Original Published Date: 
Monday, September 16, 2019

Full article issued by PLOS.

Research supported by an ARC Discovery Projects grant has for the first time described the functional morphology of the limbs of an Australian family of strange marsupial giants. For most of the last 25 million years, eastern Australia was home to the now-extinct group of marsupials called palorchestids, which are well known for their large size, strange tapir-like skulls, and large claws, but so far there has been no detailed study of their limb morphology.

In this study, PhD candidate Hazel Richards from Monash University, and colleagues around Australia examined more than 60 fossil specimens of palorchestids of varying geologic ages to characterise the function and evolution of their arms and legs. This study reveals that the group of giant herbivores probably filled a niche no longer occupied in modern Australian ecosystems. 

The authors add: "This study has allowed us for the first time to appreciate just how huge these mega-marsupial palorchestids were, while also providing the first comprehensive view of a strange limb anatomy unprecedented in the mammalian world. This research reveals yet more about the diversity of unique large marsupials that once roamed Australia not so long ago."

Photo credit: 

Image: Ancient Australia was home to strange marsupial giants, some weighing over 1,000 kg. Credit: Hazel Richards (2019).