Home' InDaily : May 20th 2010 Contents Vol21No4May2010|5
Prehistoric predator casts a long shadow
Thylacoleo comes to 'life'
It may be more than 40,000 years old,
but it's ready to pounce.
Paleontologists in the School of Biological
Sciences at Flinders University have just
finished the most complete skeleton ever
made of Thylacoleo, the so-called
marsupial 'lion', for Museum Victoria.
Although there have been other casts
made of Thylacoleo, the new version
incorporates finds made over the past 15
years, giving it unparalleled authenticity.
Dr Gavin Prideaux, who supervised the
project, said the new cast has been made
in a realistic pose, showing the predator
ready to pounce from a tree branch onto its
unsuspecting herbivorous prey.
"Technicians Carey Burke and Mike
Adamson have done an extraordinary job
of the painstaking casting and modelling
process, and have produced a final product
which is not only anatomically accurate,
but gives a real sense of what Thylacoleo
would have looked like in the wild,"
Dr Prideaux said.
"It is important that we improve our
understanding of Australia's history --
overall we have a deeper knowledge of
Europe and America's extinct fauna than
The characteristic retractable blade-like
'thumb' claws of Thylacoleo and its large
stabbing incisor teeth are clearly visible in
the model, and for the first time, both tail
and rib cage are based on actual fossils.
Thylacoleo was Australia's dominant large
predator for around a million years until
40,000 years ago, and was widely
distributed across the continent. Fossil
remains have been found in most regions
of Australia, and it is also depicted in
Aboriginal cave art found in the Kimberley
in Western Australia.
While its extinction has sometimes been
attributed to climate change, Dr Prideaux
says its survival through earlier, more
severe climatic shifts and the timing of its
demise suggest the carnivore's extinction
was more likely the result of the hunting of
megafauna by humans or the
disappearance of its herbivorous prey.
Josh Makepeace with Executive Dean of Science
and Engineering, Professor Warren Lawrance,
at the Faculty's prize-giving
While Flinders University's Rhodes Scholar
Josh Makepeace will soon leave Australia
for Oxford, research he undertook into a
major Tasmanian public health issue is to
continue on an even larger scale.
Josh received his honours degree in
science at the April Flinders graduation
ceremonies. His honours project,
supervised by biotechnologist Dr Fiona
Young and forensic chemist Dr Claire
Lenehan, was designed to determine if
water from a river system in north-east
Tasmania was contaminated by biotoxins.
Analysis of water samples revealed levels
of toxicity that has since prompted the
Tasmanian State Government to install
new filtration systems for the drinking
water of St Helens, a coastal town of
The initial concerns about
contamination were sparked by
apparently higher than usual rates of
disease in the St Helens population and
by high rates of mortality among stock
in nearby estuarine oyster farms.
Josh's honours project, supported by the
not-for-profit conservation organisation
Rhodes Scholar swaps biotoxins for hydrogen
Environment Tasmania, compared samples
from two different rivers in the catchment.
The samples of river water taken close to St
Helens proved to be toxic to a human cell
line in vitro, suggesting in broad terms an
environmental threat to human health.
While the source of the toxins is not yet
known, it is likely to derive from
agricultural activity along the river system
upstream from St Helens.
"Actually narrowing down what it is
will be another challenge," Josh said.
The research at Flinders has now entered a
new phase with a grant of $75,000 from
Tasmania's State Government to fund
analysis that will determine if the new
filtration systems are effectively removing
biotoxins from the water.
Environment Tasmania has also
contributed $80,000 to identify the toxins,
with the ultimate intention of finding the
source and enabling appropriate measures
to be taken to redress the contamination.
Josh, who achieved nothing less than a
distinction throughout his undergraduate
studies, may not be around to see the final
results of the research. As the University's
fourth Rhodes Scholar, he heads to the UK
in October, where he will spend three years
on a doctoral project that aims to find
innovative ways to store hydrogen.
The Flinders cast of Thylacoleo will be a
highlight of a permanent exhibition of
Australia's extinct megafauna to be
displayed by Museum Victoria from
Links Archive May 19th 2010 May 21st 2010 Navigation Previous Page Next Page