Dinosaur-age shorebirds, related to modern ones?

August Shorebirds from Stuart Price on Vimeo.

From Discovery News:

Birds’ Pecking Behavior Unchanged Since Dinosaurs

Shorebirds from the peak of the dinosaur era shuffled and foraged just like today’s birds, fossils show.

By Larry O’Hanlon

Tue Oct 26, 2010 10:36 AM ET


* Bird tracks from the height of the Age of Dinosaurs show behaviors identical to modern birds.
* One explanation is that the ancient shorebirds are the ancestors of today’s shorebirds.
* Another possibility is that the early Cretaceous and modern shorebirds underwent convergent evolution.

Very early shorebirds that pecked the ground alongside dinosaurs were already behaving exactly like their modern counterparts, according to 110 million-year-old rock fossils.

Today’s shorebirds shuffle along muddy flats pecking and probing for invertebrates to eat. The marks they leave behind are the same as those found in ancient rocks in South Korea.

“These tell us what animals were doing,” said paleontologist Amanda Falk of the University of Kansas in Lawrence. “The behaviors are pretty much identical to modern plovers and sandpipers.”

Falk will be presenting the discovery on Oct. 31 at the meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver.

The marks and tracks found in the rocks of the Haman formation are from two different species of birds, or perhaps a single species working at two different speeds.

Other bird “trace” fossils have been found in Utah and Alaska, but none from so far back as the early Cretaceous — at the height of the age of dinosaurs.

Even the tracks alone say a lot about the feeding behavior of the ancient birds, commented paleontologist Martin Lockley of the University of Colorado in Denver.

“Herons do a shuffling behavior to stir up the substrate” and find food, said Lockley. These are just the sort of tracks seen in the rocks. “Then again, there are no herons known from the Cretaceous.”

The tracks plus the behavioral marks suggest two interesting possibilities, said Lockley. One is that some modern lineages of birds are very, very old and that some birds today are virtually living fossils.

“The tracks are also a dead ringer for modern spoonbills,” Lockley told Discovery News. Only, there are no spoonbill fossils from the early Cretaceous, so there is no way to say for sure.

The other possibility is that the birds of the early Cretaceous were not closely related to modern birds and only evolved the same kind of feet, beaks and feeding strategies because they occupied a very similar ecological niches.

This would be a lot like how modern emus, ostriches and rheas evolved separately into very similar-looking, but not closely related, large flightless birds. It’s what’s called convergent evolution.

The only difference in the shorebird case is that they were separated by time, whereas the large flightless birds were separated by oceans.

“All these wader and water birds have very similar feet,” Lockley. And so there’s no reason to think they could not have evolved 110 million years ago as well.

The Haman formation, where the tracks were found, has been the focus of research on ancient birds for decades, said Falk. But until now most of the work was on classifying the tracks.

“It’s not just the classification that’s important but the behavior that was important,” said Falk.


Fossil insects discovered in Indian amber

This video is called David Attenborough on fossils in amber, part 1.

Parts 2, 3, 4, and 5 are here.

From the BBC:

25 October 2010 Last updated at 19:49 GMT

Ancient bugs found in 50-million-year-old Indian amber

By Katia Moskvitch Science reporter, BBC News

More than 700 new species of ancient insect have been discovered in 50-million-year-old amber.

The discoveries come from some 150kg of amber produced by an ancient rainforest in India.

Scientists say in the journal PNAS that many insects are related to species from far-away corners of the world.

This means that, despite millions of years in isolation in the ocean, the region was a lot more biologically diverse than previously believed.

The amber, dubbed Cambay amber, was found in lignite mines in the Cambay Shale of the Indian state of Gujarat.

Jes Rust from the University of Bonn in Germany led an international team of researchers from India, Germany and the US.

According to a predominant theory of continents’ formation, at first there were only two so-called supercontinents on Earth. The one in the north was called Laurasia and the other one, located more towards the south, Gondwana.

Drifting away

When Gondwana split up into several smaller pieces in the mid-Jurassic, some 160 million years ago, most of its parts stayed in the southern hemisphere, but one started drifting towards the north.

Having shifted for at least 100 million years at a remarkable rate of 15-25cm per year, the plate eventually collided with Asia and became what we know today as the Indian subcontinent. In the process, the Himalayas were formed.

It has long been believed that drifting in complete isolation would have contributed to a potentially unique plant and animal life, found only in the region.

But the mostly tropical climate of India is known to be unfavourable to the preservation of fossils and not much has been found to confirm this hypothesis of what biologists call “endemism”. But the present study says the vertebrate fossil record discovered so far reveals little endemism.

Most of the recently discovered bugs also show links to modern insects as well as those that lived millions of years ago in different parts of the world, including Asia, Australia, and even South America.

The lead author Dr Rust told BBC News that this could be explained by land-bridge connections – possibly small islands that formed before the collision with Asia, in the Eocene – between the Indian “ferry” and other landmasses.

