CANBERRA, May 31 (Xinhua) -- Australian researchers have discovered a new species of marsupial that roamed the continent millions of years ago.
In the research published on Wednesday, a team from Flinders University used 3D scans to examine the 3.5 million-year-old remains of a marsupial found in central Australia, identifying it as a new species.
The Ambulator keanei was a diprotodontidae, a family of four-legged herbivores that were the biggest marsupials to ever exist.
Their closest living relative is the modern wombat, making reconstructing their biology a difficult task.
The new species was named for locomotory adaptations of the legs that would have allowed the quarter-tonne animal to walk long distances in search of food and water.
It lived during the Pliocene epoch stretching from about 5.3 to 2.5 million years ago, when grasslands became increasingly prominent as Australia became drier, making diprotodontids travel greater distances for food.
"Most large herbivores today such as elephants and rhinoceroses are digitigrade, meaning they walk on the tips of their toes with their heel not touching the ground," Jacob van Zoelen, author of the study from the Flinders University Palaeontology Laboratory, said in a media release.
"Diprotodontids are what we call plantigrade, meaning their heel-bone contacts the ground when they walk, similar to what humans do. This stance helps distribute weight when walking but uses more energy for other activities such as running."
The study published on Wednesday was based on scans of a skeleton found in northern South Australia (SA) in 2017.
Using advanced scanning technology, researchers were able to compare it to other diprotodontid material and identify it as a new species.