 

Since 2011, members of the local community and schools have been able to take part in the project, participating in the dig through community days and on 22 August the team will be joined on site by budding palaeontologists from Moranbah State High School.

The Queensland Museum Network holds one of the largest and most significant fossil collections in the southern hemisphere.  Scientists use the collection to record the history of life on the planet and understand how creatures from our ancient past adapted to geological events, particularly climate change. This research is invaluable in developing conservation strategies for Queensland’s fragile ecosystems and threatened species.

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