Giant reptiles once ruled Australia. Their loss sparked an ecological disaster

Science | AAAS | 10/11/2019 | Staff
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BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—Saber-toothed cats, short-faced bears, and other ferocious mammals were the top predators of the Ice Age across most of the world. But not in Australia. Here, reptiles ruled: land-living crocs, monstrous snakes, and enormous relatives of the Komodo dragon, according to a study presented yesterday at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. The disappearance of these animals, the researchers argue, made room for mammalian predators to take over and set the stage for a massive extinction crisis that accelerated when Europeans arrived 200 years ago.

“Between the expansion of agriculture in Australia, which changed the landscape, and the predators that we brought in, there was no way for native animals to escape,” says Kenny Travouillon, a paleontologist at the Western Australian Museum in Perth, who was not involved in the study.

Picture - Gilbert - Price - Paleontologist - University

The new picture emerged after Gilbert Price, a paleontologist at the University of Queensland here, and colleagues scoured the scientific literature on new fossil discoveries from the past 15 years or so. Added together, the finds showed that Australia had a much greater diversity of Ice Age reptiles than is widely accepted. These include 200-meter-long relatives of Komodo dragons, three to four times the size of those around today, and long-legged, land-living crocodiles. Price and others have also made new unpublished fossil discoveries that bolster the idea of a continent dominated by reptilian predators for much of the past 25 million years, up until at least 100,000 years ago.

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“We think of the age of the dinosaurs as when reptiles like dinosaurs and crocs were dominant,” says Larisa Desantis, a paleoecologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville who was not involved with the research. “So, it’s exciting to think Australia was dominated by reptilian predators in its recent history.”

Travouillon says...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Science | AAAS
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