Emeritus Professor Sue Hand
Prof Suzanne Hand Feb18_4
ESSRC Executive (Deputy Director) | Emeritus Professor
Field of Research: 
Palaeontology, evolution, systematics, biogeography
Contact details:
+61 2 9385 2125

Room 557, Biolink Building
UNSW, Kensington 2052


Research & Current Projects

Research Interests

Professor Sue Hand is a vertebrate palaeontologist researching the history of Australian mammals, continuing climate and environmental change in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, implications of that change for forest and island faunas, and the biodiversity, global relationships and evolutionary ecology of bats.

Her research interests are largely in the area of palaeontology, phylogenetics and biogeography, and specifically taxonomy, systematics, morphometrics, phylogenetics, biocorrelation, biogeography, palaeogeography, evolutionary biology and palaeoecology. Her area of special interest is fossil and modern bats, a major component of Australasia's living and fossil faunas, representing a quarter of Australian mammal species.

In these research areas, Prof Hand has supervised/co-supervised 40 Honours, 4 Masters and 23 PhD students.

She is the author of 120 new fossil taxa, including a new order of mammals, families, tribes, genera and species of bat, marsupial, platypus, bird, crocodile and frog.

A key focus of the her research is the study of the fossil-rich Cenozoic faunas of the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in northwestern Queensland. These extremely rich 40 km2 deposits span the last 26 million years of Australia's extraordinary prehistory and have been described by Sir David Attenborough as one of the four most important fossil deposits in the world. The UNSW palaeontology research group has been exploring, processing and studying assemblages from these deposits for over 40 years, with current research focusing on increasingly detailed aspects of site geology, geochemical analyses, radiometric dating, biocorrelation, taphonomy, systematics, evolutionary biology and palaeoecology using novel, innovative techniques. Their findings have more than trebled previous knowledge about the diversity of Australia’s terrestrial vertebrates with identification of more than 300 new kinds of animals. The Riversleigh Project involves the research efforts of over 100 researchers across 30 research institutions in 11 countries including the United States, Argentina, South Africa, China, Japan, England, Germany and France.


Dark canaries: new multidisciplinary understanding about the origins, radiation and response to environmental change of Southern Hemisphere bats

ARC DP130100197 (SJ Hand & M Archer)

The overall goal of this project is to generate new evolutionary, palaeoecological and biogeographic understanding about bats, using a suite of quantitative and model-based methods to integrate fossil evidence with acoustic, anatomical, biomechanical, genetic, palaeoclimate, palaeogeographic and geological data. Fossil remains from three critical periods in bat evolution form the nucleus of this research: the world’s oldest bats from the early Cenozoic Tingamarra faunal assemblage, southeastern Queensland (55 million years ago); diverse middle Cenozoic bats from Riversleigh, northwestern Queensland (25 million years ago to present); and late Cenozoic bats (last 2 million years) from targeted Quaternary sites across the Australian continent and the southwest Pacific.


New Riversleigh: bridging chasms in the Neogene of Australia

ARC DP170101420 (M Archer & SJ Hand)

This project aims to address a critical area of missing knowledge about the evolution of Australia’s unique animals: the late Miocene, 10 - 5 million years ago. Our discovery of a remote fossil field west of and larger than the Riversleigh World Heritage Area has thrown open a new window into Australia’s past. Ground-proofing one edge has uncovered exciting new animals linking those of Australia's older lush rainforest communities to those of its drier, more modern habitats. Radiometric dates indicate that sediments in this vast new area are late Miocene in age. Results anticipated will reveal how Australia’s wildlife responded to one of the world’s most challenging climate change events.


Dawn of the Age of Mammals in Australia: foundations for an island biota

ARC DP180100792 (M Archer, SJ Hand & RMD Beck)

The 55 million-year-old Tingamarra Local Fauna of southeastern Queensland accumulated prior to the separation of Australia from Gondwana and is the only diverse vertebrate assemblage in an otherwise vast palaeontological dark age in Australia between 110 and 26 million years ago. The deposit thus has a unique potential to overhaul understanding about the origins and early evolutionary history of Australia's modern fauna, particularly its marsupials, monotremes, bats, birds, snakes, turtles and frogs. The Tingamarra fauna also promises to help resolve global puzzles about the nature of community structure following the K-Pg extinction event, including the superabundance of omnivorous mammals and evident absence of herbivores and carnivores.

In the News


Research Staff
Room 560, Biolink Building
Room LG10, Biolink Building
Room LG10, Biolink Building
Postdoctoral Fellow
Room 558, D26 Building
Research Students

Hayley Bates (PhD) Ecology of the mountain pygmy possum in the alpine zone  

Bok Khoo (MPhil candidate) New zygomaturine from the Plio/Pleistocene of North Queensland

Camilo Lopez-Aguirre (PhD candidate) Embryological development and evolution of bats

Naomi Machin (MPhil candidate) Patterns in dental wear in pygmy possums  

Jacqueline Nguyen (PhD) Fossil history of passerine birds in Australia

Christopher Palmer (PhD candidate) Riversleigh palaeoecology

Michael Stein (PhD candidate) Palaeobiodiversity, function & ecology of crocodiles in Australia

James Strong (PhD candidate) Geo- and biological basis for extraordinary preservation of Riversleigh fossils

Daniel Traub (MSc candidate) Early Cretaceous Hazel Creek fauna of northern Australia


BIOS2061 Vertebrate Zoology (Course Coordinator)

GEOS2071 Life through Time (Course Coordinator)


See: https://research.unsw.edu.au/people/professor-suzanne-joan-hand/publications

Google Scholar  https://scholar.google.com/suzannehand

CREATE  http://www.create.unsw.edu.au/

Fellowships and Honoraries

  • Royal Society of New South Wales Fellow
  • Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales Fellow
  • Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales President
  • American Museum of Natural History Research Associate
  • Australian Geographic Society Inaugural Honorary Treasurer
  • Australian Geographic Research Advisory Board, Inaugural Scientific Chairman
  • Linnean Society of New South Wales Council and Editorial Committee
  • Australian Mammal Society Council and Editorial Committee
  • Association of Australasian Palaeontologists Council and Editorial Committee
  • Riversleigh Society Council and Editorial Committee
  • International bat journal Acta Chiropterologica Editorial Board
  • Australasian palaeontological journal Alcheringa Editor and Editorial Board
  • Department of Environment, Sport and Territories Postdoctoral Fellow
  • University of New South Wales Postdoctoral Fellow