Re­mains of 69 ver­te­brate species have so far been found in LBC and the other Thy­la­coleo Caves, in­clud­ing sev­eral en­tirely new to sci­ence.

Australian Geographic - - Geo buzz -

THE FOS­SILS IN LBC point to a very dif­fer­ent land­scape with a much more di­verse f lora and fauna than that ex­ist­ing on the Nullar­bor to­day. Re­mains of 69 ver­te­brate species have so far been found in this and the other Thy­la­coleo Caves, in­clud­ing sev­eral en­tirely new to sci­ence. This num­ber is, how­ever, cer­tainly a frac­tion of what lived on the pre­his­toric Nullar­bor.

It is only a snap­shot of those species un­lucky enough to have fallen into the cave, or to have been brought there by birds of prey. Diprotodons – gi­ant ex­tinct mar­su­pi­als re­lated to mod­ern wom­bats and koalas – would al­most cer­tainly have ex­isted on the Nullar­bor at that time, along with other megafauna too big to fall through such a small open­ing.

If you stood on the spot above the en­trance to LBC 500,000 years ago, you would have found your­self in an open wood­land. The pres­ence of many her­bi­vore species is in­dica­tive of sim­i­lar habi­tats in other parts of mod­ern Aus­tralia. And some of th­ese her­bi­vores would truly have been gi­ants.

The great short-faced kan­ga­roo, Pro­coptodon go­liah, the largest kan­ga­roo yet known, which had an es­ti­mated body weight of 200kg and stood 2m tall, would have tow­ered above you as it bal­anced on its hind legs and sturdy tail, as if on a tri­pod. Its long fore­limbs could reach up and grasp branches 3m from the ground.

No less weighty was a huge wom­bat, Phas­colonus gi­gas. One can only imag­ine what their bur­rows would have looked like! The most com­mon out of the 23 kan­ga­roo species found so far among the fos­sils from here is yet to be for­mally de­scribed. We know that it was slightly smaller than an av­er­age present-day fe­male grey kan­ga­roo, but it sported strange bony lumps above its eyes, mak­ing it un­like any other liv­ing or ex­tinct kan­ga­roo.

Let your gaze wan­der up­ward and you would be sur­prised to see tree kan­ga­roos clam­ber­ing about in the branches. The dis­cov­ery of two new species of tree kan­ga­roo (rel­a­tives of those now liv­ing in the trop­i­cal rain­forests of north­ern Aus­tralia and New Guinea) in­di­cates more than any other find that even as late as the mid­dle Pleis­tocene (781,000–126,000 years ago) there were in­deed trees grow­ing on what is now a tree­less plain.

Along with the her­bi­vores came their preda­tors. Thy­lacines, devils and, per­haps the most enig­matic of all, Thy­la­coleo carnifex, the so-called mar­su­pial lion, after which the Nullar­bor cave com­plex is named. This crea­ture is a mem­ber of the oth­er­wise her­biv­o­rous mar­su­pial group that in­cludes pos­sums, koalas and wom­bats, and so it lacked the ca­nines of typ­i­cal car­ni­vores.

In­stead, to suc­cess­fully in­habit its niche as a meat-eater, its in­cisors had mor­phed into dag­gers, and its pre-mo­lars had evolved into huge blades to shear off chunks of

This view from the rock pile shows palaeon­tol­o­gists ex­ca­vat­ing be­low. Ev­ery­thing brought in and out must pass through the nar­row so­lu­tion pipe above.

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