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Behold Thylacoleo, Australia’s Extinct Giant Marsupial “Lion”

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An artist's rendering of Thylacoleo carnifex, Australia's massive marsupial "lion," based on earlier fossil evidence. A new, nearly complete skeleton of the animal, announced today, refines our understanding of its body plan and biomechanics. (Credit: Wikimedia/Jose Manuel Canete)

An artist’s rendering of Thylacoleo carnifex, Australia’s massive marsupial “lion,” based on earlier fossil evidence. A complete skeletal reconstruction, announced today, refines our understanding of its body plan and biomechanics. (Credit: Wikimedia/Jose Manuel Canete)

Multiple recently discovered specimens of Thylacoleo carnifex have allowed researchers to reconstruct the extinct animal’s entire skeleton for the first time, revising what we know about how Australia’s largest-ever carnivorous mammal moved. Spoiler alert: It appears that, despite weighing in excess of 200 pounds, the animal was an adept climber. Add that skill to the list of traits, including unique flesh-shearing teeth and a lethal thumb claw, that make Thylacoleo so fascinating.

Nicknamed the marsupial lion for its size and formidable teeth, T. carnifex roamed Australia for roughly 2 million years, going extinct only about 40,000 years ago. Thylacoleo was first described in the mid-19th century, based on a skull and jaw fragments that suggested it was a ferocious predator. Paleontologists have debated its actual ecological niche for decades, however, in part because subsequent finds were mostly fragmentary and it was difficult to reconstruct what the animal might have been like in life.

Fortunately, thanks to a series of finds in caves along the southern Australian coast over the last decade, including virtually complete T. carnifex individuals, researchers are finally able to piece together Thylacoleo in all its glory. The recent fossils unearthed include the first known tail and collarbone of the animal — both of which played key roles in its biomechanics.

Apex Predator Or Supreme Scavenger? Or Both?

After reconstructing the animal’s complete skeleton, the authors compared it with those of living Australian marsupials to better understand how it might have moved and, by extension, how it hunted. The researchers confirmed that Thylacoleo would have been a lousy pursuit hunter. It simply wasn’t built for chasing prey at speed. It may, however, have been a skilled ambush hunter. It’s also almost certain that it scavenged.

However it acquired its prey, Thylacoleo’s unusual dentition allowed the animal to make short work of it. Those big pointy teeth you see in renderings of its skull are not canines. Rather, they’re incisors that, unique among carnivorous mammals, evolved into large, serrated steak knives. Meanwhile, the predator’s third molar, along the cheek, is a long shearing blade.

Thylacoleo also had a large claw on its first digit, which it may have used to gut prey. At over 200 pounds (some individuals may have weighed closer to 300 pounds), it must have been an impressive animal.

Perhaps even more intriguing, we now know that T. carnifex had a heavily-muscled and fairly stiff tail, a rigid lower back and powerful forelimbs. These traits suggest the large animal was an excellent climber, able to use its tail and hindlimbs like a tripod to support its weight as it climbed.

Fig 11. Thylacoleo carnifex reconstructions. (A) Reconstruction of the skeleton of T. carnifex. (B) Body outline based on examination of musculature evident in x-ray imaging of marsupials Vogelnest and Allen. CREDIT Wells et al., 2018

A reconstruction of T. carnifex‘s skeleton (A) and body outline (B) based on multiple recent fossil finds that allowed researchers to recreate the predator’s biomechanics. (Credit: Wells et al., 2018)

Exactly what Thylacoleo climbed, however, is unclear. There may have been few if any trees able to support its weight in some of the areas in which fossil remains have been unearthed.

However, the authors point to previous analysis of claw marks on steep cave and pit walls where multiple T. carnifex individuals have been found. The marks have been interpreted as evidence of skillful wall-climbing by the large animals. In addition, multiple juvenile T. carnifex individuals found in several caves across Australia suggest that the animals may have lived socially and used the caverns as communal dens.

Although not related to T. carnifex, the Tasmanian devil, an ambush predator/scavenger, may be its closest living analog in terms of body plan — but not in size. Tasmanian devils are about as big as a small-to-medium-size dog, while Thylacoleo was at least ten times as large.

The open-access study appears today in PLOS One.

Tasmanian devils like this li'l fella, a resident at the Devils@Cradle Sanctuary in Tasmania, are the nearest living relatives of newly described carnivorous marsupial Whollydooleya. Credit: G. Tarlach.

