Cambrian trilobites from China, new research


This American Museum of Natural History video from the USA says about itself:

Niles Eldredge: Trilobites and Punctuated Equilibria

17 December 2015

In the late 1960s, Curator Emeritus Niles Eldredge was a graduate student with a passion for trilobite eyes. He had been taught to expect slow and steady change between the specimens of these Devonian arthropods he collected for his dissertation. Only his trilobites were doing one of two things: staying the same, or evolving in leaps.

Several years later, Eldredge, along with co-author Stephen Jay Gould, turned his observations into a theory known as “punctuated equilibria”: the idea that species stay relatively the same, or at equilibrium, throughout the fossil record save for rare bursts of evolutionary change.

A former Chairman and Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, Eldredge remains at the hub of evolutionary discussion and debate, as well as one of the world’s experts on trilobites, specializing in mid-Paleozoic phacopids. He has also analyzed the relationship between global extinctions of the geologic past and the present-day biodiversity crisis, as well as the general relationship between extinction and evolution.

Learn more about Trilobites: here.

From the American Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Early trilobites had stomachs, new fossil study finds

Remarkable Chinese specimens contradict previous assumptions about trilobite digestive systems and evolution

September 21, 2017

Exceptionally preserved trilobite fossils from China, dating back to more than 500 million years ago, have revealed new insights into the extinct marine animal’s digestive system. Published today in the journal PLOS ONE, the new study shows that at least two trilobite species evolved a stomach structure 20 million years earlier than previously thought.

“Trilobites are one of the first types of animals to show up in large numbers in the fossil record,” said lead author Melanie Hopkins, an assistant curator in the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. “Their exoskeletons were heavy in minerals, and so they preserved really well. But like all fossils, it’s very rare to see the preservation of soft tissues like organs or appendages in trilobites, and because of this, our knowledge of the trilobite digestive system comes from a small number of specimens. The new material in this study really expands our understanding.”

Trilobites are a group of extinct marine arthropods — distantly related to the horseshoe crab — that lived for almost 300 million years. They were extremely diverse, with about 20,000 species, and their fossil exoskeletons can be found all around the world. Most of the 270 specimens analyzed in the new study were collected from a quarry in southern Kunming, China, during an excavation led by Hopkins’ co-author, Zhifei Zhang, from Northwest University in Xi’an.

Previous research suggests that two body plans existed for trilobite digestive systems: a tube that runs down the length of the trilobite’s body with lateral digestive glands that would have helped process the food; or an expanded stomach, called a “crop,” leading into a simple tube with no lateral glands. Until now, only the first type had been reported from the oldest trilobites. Based on this, researchers had proposed that the evolution of the crop came later in trilobite evolutionary history and represented a distinct type of digestive system.

The Chinese trilobite fossils, about 20 percent of which have soft tissue preservation, are dated to the early Cambrian, about 514 million years ago. Contradictory to the previously proposed body plans, the researchers identified crops in two different species within this material. In addition, they found a single specimen that has both a crop and digestive glands — suggesting that the evolution of trilobite digestive systems is more complex than originally proposed.

The study backs up an earlier announcement made by a separate research team, which found evidence for the unusual crop and gland pairing in a single juvenile trilobite specimen from Sweden from the late Cambrian. But the Chinese material presents the oldest example of this complex digestive system in a mature trilobite, wiping away doubts that the dual structures might just be part of the animal’s early development.

“This is a very rigorous study based on multiple specimens, and it shows that we should start thinking about this aspect of trilobite biology and evolution in a different way,” Hopkins said.

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Dinosaur extinction and bird evolution


This American Museum of Natural History video from the USA says about itself:

18 March 2016

This spellbinding animation from the Museum’s new exhibition “Dinosaurs Among Us” traces the evolutionary transition from dinosaurs to birds.

Based on recent scientific research that examines fossils using new technologies, the transformation story unfolds as low-polygonal silhouettes of dinosaurs morph from ground-dwelling animals into flight-capable birds. The mass extinction that erased most dinosaurs 65 million years ago left a few bird lineages unscathed. Within only 15 million years all of our familiar bird groups were flourishing. These extraordinary living dinosaurs provide a vivid link to the ancient past. The Museum’s new exhibition, “Dinosaurs Among Us,” explores the continuities between living dinosaurs—birds—and their extinct ancestors, showcasing remarkable new evidence for what scientists now call one of the best-documented evolutionary transitions in the history of life.

From Cornell University in the USA:

Dino-killing asteroid’s impact on bird evolution

September 21, 2017

Human activities could change the pace of evolution, similar to what occurred 66 million years ago when a giant asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs, leaving modern birds as their only descendants. That’s one conclusion drawn by the authors of a new study published in Systematic Biology.

Cornell University Ph.D. candidate Jacob Berv and University of Bath Prize Fellow Daniel Field suggest that the meteor-induced mass extinction (a.k.a. the K-Pg event) led to an acceleration in the rate of genetic evolution among its avian survivors. These survivors may have been much smaller than their pre-extinction relatives.

