A/Prof Jeff Stilwell - Honours Projects

Applied Palaeontology and Basin Studies  

For further information contact: Jeffrey Stilwell

Cretaceous Bioinclusions in Amber (Burmite) from the Hukawng Valley, Northern Myanmar, and their Palaeontologic Significance


Australian fossiliferous amber as a portal into ancient Gondwanan connections

Supervisor(s): Assoc. Prof. Jeffrey Stilwell (with inputs from many amber researchers nationally and internationally)
Field of study: Palaeontology and Basin Studies
Support offered: All analytical, and thesis-preparation costs
Collaborating Organisation: Museums Victoria, Australian Museum, Royal Botanic Gardens (Melbourne)

Fossil bio-inclusions in resin can provide important information on ancient ecosystems and their interpreted palaeoenvironments, and depending on what taxa are recovered, there may also be pollen for palynological studies and the potential for a refined biostratigraphy. Amber is particularly significant in that fossil resin can preserve in perfect 3D (in a state of suspended animation) a diverse array of organisms and associated remains from different habitats in and close to the amber-producing forests. Moreover, the discovery of amber bio-inclusions is of great importance as it can assist greatly in constructing the evolutionary history of lineages with otherwise poor fossil records. Australia has not been a major player in amber research—until the last few years. The discovery in May 2011 by JDS of fossiliferous Cretaceous amber from the Otway Basin has kick-started a concerted effort to learn more about Mesozoic and Paleogene terrestrial ecosystems of Australia and elsewhere, such as Myanmar, where some of the most spectacular animal and plant inclusions have been recovered, including diverse vertebrates (dinosaur and lizard remains), invertebrates (arthropods, mollusks, etc.) and many types of plants, including fantastically preserved flowers. As there are undoubtedly many new discoveries to be made, Myanmar (and its rich deposits of burmite) is a perfect case study for applied palaeontology analyses. Monash currently houses a large collection of amber from Myanmar, which has been called ‘burmite’.

Given the proximity of the Australian 3rd generation synchrotron and new techniques (e.g., phase contrast X-ray synchrotron microtomography) and imaging employing the ultramicroscope (XuM) being developed to study ancient amber, this is a significant investigation in palaeontology. The XuM is a SEM-hosted high resolution x-ray microscope with provides an internal view of the structure of the samples without cross-sectioning; providing 2D, stereo and full 3D tomographic imaging. The Applied Palaeontology team has also the only advanced BK imaging system in Australia, which has been specially developed for fossiliferous amber with capabilities of imaging samples in the 60 cm to 60 microns size range (the only imaging system with this capability). The investigation will provide the student with state-of-the art analytical techniques and valuable experience in applied palaeontology methods.

For further information contact: Jeffrey Stilwell