Environment Institute

Trilobite speciesFossils found in Morocco from the long-extinct group of sea creatures called trilobites, including rarely seen soft-body parts, may be previously unseen animals that left distinctive fossil ‘footprints’ around the ancient supercontinent Gondwana.

The trilobites were a very common group of marine animals during the 300 million years of the Palaeozoic Era with hard, calcified, external armour-like skeletons over their bodies. They disappeared with a mass extinction event about 250 million years ago which wiped out about 96% of all marine species.

University of Adelaide-led research published in the journal Scientific Reports describes three specimens of the 480 million-year-old trilobite Megistaspis (Ekeraspis) hammondi, up to 30 centimetres long and with preserved soft-parts showing a unique combination of digestive structures and double-branched legs.

“One of the most striking aspects of the discovery is that the first three pairs of legs, those located in the head, bear short, strong spines, while those further back in the thorax and tail are smooth,” says Dr Diego García-Bellido, ARC Future Fellow with the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute and South Australian Museum.

“We believe this specialised type of legs are the ones that produced the fossil traces named Cruziana rugosa, thought to be from a trilobite but the actual trace-maker was previously unknown. These marine animals ploughed the sediment in the sea floor for food with their forward legs, while holding their heads tilted downward, leaving behind a double groove with parallel scratches made by the spines on the legs.

“The legs we can see on these new fossils match the traces we’ve known as Cruziana rugosa.”

Dr García-Bellido, Juan Gutiérrez-Marco of the Spanish National Research Council and colleagues present for the first time the preserved gut with associated digestive structures plus a complete set of both branches of the trilobite legs.

Cruziana species are one of the most abundant trace fossils found in the lower Palaeozoic sediments across Gondwana but little was known of the particular process producing the distinct Cruziana rugosa traces, where imprints are aligned in sets of up to 12 parallel scratches.

The digestive structures seen also include a unique combination of features: a ‘crop’ together with several pairs of digestive glands or caeca in the upper parts of the digestive system. Other trilobite fossils have been seen with either a crop or the paired digestive caeca but, until now, they have never been found together.

Trilobites have three main parts: a head with eyes, antennae, mouth, and three pairs of appendages or legs; a thorax with many joined segments, each bearing a pair of legs; and a tail with a number of fused segments and several pairs of legs. Trilobite appendages are soft, with an outer branch which is a gill, and an inner branch used for walking and feeding. The preservation of their soft-body is extremely rare, restricted to only a couple of dozen cases, because their external ‘skin’ and internal anatomy was normally lost through scavenging and decay soon after death, or overprinted by the mineralised exoskeleton.

The research involved collaboration between the University of Adelaide/South Australian Museum, the Spanish Research Council and Spanish Geological Survey, and the Universities of Vila Real and Coimbra in Portugal.

Posted in Media Release, Sprigg Geobiology Centre | Tagged ,
Leave a comment

Kris HelgenThe Environment Institute is pleased to welcome Kristofer Helgen, who has just been appointed Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Adelaide.

Helgen is an internationally renowned zoologist and joins us following his role as curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. He has discovered approximately 100 new species of living mammals, 25 of which have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Helgen’s most famous discovery was perhaps of the carnivous mammal olinguito, a discovery which made international headlines.

Aside from his academic credentials, Helgen is also an explorer with the National Geographic Society, was named one of Business Insiders Most Inspiring Innovators and Entrepeneurs Under 40 and has been featured in numerous documentaries including BBC’s Wild Burma.

Helgen is no stranger to Adelaide, having completed his PhD at the University of Adelaide under the supervision of Professor Tim Flannery. Helgen is scheduled to begin his position in March. We look forward to his arrival!




Posted in News | Tagged ,
Leave a comment
tree-17708_1280Late last year, Environment Institute researchers headed to Fremantle for the 19th Australian Organic Geochemistry Conference. The theme of the conference was “Paleoclimates, Environments, Ecosystems & Our Resources”, exploring modern and ancient environments and the associated geochemistry.


Staff and students from the University of Adelaide gave oral presentations, which were well received. A special congratulations to Siân Howard who won the Best Student Presentation with a cash prize of $200, sponsored by Woodside Energy.


Thanks to our researchers for continually showcasing their amazing research!


Posted in Conference | Tagged ,
Leave a comment

Late last year, researchers and students from the University of Adelaide descended in Auckland for the Australasian Quaternary Association (AQUA) conference. The AQUA conference brigs together Quarternary scientists, who research the last 2.6 million years of Earth’s history. The AQUA conference was the largest event of its kind, with 130 presentations, including 12 from the University […]

Posted in Conference, Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,
Leave a comment

1. Genetic profiling of trees helps convict timber thieves  Our researchers helped convict National Forest timber thieves in a landmark case in the United States. An international team including Dr Eleanor Dormontt and Professor Andy Lowe developed DNA markers for certain trees. This was used to create a DNA profiling reference database of trees which could be used in […]

Posted in News
Comments Off on Environment Institute 10 Research Highlights 2016

It has been another productive year of research for the Environment Institute in 2016. Showcased below are 10 of our most pivotal journal articles of the year*. 1. Cultural innovation and megafauna interaction in the early settlement of arid Australia. Nature This paper describes research proving that humans occupied Australia’s arid interior and began developing sophisticated tools […]

Posted in News, Publications
Comments Off on Environment Institute Top 10 Publications 2016

Wild barramundi populations are likely to be at risk under ocean acidification, a new University of Adelaide study has found. Published in the journal Oecologia, the study is the first to show that even freshwater fish which only spend a small portion of their lifecycle in the ocean are likely to be seriously affected under […]

Posted in MBP, Media Release, Publications, Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,
Comments Off on Media release: Barramundi populations at risk from acid oceans

The Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC has released its final Hazard Note of the year, asking the question “What Can Economics Offer Emergency Services?” Natural hazards are, of course, a costly affair, yet mitigation options are not free from cost either. Building a compelling case for the risk-reducing and financial benefits of mitigiation options are essential […]

Posted in WRC | Tagged , , ,
Comments Off on What Can Economics Offer Emergency Services

A big congratulations to Dr Vicki Thomson (School of Biological Sciences) who has been awarded one of only four Australia-India Strategic Research Fund Fellowships from the Australian Academy of Science. The fellowship, which is valued at $88,000, will enable Dr Thomson to undertake work at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bangalore. She will study the disease […]

Posted in Grants, News | Tagged ,
Comments Off on Vicki Thomson secures Australia-India Strategic Research Fund Fellowship

The human microbiome is increasingly being recognised as an important part of our well-being. But research is showing that our interact with microbiomes in the environment can have a huge effect on the microbiomes in our bodies. The beneficial bacteria that populate our body play a huge role in our metabolism and physiology. If the population […]

Posted in Australian Bioactive Compounds Centre | Tagged , , , , , , , ,
Comments Off on Old microbial friends key to good health