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Plenary - Steve Salisbury - The changing face of Australia’s dinosaurian fauna; reflections on the past and glimpses into the future

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Event description

Please join us for this Plenary talk by Steve Salisbury at the State Library Theatre.

Abstract. New discoveries, reassessments of old specimens, and the sharing of First Nations knowledge have dramatically transformed our collective understanding of Australia’s dinosaurian fauna over recent decades.

Before the 1980s, Australian dinosaurian fossils were rare. These fossils were regarded either as relics of dinosaurs that had gone extinct elsewhere, or as early representatives of groups typical of the Northern Hemisphere. More recent discoveries from mid-Cretaceous rocks have shown that most Australian dinosaurs display affinities with groups that were spread across landmasses that were previously part of Gondwana. Megaraptoran theropods, titanosauriform sauropods, non-hadrosauriform ornithopods and parankylosaurian thyreophorans are now key elements of Australia’s dinosaurian fauna.

New insights into Australia’s dinosaurian fauna prior to the mid-Cretaceous have come mainly from footprints. Reassessments of tracks from the Upper Triassic and Jurassic coalfields of Queensland point to the presence of early sauropodopomorphs, small- and large-bodied theropods, thyreophorans and small-bodied ornithopods. A much-expanded understanding of the dinosaurian track fauna of Western Australia’s Broome Sandstone shows that the general composition of Australia’s mid-Cretaceous dinosaurian fauna was present at the start of the Cretaceous, but contained colossal sauropods, large hadrosaur-like ornithopods, and a higher diversity of both thyreophorans (including stegosaurs) and theropods.

Significantly, recent research on the dinosaurian tracks of Western Australia has been conducted through respectful collaboration with First Nations peoples. Knowledge of dinosaur tracks in the Saltwater Culture of the West Kimberley is woven into the Bugarrigarra (‘Dreamtime’). Goolarabooloo Knowledge Holders have shared parts of this knowledge with people who will listen and treat it respectfully as part of Country. The ‘opening of the knowledge valve’ in the Kimberley has provided a glimpse of what postcolonial palaeontology might look like in Australia, where different ways of knowing about fossils enrich their value as part of our unique natural, geological and cultural heritage.

Bio. Steve Salisbury is an Associate Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at The University of Queensland, where he is head of the UQ Dinosaur Lab and Chair of First Nations Engagement. He is also an Associate Editor for the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, and a Scientific Board member of the Jurassic Foundation, an international funding body dedicated to helping advance the careers of young scientists and researchers in underprivileged nations.

Steve's research focuses on the evolution of Gondwanan continental vertebrates, in particular dinosaurs and crocodilians. He is also interested in vertebrate biomechanics and using living animals to better understand the anatomy, behaviour and evolution of extinct ones. Since completing his PhD in 2001, Steve’s research has taken him all over Australia, New Zealand and even the frozen vastness of Antarctica.

Some of Steve’s research highlights include the description of Isisfordia duncani, the world’s most primitive modern crocodilian, the recognition of an avian infectious disease in Tyrannosaurus rex, and an iconoclastic reboot of Australia’s dinosaur ‘stampede’ at Lark Quarry (most of them were swimming!). In the Kimberley, he works closely with local First Nations groups, and in 2011 his research there helped secure National Heritage Listing for the dinosaurian tracks of the Dampier Peninsula, and subsequently contributed to the collapse of a $40+ billion LNG development at Walmadany (James Price Point), 50 km north of Broome. The results of Steve’s team’s six-year study of the dinosaurian tracks of the Walmadany area were published as the 2016 Memoir of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The talk will be 45-50 minutes long followed by questions.

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