Palaeoecology

From ‘snapshots’ in time to an emerging pattern of climate change effects on local fauna.

Of the 21 known fossil sites at the Naracoorte Caves National Park and World Heritage Area, palaeoecological studies incorporating dating and species composition and/or diversity data have been completed to a greater or lesser degree on eight deposits.

Extensive and detailed research into the age and composition of fossil assemblages from four of these sites (Cathedral Cave, Grant Hall, Blanche Cave and Wet Cave) has provided insights into the effects of Pleistocene climate change on mammalian faunas in the region, including megafauna. These studies have contributed to an emerging view of individual species resilience contrasted against community-level variability in response to Pleistocene climate change.

Opportunity exists for testing this emerging view on other fossil sites within the park, providing an impetus for both new chronological, sedimentary and faunal-based research and further work in previously examined sites utilising existing collections. Data sets and records from the Naracoorte Caves have also been integrated into broader palaeoecological studies and there is much scope for Naracoorte Cave’s research to be incorporated into such integrated studies in future.

A number of studies have been undertaken that incorporate chronological and fauna data from sites within the Naracoorte Caves National Park and World Heritage Area:

Victoria Fossil Cave   

  • Main Fossil Chamber – 4 papers, 1 thesis
  • Grant Hall – 3 papers, 2 theses
  • Starburst Chamber – 1 paper

Other caves

  • Cathedral Cave, Fossil Chamber – 3 papers, 1 thesis
  • Wet Cave, Entrance Chamber – 1 paper, 2 theses
  • Blanche Cave, Third Chamber – 1 paper, 2 theses
  • Robertson Cave, Inner Chamber – 1 thesis
  • Robertson Cave, Entrance Chamber – 1 paper, 1 thesis

Further reading

  • Brown, S.P. and Wells, R.T. 2000. A Middle Pleistocene vertebrate fossil assemblage from Cathedral Cave, Naracoorte, South Australia. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 124, 91–104.
  • Fraser, R.A. and Wells, R.T. 2006. Palaeontological excavation and taphonomic investigation of the late Pleistocene fossil deposit in Grant Hall, Victoria Fossil Cave, Naracoorte, South Australia. Alcheringa Special Issue 1, 147–161. 
  • Dawson, L. 2006. An ecophysiological approach to the extinction of the large marsupial herbivores in middle and late Pleistocene Australia. Alcheringa Special Issue 1, 89–114
  • Helgen, K.M., Wells, R.T., Kear, B.P., Gerdtz, W.R. and Flannery, T.F. 2006. Ecological and evolutionary significance of sizes of giant extinct kangaroos. Australian Journal of Zoology 54, 293-303.
  • Hocknull, S.A., Zhao, J., Feng, Y. and Webb, G.E. 2007. Responses of Quaternary rainforest vertebrates to climate change in Australia. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 264, 317–331. (P) IF = 4.7
  • Lundelius, E.L. Jr. Climatic implications of Late Pleistocene and Holocene faunal associations in Australia. Alcheringa 7, 125–149.
  • Macken, A.C. and Reed E.H. 2014. Postglacial reorganisation of a small-mammal paleocommunity in southern Australia reveals thresholds of change. Ecological Monographs, in press.
  • Macken, A.C., Prideaux, G.J. and Reed, E.H. 2012. Variation and pattern in the responses of mammal faunas to Late Pleistocene climatic change in southeastern South Australia. Journal of Quaternary Science 27, 415–424.
  • Megirian, D., Prideaux, G.J., Murray, P.F. and Smit, N. 2010. An Australian land mammal age biochronological scheme. Palaeobiology 36, 658–671.
  • Moriarty, K.C., McCulloch, M.T., Wells, R.T. and McDowell, M.C. 2000. Mid-Pleistocene cave fills, megafaunal remains and climate change at Naracoorte, South Australia: towards a predictive model using U-Th dating of speleothems. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 159, 113–145.
  • Prideaux, G.J., Roberts, R.G., Megirian, D., Westaway, K.E., Hellstrom, J.C. and Olley, J.M. 2007. Mammalian responses to Pleistocene climate change in south-eastern Australia. Geology 35, 33–36.
  • Roberts, R.G., Flannery, T.F., Ayliffe, L.K., Yoshida, H., Olley, J.M., Prideaux, G.J., Laslett, G.M., Baynes, A., Smith, M.A., Jones, R. and Smith, B.L. 2001. New ages for the last Australian megafauna: continent-wide extinction about 46,000 years ago. Science 292, 1888–1892.
  • Smith, M.J. 1971. Small fossil vertebrates from Victoria Cave, Naracoorte, South Australia. I. Potoroinae (Macropodidae), Petauridae and Burramyidae (Marsupalia).  Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 95, 185–198.
  • Smith, M.J. 1972. Small fossil vertebrates from Victoria Cave, Naracoorte South Australia II. Peramelidae, Thylacinidae and Dasyuridae (Marsupialia). Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 96, 125–137.
  • Tedford, R.H., Wells, R.T. and Prideaux, G.J. 2006. Pliocene and earlier Pleistocene marsupial evolution in southeastern Australia. Alcheringa Special Issue 1, 313–322.
  • Wells, R.T., Moriarty, K. and Williams, D.L.G. 1984. The fossil vertebrate deposits of Victoria Fossil Cave, Naracoorte: an introduction to the geology and fauna. The Australian Zoologist 21, 305–333.
  • Wroe, S. and Field, J. 2006. A review of the evidence for a human role in the extinction of Australian megafauna and an alternative interpretation. Quaternary Science Reviews 25, 2692–2703.