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June 24th, 2007

Gifford Miller interviewed for NOVA documentary on Australian Pleistocene megafauna

Gifford Miller provided commentary for Bone Diggers, a new NOVA documentary on the discovery of pristine skeletal remains of Pleistocene megafauna in remote Australian limestone caves. Miller was not involved in the cave work; instead his role was to offer an expert's perspective on the research, which was performed by a team from the Western Australia Museum. The cave fauna includes the first ever complete skeletons of Thylocolea, the "drop cat" or marsupial lion, and several new species of kangaroos. The fossils are mostly from the mid Pleistocene, when there was a natural long-drop opening to the caves. The animals accidentally fell in and could not get back out, so died without any scavaging. In addition to the fascinating paleotological material, the team independently evaluated climate and vegetation. They found that climate at the time the animals were living was similar to that of the present day, but that the vegetation was completely different. Their results reinforce the conclusions of Miller's group that megafaunal extinctions ca. 50,000 years ago are related to a fundamental reorganization of ecosystems across Australia, not driven by climate change. The documentary premiered on June 19th on most PBS stations.

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