Professor Michael Archer

My Expertise

Functional morphology in animal teeth and skeletons; evolutionary history of vertebrates; fossil history of australian mammals and vertebrate faunas; species-level diversity; sustainable use of native resources; native animals as pets; CONT'D


Fields of Research (FoR)

Palaeontology (incl. Palynology), Zoology, Conservation and Biodiversity, Evolutionary Impacts of Climate Change, Geology, Evolution of Developmental Systems


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Mike Archer was born in Sydney but grew up in the USA. After graduating from Princeton University he returned to Australia, did his PhD in the University of Western Australia, became Curator of Mammals at the Queensland Museum, Lecturer in the University of New South Wales, Director of the Australian Museum in Sydney, Dean of Science at the University of New South Wales and now a Professor and member of the PANGEA Research Center at UNSW. His research focuses on the deep past such as the World Heritage fossil deposits at Riversleigh, the fragile present such as conservation through sustainable use of native resources including having native animals as pets, securing the future based on the wisdom of the fossil record, and trying to bring extinct species (e.g., the Gastric-brooding Frog and the Thylacine) back into the world of the living. He has supervised/co-supervised more than 80 research student degrees, produced over 350 scientific publications including 15 books and received a range of awards including Fellowships in the Australian Academy of Science, Royal Society of NSW, Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Australian College of Educators, Eureka Prize for Promotion of Science and Member of the Order of Australia.

My Grants

Since 1978, ~$10,000,000 has been awarded to support our research group’s investigations into the fossil deposits of Riversleigh, Murgon and Bluff Downs, Queensland; Lightning Ridge, New South Wales; Tirari Desert, South Australia; Miocene deposits in New Zealand; Paleocene deposits of Patagonia, Argentina; Miocene amber deposits, Queensland.


Competitive Federal & State Government grants:

Fulbright Foundation awards; Australian Dept of Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories grants; Australian Research Council (ARC; regular large grants continuously since 1978 including Program Grants; 1995-1997, second largest individual ARC grant received by UNSW; 1998-2000, largest such grant received by UNSW; 2001-2003, large ARC Grant at UNSW c.$190k/yr; 2002-2004 ARC Grant between Australian Museum, Uni of Sydney and Qld Nat Parks & Wildlife Service); series of ARC Discovery and Linkage Grants spanning 2004-2021; Australian National Estate Program Grants Scheme; Australian Museum (research grants); Queensland Museum (research grants); Department of Communication and the Arts (Visions Grant); DEST (Australia on CD Grants Scheme); Federal World Heritage Unit grants for research; etcetera.


Corporate/private grants:

American Explorers Club; Ansett Wridgeways Pty Ltd; Australian Geographic Society Pty Ltd; ICI Australia Pty Ltd; International Business Machines (IBM) Australia; Linnean Society of New South Wales; Mount Isa Mines Pty Ltd; Century Zinc Pty Ltd; Pasminco Pty Ltd; Earthwatch International & Earthwatch Australia; Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales; The Riversleigh Society Inc.; Wang Computers Pty Ltd; P&O Nedlloyd; Cadbury/Schweppes; Xstrata Community Partnership Program North Queensland, "Uncovering our outback heritage: the Riversleigh Fossil Project", $360,000; two UNSW Goldstar awards for near-miss ARC DP applications, $80,000; AINSE 842, “Geochemical characterisation of selected sites from the Riversleigh World Heritage Area...”, $8000; AINSE 6731, “Determining the highly controversial age for the bone of an extinct kangaroo...”, $4200; European Synchrotron EC-439, “Phase contrast x-ray synchrotron imaging of fossil rich amber”, 96 hrs beamtime (c. $40,000); National Geographic Society for exploration of “New Riversleigh”, $30,000; UNSW MERII infrastructure grants (2011, 2012, 2013) for thin sectioning equipment, set up of palaeomagnetism lab, microscopy and photography set up, desktop SEM, etc. (>$400,000); etc.


