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HomeScience3D-scanning study uncovers long-distance roaming habits of quarter-ton marsupial in Australia's arid...

3D-scanning study uncovers long-distance roaming habits of quarter-ton marsupial in Australia’s arid interior


Reassembled Ambulator kanei skeleton (SAMA P54742) with silhouette showing advanced adaptations for quadrupedal walking. Credit: Jacob van Zolen (Flinders University)

One of the first long-distance walkers in Australia was described after paleontologists at Flinders University used 3D scans and other technologies to take a new look at the partial remains of a 3.5-million-year-old marsupial from central Australia.

They named the new genus of diprotodontid Ambulator, i.e. walker or wanderer, because the locomotor adaptations of this quarter-ton animal’s legs and feet would have made it well-suited to wandering long distances in search of food and water when compared to the earliest. relatives.

The skeleton of an Ambulator keanei, found at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Kalamurina station in northern South Australia by Flinders University researchers in 2017, belongs to a species in the family Diprotodontidae, a group of four-legged herbivores that They were the largest marsupials of all. Out.

“Diprotodontids are closely related to wombats – the same distance that kangaroos are from possums – so unfortunately there is nothing quite like them today. As a result, paleontologists have had difficulty reconstructing their biology,” says Jacob van Zoelen, Ph.D. . Dr.. Candidate at Flinders University Laboratory of Paleontology.

The largest species, Diprotodon optatum, has grown to the size of a car, weighing up to 2.7 tons. Diprotodontids were an integral part of Australian ecosystems until the last species became extinct around 40,000 years ago.

Quarter-ton marsupials roamed great distances across the arid interior of Australia

Ambulator keanei partial skeletal analysis. Credit: Jacob van Zolen (Flinders University)

During the period when Ambulator kanei was alive (Pliocene), there was an increase in open grasslands and habitats as Australia became drier. Diprotodontids likely traveled much greater distances to obtain enough food and water to keep them going.

“We don’t often think of walking as a special skill, but when you’re big any movement can be very costly, so efficiency is key,” says van Zolen.

“Most large herbivores today such as elephants and rhinos are digitalis, which means they walk on tiptoes with their heels not touching the ground.”

“Diprotodontids are what we call plantgrades, meaning their heel bones (the calcaneus) touch the ground when they walk, similar to what humans do. This stance helps distribute weight when walking but uses more energy for other activities like running.”

Diprotodontids display an intense plantar radius in their hands, too, van Zoelen explains, by modifying the carpal bone, the metacarpal, into a secondary malleolus.

This “heeled hand,” he says, made early reconstructions of these animals seem strange and confusing.

Quarter-ton marsupials roamed great distances across the arid interior of Australia

The location of the skeletal remains. Credit: Flinders University

“The evolution of the wrist and ankle to bear weight meant that the fingers became essentially non-functional and likely did not make contact with the ground during walking. This may be the reason why no finger or toe impressions were observed in the tracks of diprotodontids.”

“Therefore, diprotodontids such as Ambulator may have evolved this conformation to traverse large distances more efficiently. This shape also allowed for greater weight support, allowing diprotodontids to become very large indeed.”

“Ultimately, this led to the evolution of the relatively large and well-known Diprotodon.”

Most studies of the group have focused on the skull, as associated skeletons are rare in the fossil record. As such, the newly described skeleton is of great interest and is all the more special because it is the first to be found with associated soft tissue structures.

Quarter-ton marsupials roamed great distances across the arid interior of Australia

Paleontologist Flinders Jacob Van Zoelen with partial skeleton from within Australia. Credit: Flinders University

Using 3D scanning technology, Flinders’ team was able to compare the partial skeleton to other diprotodontid material from collections around the world.

Encasing the individual’s foot was a hardened concrete formed shortly after death. Through tomography scanning of the specimen, soft tissue impressions were revealed preserving the outline of the footpad.

The paper has been published in the journal Royal Society for Open Science.

more information:
Jacob van Zoelen et al, described Pliocene marsupial Ambulator keanei gen. November (Diprotodontidae) (Marsupialia) from Inland Australia and their locomotor adaptations, Royal Society for Open Science (2023). DOI: 10.1098/rsos.230211. royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.230211

Provided by Flinders University

the quote: Quarter-ton marsupial roamed long distances across Australia’s arid interior, reveals 3D scan study (2023, May 30) Retrieved May 30, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-quarter-ton -marsupial-roamed -spaces- australia.html

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