“It is possible for plants to drift hundreds of kilometres on open ocean currents, and in the case of insects, some can fly,” said Dr Rust.

There are those that are only able to fly during mating, but they can fly at least a few kilometres.

“Not many are able to cross open seaways, but [they can] drift with plant material. Then there are also very tiny insects and they sometimes simply get blown away, up to the jet stream.”

Rainforest’s age

The study says the resin that later became Cambay amber originated from an ancient tropical rainforest.

“The Indian amber is from the Lower Eocene and was likely produced by flowering hardwood trees called Dipterocarpaceae, [trees] that predominate in the forests of southeast Asia today,” Paul Nascimbene of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, told BBC News.

To determine where the amber came from, the scientists chemically fingerprinted it. …

The team also said that it was able to determine the age of the modern rainforest.

Up until now, many experts used to suggest that this type of tropical rainforest, found today all over the southeast Asia, first originated in the Miocene some 20 or 25 million years ago.

But the recent discovery challenged that idea.

David Grimaldi from the American Museum of Natural History and another co-author told BBC News that the rainforest is at least 60 million years old.

“What we have here from India is the earliest fossil evidence of a modern type of tropical rainforest [of the Dipterocarpaceae family] in Asia,” he said.

“Before, we just had no idea to how ancient the dipterocarp forests that occur in southeast Asia today really are; there really was no indication.” …

The researcher said that this amber deposit was the first important one found in India.

Though this natural yellow-brownish substance is quite widespread all over the world, the best-known amber deposits are in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the Baltic region, where some 80% of the world’s known amber is found.

“There are tonnes of amber [in this Indian deposit], and what is interesting about it is that it was produced in the tropics, the most highly diverse areas in respect to species diversity,” said Dr Rust.

“And the fossil record of the terrestrial tropics is not so good, because usually all the organic material gets rotten very quickly.”

With tonnes of amber at their disposal, the researcher said his team hoped to uncover many more secrets of the peculiar world that existed millions of years ago.

See also here. And here.

Non-biting midges of the tribe Tanytarsini in Eocene amber from the Rovno region (Ukraine): a pioneer systematic study with note s on the phylogeny (Diptera: Chironomidae): here.

About 100 million years ago in a forest in Myanmar, a dragonfly lost its head to a hungry lizard. But the lizard didn’t get away. The ghoulish moment—decapitated dragonfly and parts of the fleeing lizard—were captured and entombed in sticky tree sap, says George Poinar, a paleontologist at Oregon State University, Corvallis, who describes this last meal in the December issue of Palaeodiversity. Poinar discovered the two animals preserved together in a golden piece of amber. The dragonfly (top)—which represents a new sub-family, Paleodisparoneurinae—is nearly intact, aside from its head. But only the foot and tail of the hungry lizard remain (bottom). “It probably had the dragonfly’s head in its mouth,” says Poinar. Both died, one as dinner, and one as a prisoner of its appetite: here .

In the mating game, some female mites are mightier than their mates, new research at the University of Michigan and the Russian Academy of Sciences suggests. The evidence comes, in part, from 40 million-year-old mating mites preserved in Baltic amber: here.

How long can insect species exist? Evidence from extant and fossil Micromalthus beetles: here.

Experts have confirmed a sighting of the rarest ant in North America—the Bigfoot of ants—in Cary, NC: here.

‘Terrible hairy fly’ rediscovered in Kenya: here.

Global Warming and Insect Abundance: here.

Eocene mantidfly-and spider in amber: here.

Eogyropsylla sedzimiri sp. nov. from Eocene Baltic amber (Sternorrhyncha: Psylloidea): here.

Three new species of eriophyoid mites (Acari: Prostigmata) from Montenegro: here.

Jurassic pain: Giant ‘flea-like’ insects plagued dinosaurs 165 million years ago: here.

Quality of [Eocene] insect fossils from Montana’s Flathead River astounds scientists: here.

New species discoveries in the Amazon

This video is called The Nature Conservancy – Rainforest movie: Amazon Rainforest, Brazil.

From mongabay.com:

A new report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) confirms the Amazon rainforest, even as it is shrinking due to deforestation, remains among the world’s most surprising places. According to the report, Amazon Alive, over the past decade (1999-2009) researchers have found 1,200 new species in the Amazon: one new species for every three days. Not surprisingly invertebrates, including insects, made up the bulk of new discoveries. But no type of species was left out: from 1999-2009 researchers discovered 637 new plants, 357 fish, 216 amphibians, 55 reptiles, 39 mammals, and 16 new birds. In new discoveries over the past decade, the Amazon has beaten out a number of high-biodiversity contenders including Borneo, the Eastern Himalayas, and the Congo rainforest.

See also here. And here. And here. And here.

Uncovering the private lives of Amazon wildlife through camera traps: here.

Brazilian Amazon activist and wife ambushed and killed: here.

In pictures: Bald parrots and turnip-tailed geckos among new Amazon species: here.

Ecuador Manakin Tour: here.