Paleontologists have discovered several rare and nearly complete skeletons of diprotodons — the largest-known marsupials to have ever lived — at the site of Du Boulay Creek, 100 km south-west of Karratha, Australia.
Diprotodon skeleton in WA Museum Boola Bardip. Image credit: WA Museum Boola Bardip.
Diprotodon is a monospecific genus in an extinct family of large herbivorous marsupials called Diprotodontidae.
The genus includes only one, now extinct species, Diprotodon optatum, a close relative of living wombats and koalas.
This marsupial was endemic to Australia during the Pleistocene period between 1.7 million to 40,000 years ago.
Similar to living wombats and koalas, Diprotodon was quadrupedal and browsed plant material.
Diprotodon, however, was much larger, standing about 1.8 m (6 feet) tall at the shoulder and measuring as much as 4 m (12 feet) long.
The largest specimens are thought to have weighed more than 2,700 kg in life.
“Diprotodons are extinct marsupials, related to koalas and wombats,” said Alec Coles, CEO of the Western Australian Museum, and colleagues.
“They are the largest marsupials that ever lived, weighing up to 2,800 kg.”
Diprotodon optatum. Image credit: Nellie Pease / ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage / CC BY-SA 4.0.
In cooperation with nearby mine site operator CITIC Pacific Mining, the researchers discovered Diprotodon skeletons at the paleontological site of Du Boulay Creek within the Fortescue River floodplain.
“The fossil site is unique in that several individuals are located close to each other,” they said.
“While further research is required, it appears that both adult and juvenile skeletons are present, suggesting the site may have been on a major migration route.”
“The skeletons are currently partly visible, including sections of skulls, jaws and teeth, and embedded in hard rock.”
“They are at risk of heavy abrasion from flooding, so excavation is critical to preserve them.”
“Research and fieldwork is at the core of the Western Australian Museum’s work and contributes to our knowledge of biodiversity, geodiversity and the environment of Western Australia,” Dr. Coles said.
“The new fossil discoveries have without a doubt confirmed the Du Boulay Creek site as being of major scientific significance in terms of ancient Australian megafauna.”
“This a very special part of the world and we are excited to support the Western Australian Museum so that we can continue to build upon our knowledge of the natural environment for the benefit of the wider community,” said CITIC Pacific Mining General Manager, Sustainability and Environment Bruce Watson.
“We’re pleased to be partnering with the Museum on this important field work.”
Source : Breaking Science News