Naracoorte Caves celebrate 20 years of World Heritage listing

17 December 2014

South Australia’s only World Heritage listed site is today celebrating the 20th anniversary of its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Sustainability, Environment and Conservation Minister Ian Hunter said while the tourism aspect of the Caves has long been recognised, their historical and scientific significance continues to amaze experts.

“Megafauna lived in the region 50,000 years ago and more than 100 different species have been found in the cave system due to roof holes that turned the cave system into pitfall traps,” Mr Hunter said.

“A new research study has found that the small mammal populations living in and around the Caves did not all die out during the last Ice Age, but instead were impacted by the subsequent climate warming.

“There is a common perception that most animals were significantly affected by the cold and relatively arid climate of the last glacial maximum (‘ice age’).

“However the study found this actually had little impact on the populations. Instead the major changes to the community were recorded 16,000 years ago, which was after the climate had already been warming for about 2500 years.”

Mr Hunter said these findings could significantly predict the effects of climate change on animal populations.

“The extraordinary thing about the Naracoorte Caves is the wealth of information stored in the fossils, which is just one of the reasons the site is World Heritage listed.

“The research provides not only insight into past processes and patterns of change in the south-eastern fauna, but will be used to inform current and future management of biodiversity in relation to climate change.”

Tourism Minister Leon Bignell said the increasing popularity of the Naracoorte Caves was due to visitors being offered a range of nature and adventure experiences.

“The caves welcomed more than 62,000 visitors during the past 12 months – a seven per cent increase on the previous year. Self-guided, guided and adventure caving tours are available, as well as behind the scenes tours for those with an interest in palaeontology.

“The history of Naracoorte Caves can be followed by taking a walk along the World Heritage trail. The popular 1.3 kilometre track within the Naracoorte Caves National Park stretches from the Wonambi Fossil Centre to the Victoria Fossil Cave,” Mr Bignell said.

The Naracoorte Caves were officially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site on 17 December 1994.

The research paper by Drs Amy Macken and Liz Reed, titled ‘Postglacial reorganisation of a small-mammal palaeocommunity in southern Australia reveals thresholds of change’ has been published in Ecological Monographs.

The research was completed by Dr Macken as part of her PhD studies at Flinders University. The work was supported by Caring for Our Country grant OC11-00487 awarded to the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources.

Dr Macken was awarded the 2014 Royal Society of South Australia’s Publication Medal for her research paper, co-authored with Dr Reed, titled ‘Late Quaternary Small Mammal Faunas of the Naracoorte Caves World Heritage Area’.

The paper, published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, describes the small mammals identified from three fossil deposits of the Naracoorte Caves National Park and World Heritage Area. The award winning paper formed the basis of Dr Macken’s PhD research into the impact of climate change at the site.

Minister Ian Hunter
Minister for Sustainability, Environment and
Minister for Water and the River Murray
Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation

Minister Leon Bignell
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries
Minister for Forests
Minister for Tourism
Minister for Recreation and Sport
Minister for Racing


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