Private donors:

Since 1984, private individuals have provided donations in response to our public appeals for support. In total, these have amounted to more than $1,500,000. We have established in perpetuity the CREATE Fund within the UNSW Foundation to assist students and staff researching in the palaeosciences. Other private individuals who have provided significant research donations include: Martin Dickson, Margaret Beavis, Elaine Clarke, Gary Johnston; Dick Smith; Ken Pettit etc.

Large grants from external organisations:

Since 1999, monies personally raised as donations, sponsorships and legacies have exceeded $5m plus more than $20m as in-kind donations. As the Director of the Australian Museum, I raised over $42m. As the Dean of Science, I collaborated in raising more than $45m. Recent grants e.g. to progress our Burramys Project have included $190,000 from the Prague Zoo in Czechoslovakia.

My Qualifications

Princeton University, BA Geology/Biology (MCL), 1967

University of Western Australia, PhD Zoology, 1976

Postnomials: AM, FAA, DistFRSN, FRZS, FACE, FWAAS

As at 2022: h-Index 55; i10-index 247; citations 11,480

My Awards

Honours, Awards, Research Associateships etc.

Fellowships in learned societies/organisations

  • FAS (Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science)
  • FRZS (Fellow of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales)
  • DistFRSN (Distinguished Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales)
  • FACE (Fellow of the Australian College of Educators)
  • FWAAS (Fellow of the World Academy of Arts & Sciences)
  • FA21 (Fellow of Australia 21)

Research Associateships

  • Queensland Museum, Honorary Associate (1986-present)
  • American Museum of Natural History, Research Associate (2005-present)

Awards, citations, honours (some)

  • Eight Gilbert Whitley awards for books written or edited
  • Clarke Medal of the Royal Society of New South Wales
  • Inaugural Queensland Museum Medal
  • Australian Heritage Award for Nature Conservation
  • Inaugural Eureka Prize for the Promotion of Science
  • Inaugural IBM Conservation Award (with S. Hand & H. Godthelp)
  • von Mueller Medal of ANZAAS
  • Verco Medal of the Royal Society of South Australia
  • Skeptic of the Year, New South Wales Skeptics Association
  • Special Recognition Medal, National Museum of Australia
  • Dr Alice Whitley Award for Science Education, Aust. College of Educators
  • Australian Centennial Medal, Federal Government of Australia
  • TH Huxley Award, Australian Museum
  • Medal of the Riversleigh Society
  • Member of the Order of Australia—AM, Australian Federal Govt
  • Member of ‘Top 100 Most Influential People in Sydney’ (SMH 2008)
  • Australian Academy of Science, Feature Fellow (
  • UNSW Faculty of Science Excellence Award voted by students as Best Lecturer in the Faculty (2012, 2015)
  • Time Magazine selected his Lazarus Project (DeExtinction effort to resurrect the Gastric-brooding Frog as one of the world’s 25 Best Inventions of the Year (
  • Numbat Award by the Hunter Valley Amateur Geological Society
  • Bragg Membership in the Royal Institution of Australia
  • NSW Premier's Prize for Science & Engineering for the category Excellence in Biological Sciences (Ecology, environmental, agriculture and organismal)
  • Awarded the 2019 Romer-Simpson Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Vertebrate Paleontology from the international Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

 Current Trusts/Councils/Advisory Boards (some)

  • Member Management Board of Australian Ecosystems Foundation Inc
  • Member IUCN Sustainable Use & Livelihoods Specialist Group 
  • Member IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic & Soc. Policy 
  • Member of the Board of Management, Australian Ecosystems Foundation Inc.
  • Founding Director Echidna Energy Pty Ltd [biofuel company]
  • Senior Scientist of the Riversleigh Society Inc 
  • Member, Editorial Board, Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics 
  • Reader, Australian Research Council 
  • Member Editorial Advisory Board for Zoological Science 
  • Member, Lifeboat Foundation Scientific Advisory Board
  • Trustee, Thegotics Trust (International)
  • Co-Director, Australian Tropical Research Foundation 
  • Member, Editorial Board Geosciences 
  • Member, Editorial Board PLOS


