One of the most concise ways to march on to a better future is to explore the past and learn from it. To see the bigger picture clearly, we need to use key pieces of information about our ancestors and the ancestors of the flora and fauna that surround us.
A partial animal skull has been found in Queensland, Australia, and paleontologists initially believed the fossil belonged to a group of marsupial lions that had died out about 35,000 years ago.
Yet, the team later discovered it was an entirely new genus, which they named Lekaneleo roskellyae, or Leo for short, after they noted differences in its teeth from other members of the Priscileo genus.
University of New South Wales researchers Anna Gillespie, Michael Archer and Suzanne Hand discovered the remains in a site popular for its fossils, and once visited by Sir David Attenborough, the Riversleigh World Heritage Area.
Their findings were published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and indicated that Leo was about the size of a house cat and roamed ancient Australia during the Oligocene-Miocene (about 23 to 34 million years ago).
Yet, it had powerful teeth, that could cut through flesh. According to Dr. Archer, this cat “was one of the tiniest marsupial lions we’ve ever seen” and it belonged to “a strange group of marsupials. “
“In Australia, the marsupial lions were the supremely specialized carnivores throughout at least the last 30 million years of Australian history.
And this guy, this new one, we’ve only just recognized is highly different than any of the other previous ones we’ve seen. That’s why it’s been described now as a new genus of marsupial lion.“
Dr. Archer added that all of Riversleigh’s lions had distinct teeth structure:
“They had an extraordinary, elongated, bolt-cutting type of premolar. This was the most extraordinary adaptation or evolution that a carnivorous mammal has ever developed anywhere in the world. It is capable of slicing straight through bones.”
According to researchers, Leo lived in trees and fed on opossum, snakes, birds, and even larger creatures. Even though it is classified as a “lion”, the creature is more related to koalas, kangaroos, and other marsupials.
Yet, Dr. Archer believes that “many of the animals in the Riversleigh ancient rainforest would have been shaking in their little furry boots when they saw this animal come along.”
Alongside the Lekaneleo, some of the other marsupial lions found at the site include the Microleo attenboroughi, named after Sir David, the Wakaleo schouteni, and larger lions the Thylacoleonids.
Dr.Archer has been working at this famous archeological site for the last four decades. His research has shown that the Australian biodiversity during that time was on a much higher level than today, which points out the devastating effects of climate change.
At one point in history, about 15 million years ago, a two-degree temperature rise led to the deaths of about 50% of species living there. These numbers started to regenerate when temperatures dropped again, but that was over a space of 300,000 to 400,000 years.
Yet, he also believes that Riversleigh can teach us about the future:
“There is a message here of course and it’s that if we keep allowing the Earth’s temperature to rise, we are going to see a massive loss of biodiversity. When you think about what’s in the wet tropics… and you subtract every second kind of animal in those forests, you begin to understand how significant those losses are going to be.
That’s what the fossil record enables us to do. We’re not confined to just guessing what’s likely to happen as global temperatures rise, we’ve actually got a fossil record at Riversleigh that tells us what happened when this happened before.”