The Whitley Medal recognises the best of Australasian zoological literature each year. It is awarded to outstanding publications profiling the unique wildlife of the Australasian region.
Palaeontologists Professor Mike Archer AM, from the UNSW Earth and Sustainability Science Research Center and School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences, and UNSW Emeritus Professor Suzanne Hand are two of the five co-authors of Prehistoric Australasia: Visions of Evolution and Extinction.
As well as receiving the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales’ Whitley Medal, Prof. Archer and Prof. Hand also received an additional Special Commendation for their contributions to zoological publication.
“Australia, New Guinea, New Zealand and our surrounding islands were — and still are — home to some of the world’s most amazing species,” says Prof. Archer.
The book, published by CSIRO Publishing, covers a wide range of now extinct animals including tree-climbing crocodiles, gigantic venomous lizards, walking omnivorous bats and flesh-eating kangaroos.
The book challenges simplistic ideas about the nature of extinction as well as the nature of life. It describes the unique, constantly changing environments in this part of the world at key moments in time — starting at 3.5 billion years ago with the first evidence of life on Earth and continuing through to only a few hundred years ago, when megafaunal species vanished.
“Australia separated about 50 million years ago from Antarctica and the rest of Gondwana to become a biodiverse island drifting northwards through the Indian Ocean,” says Prof. Hand. “As it did so, our region’s creatures evolved in ways not seen anywhere else on Earth.”