Prehistoric Forest Fire Could Help Researchers Understand Biodiversity Before Dinosaur Extinction
Jun 06, 2014 04:04 PM EDT
Researchers found evidence of a wildfire that occurred 66-million years ago.
“Excavating plant fossils preserved in rocks deposited during the last days of the dinosaurs, we found some preserved with abundant fossilized charcoal and others without it. From this, we were able to reconstruct what the Cretaceous forests looked like with and without fire disturbance,” Hans Larsson, Canada Research Chair in Macroevolution at McGill University, said in the news release.
The plant-life present at the site was similar to those that would pop up in an area that was recovering from a fire. Researchers believe ancient forests recovered from fires similarly than they do today. Plants such as “alder, birch, and sassafras “would have grown in the early stages of recovery and sequoia and ginkgo would have appeared as the recovery progressed.
“We were looking at the direct result of a 66-million-year old forest fire, preserved in stone,” Emily Bamforth, of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and the study’s first author, said in the news release. “Moreover, we now have evidence that the mean annual temperature in southern Saskatchewan was 10-12 degrees Celsius warmer than today, with almost six times as much precipitation.”
“The abundant plant fossils also allowed us for the first time to estimate climate conditions for the closing period of the dinosaurs in southwestern Canada, and provides one more clue to reveal what the ecology was like just before they went extinct,” Larsson, who is also an Associate Professor at the Redpath Museum said.
Forest fires can have a huge effect on biodiversity in both the plant and animal kingdoms. This type of research could help researchers gain insight into the state of biodiversity directly before the extinction of the dinosaurs. “We won’t be able to fully understand the extinction dynamics until we understand what normal ecological processes were going on in the background.” Larsson said.
This video is called First 3D Flying Reptile Eggs Discovered in China.
From daily The Guardian in Britain:
Getting ahead: the new crested pterosaur Hamipterus has researchers aflutter
The newly discovered Chinese flying reptile is preserved in huge numbers and with rarely found eggs
The pterosaurs have often been the poor cousins of their relatives when it comes to the public’s understanding of them. Incorrectly called flying dinosaurs, mixed up as bird or even bat ancestors, and considered leathery-winged gliders that could barely fly, let alone walk, they remain a relic of the ‘animals are extinct because they failed’ idea of the 1800s. In fact pterosaurs were remarkably good fliers and many were also superb on the ground, and their real limitation is that their fossil record is generally so poor.
Pterosaurs had incredibly thin bones and while this may have helped make them relatively light, it means they did not fossilise well. As a result, we don’t have many good pterosaur skeletons (and rarely have multiple individuals of one species), and the ones we do have tend to come from a few restricted places where the preservation at that time was exceptional. Pterosaur eggs are even more rare, with all of none turning up between 1784 (when the first pterosaur was described) and 2004, and in the last decade that number has reach a grand total of four.
So the announcement of a discovery of a whole pile of pterosaurs, and with several eggs as well, is clearly a tremendous find. The newly named Hamipterus tianshanensis (its name roughly means ‘the wing of Hami, in the Tianshan mountains’) is from Xinjiang of northwestern China, and dates to around 100-120 million years ago. The fossils uncovered in this arid region include bones of at least 40 different individuals (and estimates of the number of pterosaur bones in the area run into the thousands) and so far five eggs. That is quite a haul and immediately makes this one of the better represented pterosaurs and makes the area a prime spot for pterosaur research. Moreover, all previously described pterosaur eggs had been flattened into two dimensions, but the ones preserved here are the first even that are available in 3D (if a little squished).
Hamipterus was a medium sized pterosaur with a wingspan of up to 3.5 m. It is referred to a group of pterosaurs called the pteranodontoids which include the famous toothless Pteranodon, but also numerous other pterosaurs including many with large teeth. Members of this group are generally considered to be primarily fish eaters and excellent fliers, catching their food on the wing by snatching fish from the surface of the water. The anatomy of the new find matches this interpretation with a series of long teeth in the thin jaws, and the bones were buried around the margin of a large lake. However, it is in the shape of the top of the head that the real interest lies, with specimens bearing a bony crest that runs along the top of the skull and is much larger in some individuals.
Pterosaurs are in part famous for the wild variety of head crests seen on various species. These include those composed of bone, others of soft tissues and some that combined the two. Over the years various hypotheses have been brought forwards for their function, but the main prevailing idea is that in most forms they likely functioned in some forms of sexual display and / or as social dominance signals. In the case of Hamipterus it is suggested that the different sizes may represent males and females (with the males bearing the larger crest) which is very much a reasonable starting hypothesis, but one that requires a degree of further testing. There’s a huge variation in the size and shape of crests in various things that have them (look at the horns in sheep and antlers in deer) and telling male from female, or young male from old male and so on, can be very difficult.
