RAPID ROUNDUP: AUSTRALIA ON THE DINOSAUR MAP: Discovery of first large Australian dinosaurs in 28 years (PLoS ONE)

Fri Jul 3, 2009

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Embargo lifted 11:30am AEST Friday 3 July 2009

Australovenator wintonensis. Artwork by: T. Tischler, Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History.
New research published in PLoS ONE on Friday describes the remains of three new species of dinosaur: two giant herbivores (sauropods) and a carnivore (theropod) found during digs in the Winton Formation of central Queensland. They are the first large Australian dinosaurs to be discovered since 1981.
The authors of the paper are from the Queensland Museum and the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History based near Winton in central Queensland.

Below, several Australian experts in palaeontology respond to the paper. The fossils were unveiled today at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum by the Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh.

To read the paper go to: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0006190

Media releases from the Queensland Premier and PLoS One are available here.

Further information on each of the dinosaurs is also available on the Queensland Museum website.

IMAGES: Bone and dinosaur images can be downloaded via the above PLoS link or go to the www.australianageofdinosaurs.com website.

FOOTAGE: Broadcast quality footage taken during a recent visit to the dig site by scientists from La Trobe University is also available. For further info, contact us.

For comments made by the paper’s academic editor at PLoS, click here.

Feel free to use the quotes below in your stories. Any further comments will be posted here. If you would like to speak to an expert, please don’t hesitate to contact us on (08) 8207 7415 or by email.

Dr John Long is a palaeontologist and Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria.

“Wow! This is amazing stuff. I would regard the paper by Scott Hucknull and his team as one of the most significant papers ever published on Australian dinosaurs to date. It not only presents us with two new amazing long-necked giants of the ancient Australian continent, but also announces our first really big predator known from more than scrappy remains – Australovenator. This find also solves an old debate that has been raging since 1981 over Victoria’s ‘Allosaurus’ that is known from a single ankle bone, as it now appears to belong to Australoventor, which shows interesting links to the truly gargantuan group of Gondwana meat-eaters, the carcharodontosauroids.

This paper puts Australia back on the international map of big dinosaur discoveries for the first time since 1981 – when Muttaburrasaurus was announced.”

Associate Professor Rod Wells is from the School of Biological Sciences at Flinders University, SA. Rod is a vertebrate palaeontologist best known for discovering the Naracoorte Caves fossil deposit in SA. He’s an expert in fossil marsupials.

“Mention the word ‘fossil ‘and the immediate response is ‘dinosaur’. Children in particular love their dinosaurs, but when we think of dinosaurs we think North America, Europe, South America, Africa, not Australia. Australia is the exciting new frontier in vertebrate palaeontology, a continent as large as North America awaiting exploration. The dearth of mountain building events on this continent has meant we have no ‘Grand Canyons’ with exposed rock layers spilling fossils; finding fossils in Australia is difficult, time consuming and labour intensive, but the rewards can be outstanding.

Scott Hocknull from the Queensland Museum and his team of volunteers have shown what can be achieved by involving the community in the excitement of scientific discovery. They have opened a new window on the dinosaur fauna of a ~110 million year old portion of the world that remains largely unexplored, indeed a unique Australian fossil heritage. Their work is an exemplar of what can be achieved with limited resources, making an important contribution to basic science, to science education, as well as to the economy of the local community through the Age of Dinosaurs Museum. I applaud their efforts.”

Dr Ben Kear is a palaeontologist based at La Trobe University in Melbourne and an honorary research associate with the SA Museum.

“Australia is one of the great untapped resources in our current understanding of life from the Age of Dinosaurs. The discoveries of Hocknull and colleagues will definitely reinvigorate interest in the hitherto tantalizingly incomplete but globally significant record from this continent and pave the way for new studies on Australian dinosaurs and their environments.”

Dr Tom Rich is Senior Curator (Vertebrate Palaeontology and palaeobotany) at Museum Victoria.

“Where the Winton Formation is commonly exposed, there is a layer of black soil typically about one metre thick. Since at least the 1930s, fossil bones have been found on that surface. However, they were typically isolated bones and often badly broken. Digging in the black soil with hand tools is soul-destroying work. Sort of like digging in a solid mass of rubber. When people did that in the past, little if anything was found in that layer. After finally digging through the black soil and into the underlying sandy clays, the fossil bones found were often disappointing. What Hocknull, the Elliots, and their colleagues have done is to use bulldozers to follow surface traces of bone below the black soil over large areas and then do a lot of digging in the underlying sandy clays. That strategy involved a lot of hard work and expensive machine time. It did not pay off immediately. But it did pay off because they were persistent. They now have demonstrated the appropriateness of a technique that will no doubt reveal much more about the fossil tetrapods of the Winton Formation in the years to come than has been learned before. As the previous record of Australian dinosaurs is so meagre, this heralds a real advance in the years to come.

The three specimens reported by Hocknull and colleagues join less than a dozen others known from this continent from more than a single bone. The theropod is the first occurrence of that group known from anything more than an isolated element. The sauropods show a diversity of titanosaurs in Australia. This group is quite diversified in the Cretaceous of other continents, particularly South America. And it was to be expected that with further discoveries in Australia, this would be found to be the case here. Hocknull and colleagues have found the physical evidence demonstrating that this expectation was in fact correct.

Scott Hocknull was working very closely with David and Judy Elliott of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum in Winton, Queensland. All three of them worked closely together for a number of years to bring off this result. In doing so, they attracted to their project a number of devoted persons who have been critical in their achieving together what they have accomplished.”

Aaron Camens is a PhD research student at the SA Museum and the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Adelaide. His main research focus is on fossil marsupials.

“Hocknull and colleagues’ discovery is a fantastic new addition to Australia’s Cretaceous dinosaur record. It also opens a new window into our understanding of dinosaur evolution in the Southern Hemisphere. The Winton Formation is the centre of dinosaurian palaeontology in Australia and Hocknull is right in the thick of it. SA has a grand total of three dinosaur bones, I’m packing my bags for Queensland!”

Scott Hocknull, lead author of the PLos One paper from the Queensland Museum comments on the new carnivorous therapod, nicknamed ‘Banjo’.

“The cheetah of his time, Banjo was light and agile. He could run down most prey with ease over open ground. His most distinguishing feature was three large slashing claws on each hand. Unlike some theropods that have small arms (think T. rex), Banjo was different; his arms were a primary weapon. He’s Australia’s answer to Velociraptor, but many times bigger and more terrifying.

Many hundreds more fossils from this dig await preparation and there is much more material left to excavate.”