Oral Presentation- Symposium 12th International Mammalogical Congress

An introduction to the contribution of mammal remains to conservation (#302)

Matthew C McDowell 1 2
  1. Earth Sciences, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL, USA
  2. Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

As previous authors in this session have explained, European colonisation of Australia has devastated its endemic mammals. Consequently, Holocene fossils provide more reliable records of Australia’s pre-European terrestrial fauna than historical records. But what does this mean for conservation? Recent fossil assemblages provide very useful conservation tools that can identify and fill gaps in knowledge, and contribute to the management and restoration of Australia’s degraded ecosystems. Owls are better at surveying biodiversity than humans, and Holocene owl accumulations can provide extremely accurate spatial and temporal data that describe the composition, heterogeneity, diversity, richness and evenness of pre-European mammal assemblages. Analysis of these parameters in stratified assemblages may also reveal the drivers behind faunal change. Holocene fossils can guard against baseline shift (where an arbitrary baseline is accepted and used to evaluate change with no consideration of prior human-induced ecological modification), reveal ‘hidden’ biodiversity (undescribed species or species complexes), species range contractions, community naturalness (where human vegetation modification encourages invasion by native species), inform perceptions of species’ environmental preferences and the calibration of predictive climate models. Fossils can also yield (ancient) DNA that can be used to identify taxa, distinguish between fragmented or diverging populations and help source appropriate genetic stock. Finally, reintroduction programmes should be structured so that environmental engineers such as bettongs and other ecological service providers are re-established first to enhance overall community resilience and the successful reintroduction of subsequent species.