Home' InDaily : February 24th 2011 Contents Vol 22 No 1 February 2011 | 5
Dental defects may shed light on extinct marsupial diet
An international expert on the analysis
of tiny scratches, or microwear, on teeth
to determine the role of diet in human
evolution is helping Flinders researchers
unlock the secrets of the diets of
Distinguished Professor and Chairman
of Anthropology at the University of
Arkansas, Professor Peter Ungar visited
Flinders this month to begin work on an
Australian Research Council (ARC)
Discovery Project with Dr Gavin Prideaux
and colleagues into the evolution of
plant-eating marsupial diets over time.
By tracing how diet corresponded to
environmental changes, the researchers
hope to better understand why some
marsupial species survived and others
“Since Aristotle, people have explored the
relationship between tooth structure and
form – or morphology – and diet,”
Professor Ungar said.
“But tooth form may not tell the whole
story. Teeth can be adapted for one
purpose, such as eating grass, but that
doesn’t mean they are always used for
that one purpose,” he said.
“Microwear analysis reflects the physical
properties of the foods, whether they
were hard or tough or soft, that animals
ate in the past few weeks.”
Dr Prideaux said Professor Ungar’s expertise is
a vital element of the ARC project.
“We will examine three aspects of the
fossilised teeth: their morphology, the stable
carbon and oxygen isotopes contained in the
tooth enamel, and their microwear,” Dr
“Each of these methods has
its limitations. This
collaboration is unique in
bringing them together to
give us better insights to
the diets of these animals
through time,” he said.
Professor Ungar will take
casts of fossilised marsupial
teeth to his laboratory in
Arkansas for examination
using scale-sensitive fractal
His previous analyses of the
microwear on teeth of
human ancestors in Africa,
using a geographic
information system, offer
an explanation of today’s
“As humans evolved in a
seasonal setting in which
preferred foods were not
always readily available
they developed a predilection for
energy-rich foods,” he said.
“We are programmed to consume foods
that are energy rich, whether it’s sugars or
fats. They’re easy to eat and they taste
good to us for a reason.”
Take a detour on the road to obesity and ill health
With the recent release of statistics by the
Cancer Council of Australia confirming
that nearly a quarter of Australian
teenagers are overweight or obese,
Flinders University nutrition researcher
Dr Anthea Magarey says that parents
need to face up to the consequences of
failing to address the issue of younger
children who are overweight.
“The reality is that obese children tend to
become obese teenagers, who in turn
tend to become obese adults with high
risks of heart disease, diabetes and other
serious health problems,” Dr Magarey said.
“Early intervention is the best way to
halt this slide.”
For parents willing to recognise and tackle
the problem, help is at hand. Dr Magarey
said the first group of families to complete
the six-month Parenting, Eating and
Activity for Child Health (PEACHTM)
program based at Flinders was
enthusiastic in its response.
While focusing on overweight children
between four and 10, PEACH’s underlying
strategy is to support parents in bringing
about changes in eating habits and
activity levels for the whole family.
.Among most of the 16 participating
families in programs across metropolitan
Adelaide in the last year, Dr Magarey said
the degree of overweight of the children
had either stabilised or fallen. And apart
from the program’s long-term health
benefits, researcher Mrs Jo Hartley said
that several children had reported big
improvements in their self-esteem.
Dr Magarey said parents could not
afford to be complacent.
“The issue to me is that there isn’t
recognition of the seriousness and the
potential effects of being overweight
or obese,” she said.
“Governments are doing their best to
make policies that improve the
environment, but it’s still up to individuals
– and families – to make hard decisions
about taking control.
“Programs like PEACH are there
to help them.”
PEACH will have another intake in April.
Information for parents in Adelaide’s
southern region who are interested in
registering can be found on the website:
Helping families with food
Dr Gavin Prideaux and Professor Peter Ungar
4 | Vol 22 No 1 February 2011
Report issues a challenge to get the future right
Federal and State governments and urban
planners have been put on notice: tough
and expensive decisions will be needed as
Australia’s projected population growth
by mid-century threatens to stretch
infrastructure and natural resources
beyond their limits, while waste streams
and greenhouse gases accumulate.
