November 30, 2023
Australia’s giant birds of prey emerge again from limestone caves

Australia’s giant birds of prey emerge again from limestone caves

Fossil painting of birds of prey

A bunch of Cryptogyps lacertosus (left) watch and wait your turn as several individuals from Dynatoaetus pachyosteus (center, right) feeding on the carcass of a dead person Diprotodon optatum in the Late Pleistocene Naracoorte landscape of southern Australia. Credit: Natural history reconstruction artist John Barrie (courtesy of Flinders University)

A new eagle and a vulture have been discovered in fossil deposits.

Australia’s only vulture and a fearsome extinct eagle are among the first birds of prey recorded in the Pleistocene period, more than 50,000 years ago – and now Along with new scientific information published in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of PalaeontologyA bold new pictorial reconstruction of a newly named eagle and the only known Australian vulture will be unveiled at the World Heritage-listed Naracoorte Caves on the limestone coast of South Australia this month.

Research on Megafauna and Extinct Birds

“Imagine these majestic birds competing for food in southern Australian landscapes ruled by megafauna, such as the giant wombat-like Diprotodon optatum and the ‘marsupial lion’ Thylacoleo carnifex,” says Dr Ellen Mather from the Flinders University Paleontology laboratory.

The project follows the Flinders team’s extensive work on now-extinct megafauna – including the largest eagle to ever fly in Australia, recently named Dynatoaetus gaffaeby Dr. Mather, Associate Professor Trevor Worthy, Dr. Aaron Camens and others.

The humerus of the newly described Dynatoaetus pachyosteus compared to that of the living wedge-tailed eagle

The humerus of the just described Dynatoaetus pachyosteus (left) compared to the living wedge-tailed eagle. Credit: Ellen Mather

Discovery of new species of eagle and Australian vulture

In their latest paper, Dr Mather and Associate Professor Worthy join fellow Flinders palaeontologists Dr Diane Fusco, Professor Mike Lee (Flinders and SA Museum) and Dr John Hellstrom (University of Melbourne) in publishing details of the second largest eagle, aptly named Dynatoaetus pachyosteusdescribed exclusively from fossil bones found in Victoria Cave in the Naracoorte Caves.

“This new eagle

“This genre (Dynatoaetus) was endemic to Australia, meaning it was found nowhere else in the world.

“Now that we have found two species and know that this genus is not particularly related to any eagles outside of Australia, we suggest that this group of birds of prey must have been in Australia for some time, rather than being a relatively recent arrival.”

“However, our analyzes suggest they may be related to the Great Crested Serpent Eagle and the Philippine Eagle, top predators in the tropical jungles of Southeast Asia and New Guinea.”

Analyzes of vulture and eagle species

The team also described for the first time the Australian vulture (Cryptogyps lacertosus), a bird the size of a modern wedge-tailed eagle, with bones including an almost complete pair of wings from a single individual previously recovered from an underwater cave, known as the Green Waterhole or Fossil Cave, near Mount Gambier.

In the latest paper, the Flinders University team connected these SA remains to bones they studied in a Nullarbor cave in Western Australia – suggesting Cryptographers it was more of a primitive vulture than previously thought.

John Barrie and Ellen Mather posing with the painting

Artist John Barrie and paleontologist Dr Ellen Mather posing with the painting.Julie Barrie (Flinders University Paleontology Laboratory)

Artwork of these extinct Australian birds of prey, made by local South Australian artist and natural historian John Barrie, will be displayed at the Naracoorte Fossil Centre.

Implications and findings

“Most vultures in the subfamily Aegypiinae (Old World vultures related to the Griffon Vulture) have extremely light wing bones filled with air cavities, which are thought to aid long periods of high flight,” says Dr. “But Cryptographers It seems like this adaptation was missing.”

This could indicate that Cryptographers it was not as efficient a glider compared to its living relatives.

Both species of Dynatoaetus were found in deposits of the Victoria Fossil Cave and lived in the area between 500,000 and 200,000 years ago.

Eagle fossils are rare, so it is not known exactly when these birds became extinct. However, researchers were able to date the vulture fossil from Green Waterhole Cave.

Co-author Dr. Hellstrom led serial uranium dating of the calcite rafts (calcite crystals that form on the surface of still water in caves) where the fossils were buried, suggesting that Cryptogyps lacertosus it was alive about 60,000 years ago. This means it survived until the mass extinction of the Australian megafauna.

It is quite likely that the extinction of large marsupials played a fundamental role in the disappearance of Cryptographersand possibly also giant eagles, says Dr. Mather.

“Whatever caused the extinction of at least the vulture and two other eagles, the result is that Australia today has only one large bird of prey in its inland fauna. This is unusual in the world, as most continents have several eagles and vultures.

“We now know that the extinction not only eliminated large groups of mammalian fauna, but that the absence of vultures is a recent loss and that Australia had two other eagles – both capable of taking prey much larger than the wedge-tailed eagle. .”

Reference: “Pleistocene birds of prey from cave deposits of South Australia, with a description of a new species of Dynatoaetus (Accipitridae: Aves): morphology, systematics and paleoecological implications” by Ellen K. Mather, Michael SY Lee, Diana A Fusco, John Hellstrom and Trevor H. Digno, 2023, Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology.
DOI: 10.1080/03115518.2023.2268780

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