My Research Activities

Some current research projects, companies founded, organisations facilitated, students supervised -- and undergraduate courses taught

Synopsis of recent palaeontological research -- addressing United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Over 100 researchers from 28 institutions and 13 countries (France, Germany, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, England, U.S.A., South Africa, China, Canada, Argentina, Japan, New Zealand & Australia) are collaborating in the analysis of the fossil deposits of Riversleigh, Murgon, Central Australia, Cape York and New Zealand which includes the fossil records of more than 83 families of animals and plants. Three of the largest projects include the World Heritage Area of Riversleigh, the Eocene deposits of Murgon in SE Queensland and the Early Miocene deposits of the South Island in New Zealand. Summaries of some of this work can be found on the CREATE Website: An overview of some of the more recent discoveries being made at Riversleigh can be found at, and Many books and more than 300 peer-reviewed publications have been produced on the basis of this research. Aspects of the palaeontological projects address United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 13 (Climate Action) and 15 (Life on Land).


Palaeoconservation--addressing United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

We have been developing a new science called ‘Palaeoconservation’ that uses palaeontological discoveries from the past to understand the present in order to develop innovative strategies for conserving endangered species into the future. This research addresses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 13 (Climate Action) and 15 (Life on Land). Our current focus is on building a breeding facility for the Critically Endangered alpine Mountain Pygmy Possum (Burramys parvus) whose survival is threatened by climate change. We’ve raised more than $500,000 to implement our ‘Burramys Project’ which is now well underway. For information about this research conservation program, see:; and the most recent publication about this Project  


Other non-palaeontological research programs -- addressing United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 

The primary focus here has been on ‘DeExtinction’ efforts involving the Thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), and the Southern Grastric-brooding Frog (Rheobatrachus silus). The TED talk I gave and those of others contributing to the TEDx DeExtinction event in Washington DC can be accessed here (, A newspaper story by Nicky Phillips that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 15 March, 2013 (p. 1), is available online: There is an earlier (2002) Discovery Channel documentary about the Thylacine Project (The End of Extinction: Cloning the Tasmanian Tiger, produced by Becker Entertainment, Directed by Patrick O’Neill): A debate between me and the Executive Editor of Scientific American about the merits of deExtinction occurred on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is available ( These deExtinction projects, in striving to increase global biodiversity address the United Nations Sustainable Develop;ment Goal 15 (Life on Land).


Research/Development companies/organisations established -- addressing United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

1, Crossbow Enterprises Pty Ltd, Director with Norm Wilkinson, to conceive and develop documentaries arising in the first place from research done at Riversleigh and in relation to the Lazarus Project;

2, Echidna Energy Pty Ltd, Founding Director with six other participants representing sectors of the mining industry, biochemistry of biofuels, economists/investment managers, inventors and harvester designers, to develop a program for the sustainable harvest Spinifex -- which directly addresses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and 12 (Responsible Production and Consumption).

3, Mammal Society of NSW Inc, Founding Member with others to promote the initiative of Australians being able to have selected native mammals as pets (started 2019).


Institutions established, progressed or initiated

Warren Somerville Collection, Bathurst, NSW. $15 million gem & fossil collection donated to the Australian Museum and housed in a purpose-renovated heritage museum in Bathurst.

Australian Museum expansion. In 2003 the State Government agreed to provide $40m to develop an annex on its eastern flank; the new AM wing constructed using these funds opened in 2008.

National Opal Collection, Pitt Street, Sydney. A State Government/Corporate sector partnership conceived and organised with Andrew Cody (National Opal Collection and Cody’s Opals) to position Australian Museum opalised fossils in a central city location on the Pitt Street Mall.

Age of Fishes Museum, Canowindra, NSW. Stage 2 of this initiative was progressed and broadened to develop collaborations with the Royal Tyrell Museum in Canada.  

