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Research Assistant
Warren Handley

I have always been fascinated with birds, and have been fortunate to work on fossil birds throughout my postgraduate studies with Flinders Palaeontology. My research initially focused on the morphology of the hind-leg bones of the giant, flightless, dromornithid birds from the late Miocene (~6–8 Million years ago) of central Australia. I then investigated differences in the brain morphology of several extinct Australasian birds in Galloanseres, a group of birds including landfowl (e.g., pheasants and megapodes), waterfowl (e.g., ducks and geese), and dromornithids. To do this, I used geometric morphometric methods to make detailed comparisons of brain shape, as described by landmarks, much like GPS coordinates, placed on digital models of brains generated from computed tomography (CT) scans of modern and fossil bird skulls.

I have worked with several kinds of CT data during the course of my studies, including conventional medical-CT scans, micro-CT scans at much finer detail, even to a few thousandths of a millimetre, and neutron-CT scans, which enabled visualisation of the brain space in fossil skulls completely filled with hard limestone material. These imaging technologies allowed the previously unknown brains of extinct birds to be modelled, measured and compared for the first time.

I currently contribute to continuing research into dromornithid birds, and songbirds from several fossil sites in central and southern Australia. I also assist with research into the evolutionary morphology of fossil kangaroo teeth and inner ear structures, sourced from sites of Pliocene age (~5.3–2.5 Million years ago), an important but poorly known period of kangaroo evolution. The assessment of differences in the shape and structure of the teeth and inner ears provides valuable insight into the shifting dietary and locomotory ecology of kangaroos through geological time.