The Application of ZooMS to Study Late Quaternary Extinctions in Australia

The timing and cause of the Late Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions in Australia and other regions of the world have long been a subject of debate. Some argue that these extinctions were human-induced either directly via predation, or indirectly by the introduction of novel fire regions. Other instead argue that climate change, leading to greater aridity on the Australian continent, caused the extinction of megafauna in Sahul.

One of the main issues in understanding Australian megafauna extinctions is the significant knowledge gaps existing for many species and regions. Data on species biochronology and palaeobiogeography is mostly patchy, with many species only having been reported at a handful of sites. This makes it difficult to test extinction hypotheses, both on a regional and continental scale. One of the main challenges is the large number of highly fragmented, morphologically unidentifiable bones often recovered from Australian faunal assemblages.

This project aims to improve identification rates of fossil fauna at Late Pleistocene sites in Australia by employing ZooMS (Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry). ZooMS is a low-cost, high-throughput proteomics-based approach that can be used to identify fragmented faunal material on the basis of differences in the collagen type I sequences between species. For this project, we are developing ZooMS markers for extant and extinct Australian species (see figure). Ultimately, this project aims to gain a better understanding of the spatio-temporal distribution of extinct megafaunal species in Australia, as well as of the contribution of anthropogenic and environmental factors to their extinction.

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