The data is naturally limited at the moment, but the fact that already numerous different individuals and eggs have turned up together is the first on record. There is obviously the potential here for many more animals to be found, and comparable big aggregations of nesting animals are already known for both ancient birds and non-avian dinosaurs. It would not at all be a surprise if pterosaurs did something similar, and indeed this has been suggested in various quarters a number of times, so thepossibility is there, even if it is currently very tentative. Such a haul of specimens though provides an excellent starting point and there is certainly much more to come from this amazing collection.
Wang et al., Sexually Dimorphic Tridimensionally Preserved Pterosaurs and Their Eggs from China, Current Biology (2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014.04.054 (Current paywall, but open access in 2 weeks).
This is a Dutch TV video about the Tyrannosaurus rex discovery in Montana, USA, in 2013.
Last year, an expedition from Naturalis museum in Leiden, the Netherlands, discovered a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in Montana. If there will be enough money, this dinosaur will become part of the Naturalis collection.
Some of the bones of this tyrannosaur are very fragmented. Small pieces were found among lots of sand.
To do that, they need many people.
The museum asks visitors to help.
On 7,8 and 9 June, paleontologist Anne Schulp will tell them about the discovery of this Tyrannosaurus rex. Then, visitors will try to fit bone fragments together.
Sessions will be at 11am, noon, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm; with a maximum of 24 people per session.
This video says about itself:
16 May 2014
They found bones belonging to seven individuals from a new species of titanosaur, which has yet to be named – and calculated the approximate size of the largest one by measuring the diameter of the femur and the humerus bones.
In this video, Dr Diego Pol explains how the measuring process works.
From the Daily Mirror in Britain:
Is this the biggest dinosaur ever discovered? Scientists uncover 80-tonne herbivore weighing the same as 14 elephants
May 17, 2014 08:50
By Richard Hartley-Parkinson
Scientists believe they have discovered dinosaur bones belonging to the largest creature that ever existed.
Discovered in Argentina, paleontologists estimate that it weighed 80 tonnes – the equivalent of 14 African elephants.
It was discovered by a farm worker in the desert 135 miles from Trelew, Patagonia.
Paleontologists from the Museum of Palaentology are now examining the herbivorous titanosaur which existed in the Cretaceous period and the bones are believed to be 95 million years old.
Seven huge dinosaurs were discovered at the site and the bones are described as being in a remarkable state of preservation.
They would have had a small skull but a very long neck and tail.
“It’s like two semi trucks, one after another, and the equivalent of more than 14 African elephants together in weight,” says José Luis Carballido, the dinosaur specialist in charge of the study.
“Such dimensions put the focus on the extent to which these animals may have grown. It’s a real paleontological treasure,” he added.
Because the dinosaurs were found so close together, along with a number of carnivorous dinosaurs, it is believed that they may have died during a drought. It is possible that they died of dehydration or became stuck in the mud.
The carnivores may have ended up there to feed on the flesh of the huge dinosaurs.
Further analysis of the place where they were found suggests that the area was different to how it looks today.
Rather than a dry, arid land, it is likely that there were trees and and a wide variety of plant-life.
Is it reallt the biggest dinosaur? Here.
This video is called Finding gastralia of Deinocheirus – The Land of Dinosaurs, #16, 데이노케이루스 늑골 발견.
From New Scientist:
18:34 12 May 2014 by Jeff Hecht
Palaeontologists have recovered the stolen head and feet of one of the world’s weirdest dinosaurs. The fossils were somehow smuggled out of Mongolia, but have now been returned. They reveal that Deinocheirus, already known for its massive arms and the hump on its back, had a peculiar skull that looked like a cross between an ostrich and a duck.
In 1965, the first remains of Deinocheirus were found in the Gobi desert by Zofia Kielan-Jaworowska, now at the Institute of Paleobiology in Warsaw, Poland. All she found was a pair of 2.4-metre arms with fearsome claws.
These arms were unlike any seen before, and earned the fossil its name, which means “terrible hands”. Kielan-Jaworowska realised the bones belonged to a two-legged theropod, the family that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and birds.
Decades of searching for the rest of the bizarre beast yielded nothing until 2006, when the Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Project found a 70-million-year-old skeleton in the Gobi desert. Another followed in 2009. Between them they contained most of the major bones, except the head and feet.
Last year the researchers described Deinocheirus as an ornithomimosaur, or “ostrich dinosaur“, a group that includes the Gallimimus featured in Jurassic Park. But at 12 metres long, it was similar in size to T. rex, far larger than any other ornithomimosaur, and had a camel-like hump or sail on its back. However, without the head and feet they were missing key information, including what it ate – although gizzard stones in its stomach hint that it ate plants.