Lightning Ridge Opal and Fossil Museum, Lightning Ridge, NSW. This initiative, which began in 2003, is now being progressed by local organisations and personnel including Jenni Brammall (former palaeontology research student at UNSW). Stage 1 (with Glenn Murcutt as architect) was launched by the Governor General of NSW in 2011; further funding of $18m committed by State & Fed Governments in 2019.

Wellington Caves Museum, Wellington, NSW. Discussions began in 2003 between the Australian Museum and the Wellington Shire and Caves Board to establish a major regional museum in Wellington to display the AM’s Wellington Collections. Renovation is currently underway (2019).

The Eye Health Institute in UNSW made possible by a generous donation of $40m from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. As Dean of Science at UNSW which includes the School of Optometry & Vision Science, I worked with UNSW and Guide Dogs NSW/ACT staff to ensure that this initiative was soundly conceived, supported, directed and managed.

Sydney Institute of Marine Science at Chowder Bay. As Dean of Science at UNSW I worked as an inaugural Director with others including Prof. Frank Talbot and other Deans/Deputy Vice-Chancellors at Univ. Sydney, Macquarie and UTS to successfully establish this four-university research/teaching entity.


Research students supervised for Honours and Postgraduate degrees--and subject areas

Students have been supervised in a wide range of research topics including vertebrate palaeontology, palaeobiodiversity, stratigraphy, palaeoecology and biocorrelation. Other students have focused on the field ecology of small desert marsupials, molecular and morphological systematics of bats, electrophoretic and morphological systematics of marsupials, phylogenetic systematics of New Guinean mammals, functional dental morphology, feeding behaviours of marsupials, basicranial functional morphology, forest ecology of bats, snake and bird phylogenetics and native animals as pets.

Jobs after our students graduate. Almost all of the students supervised have gone on to PhD or postdoctoral research programs or have jobs in universities, museums and other institutions. Most have gone on to illustrious careers (although not always in science) such as Paul Willis (scientist, ABC Science Unit, Director of the Royal Institute of Australia), Kerry Nettle (Greens Senator), Walter Boles (Curator of Birds, Australian Museum), Ken Aplin (CSIRO Senior Research Scientist), Scott Hocknull (Young Australian of the Year, Curator of Fossils at the Queensland Museum), Tim Flannery (Australian of the Year; Climate Commissioner), Mina Bassarova (World Wildlife Fund), Stephen Salisbury (senior academic in the University of Queensland), Pip Brewer (Curator of Palaeontology in the Natural History Museum, London), Steve Wroe (Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship; senior academic in the University of New England), Robin Beck, Postdoc in the American Museum of Natural History; academic in Salford University, England); Ben Kear, Professor in Lund University, Sweden, etcetera. Common denominators in the success of most are the graduate attribute skills they picked up during their time at UNSW including science communication.

Current (as at 2021) (co-supervised with Suzanne Hand, Troy Myers, Anna Gillespie et al.)--alphabetical list by first name

Andrew Guess (Hons) – Caudal morphology & function in Riversleigh diprotodontids

Chloe Ottaviano (Hons) – DNA Identity, age and integrity of the UNSW Cave Bear skeleton

James Strong (PhD candidate) – Oligocene and Miocene gastropods from Riversleigh
Antonia Parker (PhD) – Diversity and phylogenetic relationships of Riversleigh fossil possums
Tim Churchill (PhD) – New dasyuromorphians from Eocene to Pleistocene Australia
Naomi Machin (MSc) – Analysis of the species of Burramys through the Riversleigh sequence
Chris Palmer (PhD) – Palaeoecology and community dynamics of Riversleigh mammals
Corey Bennetts (PhD) – Analysis of the Hazel Creek Early Cretaceous biota
Roy Farmer (PhD) – Analysis of anuran fossils from the Oligocene & Miocene of Riversleigh

