Over the last 2.58 million years, Australia has undergone a slew of environmental changes. The Pleistocene was marked by repeated glacial and interglacial cycles, during which the climate oscillated between cooler, dryer, and warmer, wetter conditions. Tracking these climatic changes, biomes contracted and expanded, sea levels rose and fell, and people arrived in Australia.
As a palaeoecologist, I combine palaeontology and ecology, to explore interactions between organisms and their environments across geological timescales. My PhD research focuses on how Australia’s fauna countered its changing environment, and how this information can be applied as a tool for current and future conservation. Anthropogenic environmental change poses the largest single threat to the future of biodiversity on this planet, and the past may hold the key to its preservation. For my PhD, I’m working on fossils and sediments from the Wellington Caves in NSW, which is where fossils of extinct Australian marsupials first became known to western science in 1830. The project has been fieldwork intensive, with months spent underground excavating a 5 metre deep pit in Cathedral Cave. The cave contains a rich assemblage of fossils, including extinct megafaunal species and the smaller animals that shared the landscape.
I became hooked on palaeontology after taking Vertebrate Palaeontology at Flinders as an elective during undergrad and seeing how palaeontology could contribute to the preservation of our unique biodiversity. I did a research project in my 2nd year of undergrad, followed through into Honours, and then a PhD supervised by Gavin Prideaux and Trevor Worthy. Palaeontology has given me some amazing opportunities and experiences. This includes field trips to incredible places, learning new skills, teaching undergrads, presenting at international conferences, and working with some remarkable people. As a committee member of the Flinders Palaeontology Society, I feel like I’ve been able to give a little back to this awesome community of palaeonerds here at Flinders Palaeontology.
Grealy AC, McDowell MC, Scofield RP, et al. (2015) A critical evaluation of how ancient DNA bulk bone metabarcoding complements traditional morphological analysis of fossil assemblages. Quaternary Science Reviews 128: 37-47.
Pearson S, Tobe S, Fusco D, et al. (2015) Piles of scats for piles of DNA: deriving DNA of lizards from their faeces. Australian Journal of Zoology 62: 507-514.
Fusco DA, McDowell MC and Prideaux GJ. (2016) Late Holocene mammal fauna from southern Australia reveals rapid species declines post-European settlement: implications for conservation biology The Holocene 26: 699-708.
Fusco DA, McDowell MC, Medlin G, et al. (2017) Fossils reveal late Holocene diversity and post-European decline of the terrestrial mammals of the Murray–Darling Depression. Wildlife Research 44: 60-71.