Meanwhile François Escuillié, director of fossil dealership Eldonia in Gannat, France, spotted a strange skull and associated feet in a private European collection. In 2011, he asked Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels to take a look. Suspecting the bones might be the missing pieces of Deinocheirus, the two checked with the Korean-Mongolian team and found that the skull fit perfectly with the body found in 2006.
It remains unknown how the fossils were smuggled out of Mongolia and made their way to Europe. The collector has not been identified.
Escuillié eventually acquired the fossil and donated it to the Royal Belgian Institute. Then, on 1 May, he and Godefroit presented it to the Mongolian government. The bones will be deposited at the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs in Ulaanbaatar, along with the rest of the Deinocheirus skeleton, and a Tarbosaurus that was also previously stolen.
The skull shows Deinocheirus was even weirder than palaeontologists had thought. “It looked to me like the product of a secret love affair between a hadrosaur and Gallimimus,” says Thomas Holtz of the University of Maryland in College Park. In overall body shape, Deinocheirus was similar to ornithomimosaurs like Gallimimus. The hadrosaur link comes from its snout.
Hadrosaurs are known as “duck-billed dinosaurs” because their snouts were long and flattened. Deinocheirus‘s mouth has a similar duck-billed shape.
This video from the USA is called How Did All Dinosaurs Except Birds Go Extinct?
By Rachel Nuwer in the USA:
Ancient Birds Avoided Mass Extinction By Shrinking
The shrinkage process was well underway before an asteroid brought doom to the dinosaurs 66 million years ago
May 7, 2014
Most of the dinosaurs famously went extinct 66 million years ago, when a massive asteroid smashed into the Earth. At the time of that disaster, feathered dinosaurs called maniraptorans, which included the ancestors of modern-day birds, were living alongside well-known ancient characters such as T. rex and Triceratops. But while the asteroid claimed the lives of those larger dinosaurs, however, the smallest ones—the bird-like maniraptorans—survived.
According to new research, it was precisely the birds’ miniscule size that saved them. An international team of scientists (including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History paleontologist Matthew Carrano) used fossil bone measurements to estimate the body size of 426 ancient species. Most dinosaurs, they found, quickly evolved into one size—usually a massive one—and then stayed there. Maniraptorans, on the other hand, continued to tweak their body mass for millions of years leading up the the asteroid event. As a result, the maniraptorans ranged in size from 15 grams to three metric tons, the researchers report.
The smallest of those animals were the birds, which could weigh less than two pounds—the lower limit for the smallest dinosaur species, the team writes. Being small, the researchers think, gave the birds a number of advantages. Flight, for one. More importantly, however, their size meant they were able to survive when catastrophe struck. As ScienceNOW puts it: “The researchers argue that being small made it easier for maniraptorans to adapt to a wider variety of habitats, whereas the rest of the dinosaurs, encumbered by their huge bodies and enormous food requirements, simply didn’t make it.”
From the University of Edinburgh in Scotland:
Scientists have discovered a species of long-snouted dinosaur which stalked the Earth more than 66 million years ago.
The animal, nicknamed Pinocchio rex, belonged to the same family as Tyrannosaurus rex.
It was a fearsome carnivore that lived in Asia during the late Cretaceous period.
The ancient predator had an elongated skull and long, narrow teeth compared with the deeper, more powerful jaws and thick teeth of a conventional T. rex.
Palaeontologists were uncertain of the existence of long-snouted tyrannosaurs until the remains of the dinosaur – named Qianzhousaurus sinensis – were unearthed in China.
Until now, only two fossilised tyrannosaurs with elongated heads had been found, both of which were juveniles. The new specimen is of an animal nearing adulthood.
Experts say Qianzhousaurus sinensis lived alongside deep-snouted tyrannosaurs but would probably have hunted different prey.
Researchers have created a new branch of the tyrannosaur family for specimens with long snouts, and they expect more new dinosaurs to be added to the group.
Qianzhousaurus sinensis lived until around 66 million years ago when all of the dinosaurs became extinct, likely as the result of a deadly asteroid impact.
This is a different breed of tyrannosaur: It has the familiar toothy grin of T. rex, but its snout was much longer and it had a row of horns on its nose. It might have looked a little comical, but it would have been as deadly as any other tyrannosaur, and maybe even a little faster and stealthier.
Dr Steve Brusatte, Chancellor’s Fellow in Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Edinburgh
Findings from the study are published in the journal Nature Communications.
Qianzhousaurus sinensis, in spite of its Pinocchio like nose, probably did not lie as often as Pinocchio; or as another life form often compared to Pinocchio, Tony Blair.
This video from the USA is called George W. Bush Pinocchio: Weapons in Iraq.