When Slow Evolution is the Best Survival Tactic
Fossils often indicate what environmental conditions were like at different times in earth’s history. As climates change over time, so does life since certain characteristics are more beneficial in specific climates. For example, crocodile fossils from the Eocene of Antarctica indicate a warm temperate climate ~50 million years ago. Both physical characteristics and behavior make crocs much more suitable to a lush green Antarctica rather than the current frozen over tundra. But what about species able to withstand various climate shifts over several million years, yet physically remains mostly unchanged?
Unlocking the secrets of the thylacine: The skeletal atlas of an iconic marsupial
The thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), sometimes referred to as a Tasmanian tiger (due to the striped pattern on its back) or the Tasmania wolf (due to the dog like appearance), is one of Australia’s most iconic extinct mammals. Thylacines are thought to have gone extinct in the wild by the 1930s, with the last surviving captive animal having died in 1936. This was due, to a mass-extermination of the thylacines across Tasmania. Sadly, despite their now iconic nature and more recent public interest, very few useful specimens exist in collections and a complete atlas of the skeleton of the Thylacine has never been published. This is where a recent PE paper by Natalie M. Warburton, Kenny J. Travouillon, and Aaron B. Camens comes into play.
Introducing Meeksiella pskovensis: an impeccably preserved Ptytodont
Ptyctodonts are an extinct group of armoured fishes (placoderms) which are common in Middle to Late Devonian aged rocks . Unlike other armoured placoderms, ptyctodonts had reduced body armour, large eyes and a long whip like tail. Unfortunately, the group is known mostly from fossil tooth plates. Body fossil are rare and articulated specimens showing three-dimensional preservation are even rarer. Recently a new genus and species of ptyctodont was described in Palaeontologia Electronica by Kate Trinajstic, John A. Long, Alexander O. Ivanov, and Elga Mark-Kurik. Although occurring as isolated plates, this fossil showed 3D preservation allowing the fish to be accurately reconstructed.
There has been a treasure trove of insect findings from Eocene Baltic amber, but what makes this amber so efficient at preserving insects and what can we learn from these ancient creatures?
Dr. Andris Bukejs is an expert on beetles (Coleoptera) from Eocene Baltic amber.
“Forests were very extensive in the Eocene of the Baltic and evidently the conditions of sedimentation and preservation were excellent” says Dr. Bukejs.
Amber forms from hardened tree sap; the sticky stuff covering pine trees and what can be sometimes collected and boiled down into syrup. The sticky properties of this fluid are ideal for trapping and enveloping insects, often preserving them in their natural state. The sap that created Baltic amber was produced by Pinus succinifera, a pine tree that along with oak, dominated forests of Northern and Central Europe.
Scotland’s Silurian Fauna and the Importance of Taxonomic Revision
There is a recurrent question asked of palaeontologists: “If someone already wrote a paper about it then why do you need to review it again?” However, the up to date information resulting from revision of previous taxonomic descriptions from previously published work is often crucial for further research. Taxonomy (the science of the classification of organisms) and taxonomic revision (where scientists reassess the scientific names of an organism) underpins the vast majority of palaeogeographic or palaeoenvironmental investigations. A recent paper published in PE by Dr Yves Candela and William R.B. Crighton demonstrates this by reviewing a collection of described nearly 41 years ago (1978) from the North Esk Inlier in the Pentland Hills, Scotland.
An Overview of Open Access Publishing in Palaeontology
Science has a long-standing custom of publishing research in scholarly journals for the primary purpose of reaching their fellow researchers. As such, these articles are ridden with jargon and complex ideas without a general audience in mind. What’s more is most of these articles are locked behind paywalls often only privileged members of the academic community has access to shrouding science in mystery.
Today’s world has many needs for science, where this inaccessibility poses a serious problem. Not only does this prevent research from providing commonsense solutions to everyday obstacles for environment and society, but it widens the gap between public engagement with science in general.
Using the Pleistocene to Predict the Future
The Pleistocene landscape, 2.6 million-11,700 years ago, would have been largely recognizable, boasting many familiar plant and animal species still around today. This was also the time when our very own Homo sapiens human ancestors first evolved and spread across the world.
The climate experienced several glacial cycles through what is commonly known as the ‘Ice Ages’ and is best known for the large megafauna roaming the landscape, which included mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed cats, and giant ground sloths!
Historical Documents Unearthed in Tübingen, Germany
A recent PE article reveals the contents from the historical archive of the palaeontological collection in Tübingen, Germany. An assortment of letters, notes, drawings, photos and various other documents dating back to some of the founding fathers of German palaeontology of the nineteenth and twentieth century are now available to both the public and researchers.
Ingmar Werneburg has been the collections curator for Tübingen since 2016, when he happened upon a cabinet full of these assorted documents. Along with his former assistant, Juliane Hinz, the next year was spent examining, sorting, and cataloguing over 1,300 items which highlighted the history of the Tübingen collections.
The Key to Cephalopod Diversity and Success
Cephalopods are a class of mollusks that include highly intelligent octopuses, scary squid, camouflaging cuttlefish, and the chambered nautilus (Family: Mollusca, Class: Cephalopoda). The nautilus, Nautilus pompilius, is among the last living cephalopods with an external shell which is full of chambers. Throughout the Paleozoic Era (544-245 million years ago), all cephalopods had an external shell that came in a variety of shapes and sizes.
A challenge for cephalopods with an external shell is achieving neutral buoyancy. This is the goal SCUBA divers also aim to achieve, to become weightless underwater and able to float in place without sinking or rising. For a cephalopod, this allows them to swim more efficiently and travel farther out into the ocean from shore.
The Devonian Monster of the Deep
The Devonian Period, known as ‘The Age of Fishes’, happened between 419-358 million years ago. The earth during this time was a warm global greenhouse environment where the first land plants were diversifying across two large continents named Euramerica and Gondwana. Even the first tetrapods (vertebrates with four limbs), our ancient ancestors, crawled out of the sea onto land during this time. The oceans flourished with life. Brachiopods, trilobites, and armoured fish (placoderms) were plentiful, and reefs blanketed shallow seaways. The reefs of the Devonian were much different than those we know today. Although there were some corals, reefs were primarily made up of sponges called stromatoporoids.
Such an environment was ideal for a large predator to reign king and one such predator was the Dunkleosteus. Dr. Zerina Johanson, an expert on Devonian fishes describes the formidable fish:
“Like all placoderm fish, the head and front part of the body in Dunkleosteus were covered in bony plates. It was clearly predatory, with jaws being dominated by large shearing surfaces. The reconstructed tail suggests it moved like fast-swimming sharks do today, indicating it was a speedy predator.”