Dr Karen Black

ARC Post-Doctoral Fellow
Biological, Earth & Env Sci

Dr Karen Black is a vertebrate palaeontologist specialising in the mammal-rich Cenozoic faunas of the Riversleigh World Heritage Area, northwestern Queensland. Her interests lie within the fields of mammalian palaeontology, taxonomy, morphology, phylogeny, ontogeny and biocorrelation. Karen’s area of special expertise is vombatomorphian marsupials (including koalas and diprotodontoids).

Karen has developed an international research profile in marsupial evolution, taxonomy, morphology, phylogeny, ontogeny and biocorrelation, and has named many new fossil species. She has 12 years of experience in extracting, curating and analysing the rich fossil vertebrate faunas of the limestone deposits of the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in northwestern Queensland. Her current projects are focused on understanding faunal change, behaviour, development, species interactions and community structure in Australian ecosystems to provide new understanding about current and future climate-driven changes in biodiversity.


+61 2 9385 2113


Room 559
Biological Sciences Building (D26)
UNSW, Kensington 2052

Discovery Early Career Research Award DE130100467 "Limbs and Wings: Reconstructing Australian environmental change through innovative analysis of ancient mammal skeletons"

The ecological diversity of Australia's extinct mammals has been significantly underestimated because of a bias towards studies of fossil skulls and teeth. How our mammals functioned and interacted in their evolving ancient environments remains largely unknown. This project applies innovative ecometric analyses to a vast collection of mammal postcranial fossils from the Riversleigh World Heritage Area to yield new understanding about their diversity, behaviour, interactions and ecology spanning the last 25 million years. This will fill significant gaps in knowledge about how these globally unique groups responded to pre-modern environmental change and in turn their likely future needs if they are to survive changes now underway.

Discovery Grant Project DP1094569 (K. Black & M. Archer) “Drying and dying in Australia: extraordinary creatures and climate change 15 million years ago”

Australia's globally distinctive mammals were confronted 15 million years ago by a climate plunge from lush greenhouse to dry icehouse conditions. In northern Queensland, in the World Heritage-listed cave known as AL90 from the Oligo-Miocene freshwater limestones of Riversleigh, fossil-rich deposits span this interval of change. Entombed in AL90 Site are dozens of extraordinarily well-preserved skulls and articulated skeletons including a growth series from pouch-young to adults of a rare, possibly sloth-like diprotodontid marsupial (Nimbadon lavarackorum) as well as more familiar kangaroos, bandicoots, thylacines and bats.


BIOS2061 Vertebrate Zoology
GEOS2071 Life through Time

Current students


Bok Khoo (MPhil candidate) – New zygomaturine from the Plio/Pleistocene of North Queensland


Emma Hall (Honours First Class, 2011) – Koalas adapting to a changing world: A new late Miocene koala (Marsupialia: Phascolarctidae) from Riversleigh

Kristen Parmeter (Honours First Class, 2011) – A comparative study of fossil site AL90 and two nearby sites, Riversleigh World Heritage Area, northwestern Queensland