Changes in evolution and the environment can provide clues about past climates and periods of climate change to inform our current understanding.
The Environment Institute looks at the interplay between evolution of life (including the appearance of the very first complex multicellular lifeforms), its interaction with the environment and what these geological and biological processes mean for us today.
Over shorter timescales, hundreds to thousand of years, preserved genetic records in human, animal, plant and sedimentary material contain evidence of such changes.
The Institute focuses on the genetic characteristics of extinct species such as mammoth, sabre-tooth cats, cave lions, New Zealand moa, ancient humans, neanderthal and Flores homonids.
Important research issues include the timing and nature of changes in patterns of biodiversity, salinity, and vegetation over the recent and distant past. This data is critical for relating information about past climates, and periods of climate change, directly to the biological impacts on populations of animals and plants in different parts of the world.
These capabilities and interests allows for involvement with on-going international projects including the extinction of megafauna, impacts of climate change, genetic development of domestic species, human evolution.
Resurrecting Mammoth Blood is an example of this work in practice:
Significant work being undertaken within the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, includes:
- molecular studies of population genetics,
- ancient environments,
- evolutionary trees and geographic distribution,
- molecular clocks, and
- the application of DNA sequences deposited through time.
The Sprigg Geobiology Centre also looks at deep time scales. Research over longer timescales, hundreds of millions of years, reveals a deeper understanding of the integrated geological, ecological and evolutionary processes that shape energy resources and environment. This field of geobiology recognises that life is inseparable from geological systems.
Martin Kennedy, Director of the Sprigg Geobiology Centre, explains some of these relationships in this short video: