Quaternary: 2.6 million years ago to now*

Megafauna around the globe

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Megafauna landscape.
Image: Peter Trusler
Source: Courtesy Australia Post

Present day.
Image: Ron Blakey. Altered by Cally Bennet and Fons VandenBerg.
Source: Colorado Plateau Geosystems


While the world map now looks familiar, we cannot see the impacts of dramatic changes caused by a series of ice ages. Lower sea levels – one effect of these ice ages – created land bridges. Large animals, collectively called megafauna, lived throughout the world at this time. Mammoths, sabre-toothed cats and giant deer lived in the Northern Hemisphere while giant marsupials such as Diprotodon, enormous goannas and large flightless birds distantly related to ducks and geese roamed Australia.

The bedrock of modern Victoria was in place, but the landscape continued to change. Volcanoes were active again. The climate became drier, rainforests shrank, and plants and animals suited to dry conditions spread. Hard-leaved plants such as eucalypts, spinifex, banksias and wattles were food for animals ranging from termites to marsupials. Megafauna shared the landscape with more familiar animals such as kangaroos and emus. Humans probably arrived in Australia 60 000–50 000 years ago. These Aboriginal people adapted to the landscape they found and developed an intimate knowledge of its life and the resources it offered.

*The lower boundary of the Quaternary period is subject to debate. It includes the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs.