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PhD candidate
Lisa Nink

I am a PhD student in the Flinders University Palaeontology Laboratory interested in palaeoecology, the study of how animals and plants interact with each other and their environment through time. I’m particularly interested in how Australia’s unique mammal fauna has responded to environmental change over the last 20 million years as this once almost entirely forested continent became the mostly arid land we know today.

Supervised by Professor Gavin Prideaux and Associate Professor Trevor Worthy, my PhD research investigates how mammals in southeastern Australia responded to a transition from warmer, wetter conditions in the late Pliocene (3.6–2.58 Mya), to cooler, drier conditions by the beginning of the middle Pleistocene (~0.8 Mya). A climatic shift that coincided with the contraction of once widespread forests and expansion of woodland and grassland.

This study involves identifying what mammal species are represented in several ‘Plio-Pleistocene’ fossil faunas from southeastern Australia and gathering data about their diet, habitat and climate zone preferences. This information is used to determine the palaeoenvironment at each site and to shed light on how increasing aridity impacted upon mammal species and communities in Australia’s southeast at that time. Results of this research will not only contribute to our knowledge of how Australia’s mammals have responded to environmental changes over the last couple of million years, but also provide insight into how they might respond to environmental change in future.

A lot of my time is spent working in the lab identifying and comparing fossils, but I also spend time collecting fossils out in the field and visiting museum palaeontology collections in South Australia and interstate to access specimens previously collected from my study sites or for comparison. I also have the opportunity to work with experts in other research fields including geology, taphonomy, geochronology and taxonomy.