Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Best of Australian Palaeontology on Show

By John Long

The public is welcome to attend one of Australia’s largest palaeontology conferences.

Adelaide has always been a hotspot for top-class palae­ontology research. South Australia is home to one of Australia’s two Unesco World Heritage fossil sites, the Naracoorte Fossil Caves, and has the internationally famous Ediacara Hills sites, which date to the Ediacaran Period (635–542 million years ago) and should also be made a World Heritage site one day. The newly discovered Emu Bay fossil site on Kangaroo Island is also one of the most significant sites of Early Cambrian age anywhere, with exquisite soft-bodied preservation of a diverse assemblage of creatures.

So it’s no surprise that later this month Adelaide will buzz with the hum of numerous palaeontologists as it hosts the bi­annual meeting of the Association of Australasian Palaeontologists at The University of Adelaide and the South Australian Museum.

Scientists from around the world will be attending, but the real focus will be on the latest findings and results from research done right here in our own backyard. Most importantly for our readers, keynote talks held each morning will be free for members of the public to attend.

The first day features a special Ediacaran symposium highlighting the latest research on the Ediacaran fossils found in the Flinders Ranges and elsewhere. New work by Dr Jim Gehling of the South Australian Museum and colleagues is revealing many new and amazing things about how this early animal life diversified at the end of the Proterozoic about 560 million years ago. The recent attention on sedimentary structures made by burrowing organisms at Ediacara is very exciting as we see evidence of active animals living alongside what were once thought to be mostly sessile Ediacarans.

The conference covers all aspects of Australian palaeontology, from the Ediacaran to the Pleistocene, featuring research on all kinds of invertebrates, plants and vertebrates. Keynote talks, free to the public, are held in The University of Adelaide’s Braggs Theatre, and will feature Prof Mary Droser on Ediacaran fossils of South Australia (Monday), Prof Maoyan Zhu on snowball Earth and fossil finds from China (Tuesday), A/Prof James Crampton on extinction of Palaeozoic zooplankton (Wednesday), Dr Scott Hocknull on digging and digital Australian dinosaurs (Thursday), and Prof Mike Archer on the superb Riversleigh fossils (Friday).

A special session on new techniques in palaeontology will be held on the Thursday morning, and will feature how synchrotrons, micro-CT imaging and the new ANSTO neutron dingo beam can be used in palaeontological research for virtual dissection of fossils.

The meeting promises to be one of the largest ever held for Australian palaeontologists and their colleagues. Teams of delegates will be heading into the field before and after the meeting to visit famous Ediacaran and Cambrian fossil sites and to explore the Tertiary vertebrate sites in central South Australia, both of which have yielded a number of new and significant fossils in recent years.

For more information about the meeting and its program see http://www.pdu2.org/


John Long is Strategic Professor in Palaeontology at Flinders University, and current President of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.