A report by the National Institute for
Labour Studies (NILS) at Flinders, in
collaboration with the CSIRO, for the
Department of Immigration and
Citizenship modelled the impact on the
natural and the built environment of
various projected levels of net overseas
migration (NOM), the difference between
those leaving Australia permanently or
long-term and those arriving.
The report’s conclusions have major
implications for immigration levels and
urban infrastructure planning in particular.
The report predicts Australia’s ability to
meet demand for basic resources,
including supplies of water and transport
fuel, is likely to become critical in coming
decades, even without the added pressure
of higher NOM levels.
Even at low levels of NOM growth, the
population increases of cities and the
tendency towards urban sprawl would
still pose a major challenge for planners
and policy-makers, the report says.
Given that most immigrants currently
settle in urban settings in Sydney,
Melbourne and Perth, these cities would
be particularly affected.
The report calculates that given a zero
NOM, urban area would grow by some 50
per cent by 2050, while a NOM of 260,000
would see the increase reach 150 per cent,
resulting in major encroachment on land
now used for fresh food production,
increased traffic congestion and resulting
declines in ‘liveability’.
“None of the adverse impacts, on their own,
are beyond our capacity to manage,” said
co-author Professor Sue Richardson.
“But even at current population levels, the
natural and built environment is under stress.
The real challenge is to increase our skills and
determination to improve traffic, have denser
yet more inviting cities, reduce our per capita
waste and water consumption, and so on.
“At that point we can welcome more people,
without fear that our quality of life and
natural environment will be diminished.”
The report, Long-term physical implications of
net overseas migration: Australia in 2050, is
available online at http://www.immi.gov.au/
Shakespeare’s ‘new’ play is no Hamlet
The staging of The Double Falsehood in
London a month ago was the first
professional performance for a century of
a play that can now be included among
the works of Shakespeare, according to a
But Associate Professor Robert Phiddian,
a specialist in English literature, warns
expectant theatre-goers that it won’t be
knocking Hamlet off its critical perch.
The play has a very checkered history. It
was first touted as a rediscovered
Shakespearean play in the 1720s by
English playwright Lewis Theobald.
Theobald claimed to have three
manuscripts as basis for his claims, but
they were never seen.
Associate Professor Phiddian said that it is
almost certain that the play is an adapted
version of a late comedy written by
Shakespeare in collaboration with fellow
playwright John Fletcher. Evidence
describing a play by the pair called The
History of Cardenio did not emerge until
long after Theobald died.
“So The Double Falsehood’s claim to
authenticity rests on the improbability of
two plays based on the same episode
from the Spanish novel Don Quixote
existing independently,” Associate
Professor Phiddian said.
Arden – an edition of Shakespeare’s works
considered to be an arbiter of authenticity
– published the play under its imprint last
Associate Professor Phiddian said the play
also shows many hallmarks of
Shakespeare’s comic approach – mistaken
identity, cross-gender disguises and
unrequited infatuations – even if it cannot
claim to rival the Bard’s “purer” works.
At the same time, Associate Professor
Phiddian said, no Shakespeare play exists
in original, unmodified form.
He said that Shakespeare and the other
English dramatists of the time were
“jobbing playwrights” who worked more in
the mode of modern Hollywood
scriptwriters. Lines of dialogue and even
entire scenes would be frequently
dropped, changed or added by actors,
directors or editors.
Associate Professor Phiddian said that
while performances later this year by the
Royal Shakespeare Company may prove
entertaining, The Double Falsehood will
only show echoes of Shakespeare’s full
“But one needs to remember that of the 35
plays we believe that Shakespeare wrote
on his own, a dozen or so are seldom
staged today for similar reasons.”
Professsor Robert Phiddian
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