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


Former students (often co-supervised with Suzanne Hand, Troy Myers, Karen Black et al.)--alphabetical list by first name

Ada Klinkhamer (Hons) – Plio/Pleistocene rodents in the genus Leggadina
Adam Morrell (Hons) – Evolution of Australian marsupials
Adrian di Qual (MSc) – Investigation into experiences of keeping Sugar Gliders as pets

Anna Gillespie (PhD) – Evolution and biodiversity of Marsupial Lions
Anne Musser (PhD) – Evolution and morphology of monotremes
Anthony Smith (Hons) – Relationships between dental morphology and feeding behaviours
Ben Kear (Hons) – Analysis of an associated skeleton of a balbarine kangaroo from Riversleigh
Bernie Cooke (PhD) – Evolution and palaeobiodiversity of Riversleigh’s kangaroos
Bill Koutsamanis (Hons) – Testing the field efficiency of electronically recording frog calls
Blake Dickson (Hons) – Structure, function & evolution of the inner ear of marsupials
Brian Mackness (PhD candidate) – Pliocene faunas of Australia

Cassandra Davies (Hons) -- Analysis of postcranial morphology in Miocene bats from Riversleigh
Camilo Lopez Aguirre (MSc, PhD) – Colombian palaeomammalogy, bats and sloths

Chris Palmer (Hons) – Biodiversity, ecology & evolution of Planigale marsupials
Daniel Natusch (MPhil) – Distribution and conservation of Green Pythons in Australia
Daniel Traub (MSc) – Preliminary assessment of the Hazel Creek Cretaceous biota, NW Qld

David Read (PhD) – Ecology of species of Planigale in arid western New South Wales
Elizabeth Smith (PhD) – The evolution of Cretaceous turtles of Australia
Emma Hall (Hons) – The evolutionary diversity and relationships of Miocene koalas
Greg Richards (PhD) – Ecology of forest bats in eastern Australia
Hamish Craig (Hons) – Changes in the diet of Thylacoleo carnifex through life
Harry Parnaby (PhD) – Systematic revision in nyctophiline bats in Australia

Hayley Bates (Hons) – The evolutionary diversity and history of Musky Rat-kangaroos
Hayley Bates (PhD) – Ecological constraints for Burramys parvus in the alpine zone
Isabelle Purdy (Hons) – Cats and Quolls: a comparison of experiences as domestic pets
Jacqueline Nguyen (Hons) – Dromornithid birds from the Riversleigh World Heritage deposits
Jacqueline Nguyen (PhD) – Palaeo history of passerine birds in Australia
Jeanette Muirhead (PhD) – The evolutionary history and ecology of bandicoots & thylacines
Jenni Brammall (Hons) – Miocene species of Burramys and other possums from Riversleigh

Jess Lyons (MSc) – Research into the smuggling trade of Green Pythons in Indonesia
John Scanlon (PhD) – The diversity, ecology and evolution of Australian snakes
Julien Louys (PhD) – The history of the Pleistocene biotas of southeastern Asia
Karen Roberts (PhD) – The evolution and palaeodiversity of Australia’s ringtail possums
Kelly Carbury (Hons) – New pseudocheirid ringtails from Riversleigh, Queensland
Ken Aplin (PhD) – Structure and function of the marsupial basicranium

Kenny Travouillon (PhD) – The palaeoecology of Australia’s evolving environments
Kerry Nettle (Hons) – Diversity and relationships of ringtail possums in the Oligo-Miocene
Kirsten Crosby (PhD) – The evolution of Australia’s small possums
Lorraeme Shume (Hons) – Postcranial anatomy of the thylacinid Nimbacinus dicksoni
Lyndall Dawson (PhD) – History of mammals in the Wellington Cave deposits of NSW

