Masterclass with R. Lee Lyman
1 November
Institute of Advanced Studies, UWA
Artists, Postgraduate Students, Early Career Researchers, Academics


Shark Bay

Conservation Palaeozoology is Vital for Natural Heritage Management

A masterclass with zooarchaeologist R. Lee Lyman, William H. Byler Distinguished Professor, University of Missouri, and UWA Institute of Advanced Studies Visiting Fellow

Conservation palaeozoology is the practice of using prehistoric faunal remains to elucidate any changes between original and surviving local faunas, and to inform and guide conservation applications. Ancient faunal remains used for such analyses have often been accumulated by predators, including humans, in shelters such as caves or tree hollows, or in sand dunes, from which they are revealed by archaeological or palaeontological excavations. Any animal group with durable remains (e.g. mollusc shells, vertebrate bones), and for which comparative collections exist to facilitate identification, can be the subject of conservation palaeozoology. The sub-fossil record indicates which species are or were native to an area, which species were impacted by anthropogenic processes, the species compositions of past biotic communities, how particular species respond to environmental change, and other aspects of local faunas relevant to modern conservation applications.

Conservation palaeozoology is extremely important in Australia, and Western Australia in particular, where many native mammal species have undergone severe declines (some to total extinction) since European settlement. Because the main threatening agents, introduced (exotic, non-native) feral cats and red foxes, are proving extremely difficult to control, it is necessary as an interim conservation measure to place populations of vulnerable mammals into havens, either physical islands surrounded by sea, or virtual islands surrounded by predator-proof fences. In both cases it is highly desirable to have information on which mammals inhabited those lands before local extinction occurred, so that appropriate species can be chosen, increasing the probability of successful re-introductions.

After a statement of principles and presentation of background information on the conservation status of Australian mammals, three Western Australian applied conservation palaeozoological projects involving Dirk Hartog and Faure Islands in Shark Bay and Mt Gibson Sanctuary in the Mid West, and two studies of species-area relations of mammals on northwest islands, will be described and critically evaluated. Future directions for research, including the use of palaeozoological data to resolve outstanding questions on the causes of post-European mammal extinction in Australia, will be explored.

R. Lee Lyman is a senior American archaeologist who specializes in investigating the faunal remains recovered from archaeological excavations (a discipline known as “zooarchaeology”). He has written textbooks on the quantitative analysis of faunal remains and on taphonomy (the study of all processes that intervene between the death of an organism and recovery of its remains from a deposit, palaeontological as well as archaeological). He has published 160 journal articles, 50 book chapters, and 19 books. His research has been supported by the US National Science Foundation, and the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Since 1996 he has published several papers and three books on conservation palaeozoology. He is also interested in the history of North American archaeology and zooarchaeology; his most recent book is Theodore E. White and the development of zooarchaeology in North America (2016, University of Nebraska Press). Lyman is currently co-authoring a textbook on methods of palaeoenvironmental reconstruction using faunal remains. He was awarded the Society for American Archaeology’s Fryxell Award for Interdisciplinary Research in Zoological Sciences in 2011, and named William H. Byler Distinguished Professor in 2015 by the University of Missouri, where he has taught since 1986.