Tasmanian devils like this li’l fella are not related to T. carnifex, though the authors behind today’s study note that the devils provide the best modern analog for Thylacoleo’s body plan, with one significant exception: size. Today’s Tassies weigh roughly 8-25 pounds, but Thylacoleo tipped the scales at more than 200. (Credit: G. Tarlach)

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Ecology

Yukon and Northern BC First Nations tackle climate change using Indigenous knowledge and science

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YUKON, June 18, 2021 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is working together in partnership with Indigenous and Northern communities in finding solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the North.

Today, Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, along with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency), Larry Bagnell, highlighted progress on three unique, Indigenous-led projects that are helping communities in Yukon and Northern British Columbia adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary met virtually with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) to learn about their community-led climate change monitoring program. C/TFN has partnered with Tsay Keh Dene Nation (TKDN) and Chu Cho Environmental of Prince George, British Columbia, to build a community-led monitoring project that examines environmental data and Indigenous knowledge to create a holistic picture of how the climate is changing across C/TFN and TKDN traditional territories. The project combines tracking of current and historical climate trends with knowledge shared by Elders while also providing opportunities for youth mentorship and climate change awareness.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) is also leading a unique project to assess the impacts of climate change within their traditional territory. Climate change is causing many of the culturally significant ice patches to melt, exposing organic artifacts to oxygen and leading to rapid deterioration. The TRTFN ice patch mapping project will involve performing archaeological assessments to prevent the degradation of artifacts. Research will be guided by traditional knowledge, Elders and oral histories, when available, and heavily involve community, Elders, youth and Knowledge Keepers.

The Pelly Crossing Selkirk Development Corporation is leading the Selkirk Wind Resource Assessment project through the installation of a Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) system. The initiative includes a feasibility study leading up to the construction of a renewable energy facility, including wind, solar and battery energy storage. Expanding clean energy within the region will have direct benefits for communities, including reduced reliance on diesel, job creation and revenue generation for Selkirk First Nation. 

These projects are delivering important environmental, social and economic benefits that lead to healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities across Yukon and Northern British Columbia. They also build community clean energy capacity and help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

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Ecology

Atlantic Provinces Ready For Aquaculture Growth

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Aquaculture is an important economic driver for rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to increase aquaculture production as global demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows.

That is why the ministers responsible for aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces have agreed to the ongoing development and management of their industries based on common principles. A new memorandum of understanding has been signed by the four ministers, which extends the previous agreement signed in 2008.

“In a time when food security is especially important, it is good to see our aquaculture industry has grown steadily and is poised for continued growth in 2021 based on environmentally responsible, science-based policies and practices,” said Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Nova Scotia. “Our Atlantic partnership continues to help the industry grow sustainably.”

Cooperation between the provinces and the aquaculture industry has led to improvements in pest management, environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods, aquatic animal health and policies to support the shared use of marine and freshwater resources. It also aims to align regulation and policy between the provinces to make the regulatory requirements easier to understand by industry and the public.

Each province has a comprehensive and robust legislative and regulatory framework to ensure environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and public accountability. The provinces update their legislation and regulations regularly. Nova Scotia revamped its regulatory framework in 2015; New Brunswick received Royal Assent for a new Aquaculture Act in 2019 and is working on the supporting regulations; Newfoundland and Labrador completely revised its aquaculture policy in 2019; and Prince Edward Island has recently drafted a new Aquaculture Act.

The ministers have agreed to continue to use science-based evidence for management decisions, thereby increasing public and investor confidence in the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry.

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Ecology

COMING SOON: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0

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We all want the same thing: a clean and responsible energy future for our children and future generations while continuing to enjoy a high standard of living.

On December 11, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new climate plan which he claimed will help achieve Canada’s economic and environmental goals.

The proposed plan by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) entitled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy” will have an initial investment of $15 billion of taxpayer’s money. It is built on 5 pillars of action:

  1) Making the Places Canadians Live and Gather More Affordable by Cutting Energy Waste

2) Making Clean, Affordable Transportation and Power Available in Every Community

3) Continuing to Ensure Pollution isn’t Free and Households Get More Money Back

4) Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage

5) Embracing the Power of Nature to Support Healthier Families and More Resilient Communities  

In my paper, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0” I will objectively critique each pillar in the government’s new climate plan and provide alternative solutions to the same issues.

  This is an alternative plan that supports workers, protects lower income earners and creates economic growth while respecting the environment and focusing on the dignity of work.

  This plan abandons virtue-signaling projects and relies on Canadian ingenuity to build our economy and restore Canada’s role of responsible leadership in the world.

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