Ralph Tate Memorial Lecture

Last night I attended the “Ralph Tate Memorial Lecture” held in the Mawson Lecture Theatre at Adelaide University. The event is held annually, jointly organised by the Royal Society of South Australia, the Geological Society of South Australia and the Field Geology Club of South Australia. The Mawson Theatre is accessed through the Tate Museum, a lovely old display full of geological wonders in a room that feels like a step back in time.

Ralph Tate was a professor of natural science at the University of Adelaide, and was a botanist, palaeontologist, zoologist and geologist in his own right. He was also the first president of the Royal Society of South Australia (originally the Philosophical Society) in 1880.

I joined the Royal Society of South Australia just over two years ago, and have been serving as Membership Secretary since that time. The Society continues to promote science in the community through grants, lectures and publications, and has been a great way for me to meet other people who share my passion for science. (Please check out our website, Facebook or Twitter for more information).

The speaker of the lecture last night was Prof. Gavin Prideaux, the head of our palaeontology group at Flinders University, with the topic “How has Australian mammal evolution been shaped by environmental change over the past 25 million years?” It was fascinating to hear an overview of some of the work and hypotheses examining mammal -and specifically megafauna- evolution and extinction over that time.

The message I took from the talk is that there will be no one “smoking gun” in the fossil record, and that many of the extinctions that have occurred in that time are likely due to a combination of hunting, fire stick farming and climate change. These are interesting ideas, but more importantly the lessons we can learn from these events should help us to understand when and how animals can adapt to climate change in order to help our current biota persist through this (ongoing) sixth mass extinction.


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