Researchers discover extinct species of climbing kangaroos

Exquisite preservation: skull of a newly identified fossil tree-climbing kangaroo. Credit: N. Warburton, Murdoch University

Researchers have discovered an extinct kangaroo that adapted to climb by powerful adduction of the fore and hind limbs, grasping hands and strongly curved claws.

The research, conducted by Dr. Natalie Warburton of Murdoch University and Professor Gavin Prideaux of Flinders University, also found that the new species differed from all other kangaroos by possessing a very unusual pocket inside the nose.

“The specimens we analyzed, including several cranial skeletons and two nearly complete ones, suggest that this species of kangaroo would climb and ‘move slowly’ through trees,” said Dr. Warburton.

“By conducting a thorough process of identifying and describing the anatomical details of each bone that was recovered from skeletons, we have been able to reveal that this extinct wallaby was adapted to climb trees in order to search for non-plant material. animals that are trapped in the ground.

“This provides a completely new interpretation of the biology of the species.”

The skeletons studied came from the Nullarbor Plain Thylacoleo and Mammoth Cave caves in Western Australia. They were discovered in 2002 and 2003 by WA spelunkers Paul Devine and Eve Taylor.

“Despite being supposedly an expert on fossil kangaroos, it took me most of that time to realize that these two skeletons belonged to a species first described decades earlier from jaw fragments from a cave in southwestern Australia, “said Professor Prideaux, co-director of the Laboratory of Paleontology at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia.

“The Thylacoleo Caves are famous both for the remarkably complete preservation of fossil remains and for the information they provide on the unexpectedly high level of diversity of large species of marsupials that inhabited what is now an arid treeless plain.

“This discovery provides another reminder of how little we understand even of Australia’s relatively recent geological past,” he said.

Given that all but one group of kangaroos and kangaroos live on the ground, and that all species known to climb trees (tree kangaroos) are closely related, the finding means that tree climbing evolved more than once. in the family tree of kangaroos. .

These fossils have unusually long fingers and toes with long, curved claws, compared to other kangaroos and kangaroos, to grasp; powerful arm muscles to stand up and stand in trees, and a longer and more mobile neck than other kangaroos that would be helpful in extending the head in different directions to leaf through the leaves, “explained Dr. Warburton.

“This is really interesting, not only from the point of view of the unexpected tree-climbing behavior on a large wallaby, but also because these specimens come from an area that is now devoid of trees, which tells us that the habitat and the environment in the area was really different from what it is now, and perhaps different from what we might have previously interpreted for that time.

“This is unexpected and exciting and provides us with new information as we try to understand Australia’s changing environments over time.”

Dr. Warburton’s research on the link between structure and function in animals provides important information about our unique wildlife, both living and extinct.

As a leading expert on marsupial anatomy, her work uses quantitative and qualitative techniques that contribute to our understanding of animal ecology and biodiversity in changing environments over time.

Dr. Warburton is a member of the Harry Butler Institute, a collection of sustainable development experts that enables industry to bring maximum economic value to our community, while protecting the environment.

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More information:
Natalie M. Warburton et al. The skeleton of Congruus Kitchenneri, a Pleistocene semi-arboreal kangaroo from southern Australia. Royal Society Open Science (2021). DOI: 10.1098 / rsos.202216

Provided by Murdoch University

Citation: Researchers discover extinct species of climbing kangaroos (2021, March 24) retrieved March 24, 2021 from

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