A University of Adelaide-led research project will focus on the rich fossil history of Naracoorte Caves and cement its place on the world science stage.
Announced today, the project has been awarded $669,000 by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council (ARC)’s Linkage Projects scheme which promotes collaborative projects between universities, industry, government and other partners.
Further cash and in-kind support is being provided by the Naracoorte Lucindale Council, the Department for Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR), the South Australian Museum, Terre à Terre, Wrattonbully Wine Regions Association and the DST Group, bringing the total value of the project to about $2 million. Researchers from the University of Melbourne and the University of Queensland will also share their expertise.
The project, led by Dr Lee Arnold and Dr Liz Reed in the University’s Environment Institute and School of Physical Sciences, will provide a unique window into a key period of global climate change, animal extinctions and evolution of the modern Australian environment at the World Heritage-listed Naracoorte Caves.
“The Naracoorte Caves have preserved records of the local climate, flora and fauna for more than half a million years,” says Co-lead Chief Investigator Dr Reed. “Although scientists have been investigating these deposits for over 40 years, new multi-disciplinary studies and technological advances are now allowing us to look at these records in new ways. We have literally just scratched the surface.”
The project will integrate all aspects of the cave deposits, employing new approaches in geochronology, palaeontology and geochemistry to produce comprehensive ancient ecological and climate histories.
“This project will have significant implications for understanding megafauna extinctions and will inform future conservation and climate change adaptation strategies,” says Co-lead Chief Investigator Dr Arnold. “It will also transform the scientific profile of Naracoorte Caves, ensuring socioeconomic benefits to regional communities through education, ecotourism and knowledge marketing.”
The time span and exceptional preservation of the fossils make the Naracoorte deposits significant on a global scale.
Naracoorte Lucindale Council Chief Executive Officer Dr Helen Macdonald says: “This is fantastic news and a potential economic game changer for the community of Naracoorte. The value of the partnership to the Naracoorte Lucindale Council is the ongoing interest the research work will create in the World Heritage-listed megafauna fossil site, and the opportunity it provides for the community to create a science tourism hub.”
DEWNR Group Executive Director Science Sandy Carruthers says DEWNR had actively sought to partner with this team of internationally recognised experts whose objectives align with the state government’s strategies to address climate change and biodiversity conservation. “The project will greatly advance our scientific understanding of the fossil sites at the World Heritage Naracoorte Caves and will provide benefits to both the broader community and visitors to the site,” she says.
South Australian Museum Senior Research Scientist Dr Mark Hutchinson says: “With this funding the Museum will work alongside its research partners to increase understanding of South Australia’s globally significant natural heritage. The Museum outreach program will then take this new understanding out of our laboratories and into the hearts and minds of regional and remote communities in South Australia.”
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