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

Mina Bassarova (Hons) – Diversity and relationships of ringtail possums in the genus Paljara
Mina Bassarova (PhD) – Use of structural & functional morphology in palaeoecology
Miranda Gott (Hons) – Notoryctids from the Riversleigh World Heritage fossil deposits.
Naomi Machin (MSc) – Analysis of the species of Burramys through the Riversleigh sequence
Paul Willis (PhD) – Evolution of Australia’s crocodilians
Peter Ampt (PhD) – Research into strategies for sustainably harvesting kangaroos
Pip Brewer (PhD) – Evolution of Australia’s wombats from the Oligocene to the Pliocene
Prue Fabian (Hons) – Evolutionary diversity of acrobatid possums from Riversleigh
Rebecca Pian (Hons) – Revision of ornithorhynchid platypuses and new species of Obdurodon
Rick Arena (PhD) – Geology of the World Heritage area of Riversleigh, NW Queensland

Robin Beck (PhD) – Evolutionary relationships of Australia’s most distinctive marsupials
Scott Hocknull (PhD) – History of mammal evolution in the Pleistocene of Queensland
Shimona Kealy (Hons) – Molecular/morphological phylogeny of carnivorous marsupials
Steve Salisbury (Hons) – A new early Eocene crocodile from Murgon, southeastern Queensland
Steve Salisbury (PhD) – Evolution of Australia’s early to mid Cenozoic crocodilians
Steve Van Dyck (PhD) – Systematics and ecology of dasyurids in the genus Antechinus
Steve Wroe (Hons) – Revision of the propleopine macropodoids from Riversleigh
Steve Wroe (PhD) – Evolution of Australia’s carnivorous marsupials
Suzanne Hand (Hons) – Electrophoretic assessment of species diversity in Miniopterus
Tim Flannery (PhD) – Evolutionary history and systematics of early kangaroos
Troy Myers (Hons) – Ilariids from the fossil deposits of Riversleigh and their biocorrelation
Troy Myers (PhD) – Evolution of vombatiform marsupials from Riversleigh
Tyler King (Hons) – New emballonurid bats from the Pleistocene of Riversleigh
Vera Weisbecker (PhD) – Structural morphology and function in the marsupial forelimb
Walter Boles (PhD) – Evolutionary history of Australian birds from Murgon and Riversleigh
Zac Kirkham (Hons) – Cranial and dental description of a new Miocene kangaroo Riversleigh


Undergraduate courses taught (as at 2021)

Current undergraduate teaching: BIOS1101 Evolution & Functional Biology; BIOS2061 Vertebrate Zoology (Course Coordinator); BEES1041 Investigating Earth and Its Evolution, GEOS1111 Fundamentals of Geology; GEOS2071 Life Through Time; BEES0006 Special Program in BEES.




My Research Supervision

Areas of supervision

Palaeontology, Palaeoconservation, Conservation Biology, Sustainable Use of Native Species, DeExtinction, Native Mammals as Pets, Structure/Function of Vertebrates, Palaeoecology, Palaeoclimatology, Burramys Project (focused on Critically Endangered Mountain Pygmy-possum), Taphonomy, Systematics, Mammals, Marsupials, Reptiles, 

Currently supervising

Chloe Ottaviano (Hons) – DNA Identity, age and integrity of the UNSW Cave Bear skeleton

James Strong (PhD candidate) – Oligocene and Miocene gastropods from Riversleigh
Andrew Guess (Hons) – Caudal morphology & function in Riversleigh diprotodontids

Antonia Parker (PhD) – Diversity and phylogenetic relationships of Riversleigh fossil possums
Tim Churchill (PhD) – New dasyuromorphians from Eocene to Pleistocene of Australia
Chris Palmer (PhD) – Palaeoecology and community dynamics of Riversleigh mammals
Corey Bennetts (PhD) – Analysis of the Hazel Creek Early Cretaceous biota
Roy Farmer (PhD) – Analysis of anuran fossils from the Oligocene & Miocene of Riversleigh
Bok Khoo (MPhil candidate) – New zygomaturine from the Plio/Pleistocene of North Queensland

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Rm 114a, Samuels Building (F25)


+61 2 9385 3446