“There is good evidence that size reductions after mass extinctions may have occurred in many groups of organisms,” says Berv. “All of the new evidence we have reviewed is also consistent with a Lilliput Effect affecting birds across the K-Pg mass extinction.” Paleontologists have dubbed this phenomenon the “Lilliput Effect” — a nod to the classic tale Gulliver’s Travels.

“Smaller birds tend to have faster metabolic rates and shorter generation times,” Field explains. “Our hypothesis is that these important biological characters, which affect the rate of DNA evolution, may have been influenced by the K-Pg event.”

The researchers jumped into this line of inquiry because of the long-running “rocks and clocks” debate. Different studies often report substantial discrepancies between age estimates for groups of organisms implied by the fossil record and estimates generated by molecular clocks. Molecular clocks use the rate at which DNA sequences change to estimate how long ago new species arose, assuming a relatively steady rate of genetic evolution. But if the K-Pg extinction caused avian molecular clocks to temporarily speed up, Berv and Field say this could explain at least some of the mismatch. “Size reductions across the K-Pg extinction would be predicted to do exactly that,” says Berv.

“The bottom line is that, by speeding up avian genetic evolution, the K-Pg mass extinction may have temporarily altered the rate of the avian molecular clock,” says Field. “Similar processes may have influenced the evolution of many groups across this extinction event, like plants, mammals, and other forms of life.”

The authors suggest that human activity may even be driving a similar Lilliput-like pattern in the modern world, as more and more large animals go extinct because of hunting, habitat destruction, and climate change.

“Right now, the planet’s large animals are being decimated — the big cats, elephants, rhinos, and whales,” notes Berv. “We need to start thinking about conservation not just in terms of functional biodiversity loss, but about how our actions will affect the future of evolution itself.”

Blue jays survive Hurricane Irma in Florida


This video from the USA says about itself:

18 September 2017

The Backyard Blue Jays survived Hurricane Irma which was a category one when it passed the Backyard. A lot of trees de-leafed and blown down in the conservation area, but the birds and squirrels know how to survive. More on that later. But that’s not to say they weren’t hungry and happy for a friendly peanut when I got back home! Good to see them again.

European birds update


This video from Ireland says about itself:

Common garden birds 16 05 2013

For bird lovers. Featuring European Robin, House Sparrow, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Starling and Jackdaw.

From BirdLife:

The Bird Bulletin – Vol. 13

By Gui-Xi Young

The summer is over, the kids are back in school and our Bird Bulletin is back bringing you beak-sized updates from across Europe & Central Asia.

TRIAL & ERROR – right now the battle over Białowieża is being fought in the European Court of Justice (ECJ). As Poland continues to defy the ECJ’s injunction over its illegal logging activities, the European Commission has told the court that the desecration of Europe’s last ancient forest must warrant financial penalties. BirdLife now calls on the Commission to demand fines that are severe enough to show that crime doesn’t pay.

Follow #Białowieża and #SaveBiałowieża  to watch the story unfold and sign WeMove’s Defend the Forest petition.

A ‘Tern’ for the better – a 12 mile stretch of England’s North Sea coastline has just been designated a Marine ‘Special Protection Area’ (SPA), ensuring greater protection for some 200,000 seabirds. This area of Northumberland is the most important site in the UK for Arctic, Common and Roseate terns. Read more…

PAINT IT BLACK – Iceland’s environment minister has signed a regulation banning the shooting of Black Guillemots in the country. This milestone was achieved thanks to effective cooperation between BirdLife’s Icelandic partner Fuglavernd, the Icelandic Ecological Society (Vistfræðifélag Íslands) and the Icelandic Shooting Association (Skotvís). Read more…

Migration over Malta – with thousands of birds passing through Malta on their autumn migration to Africa, birdwatchers on the islands have been sending amazing footage to BirdLife Malta. Watch the footage here…

EAT, PREY, LOVE – Help us save Europe’s magnificent vulture species from the threat of diclofenac, the veterinary drug that wiped out 99% of vultures on the Indian subcontinent in the 1990s. Support our BanVetDiclofenac campaign!

Well that’s all for today’s ‘Bird Bulletin’ – tune in next week for more cheeps, chirps and chatter.

Bye bye birdies!

Some herbivorous dinosaurs really omnivorous?


This 2012 video from the USA says about itself:

Maiasaura: Learn About Dinosaurs with World Book’s Professor Nick

Maiasaura was a large plant-eating dinosaur noted for its nesting behavior. Its name means good mother lizard, though dinosaurs were not lizards. Evidence suggests that its hatchlings were completely dependent on their parents for food and protection. Maiasaura lived about 75 to 80 million years ago in the area of what is now Montana. It belonged to a group known as duckbilled dinosaurs or hadrosaurids. These dinosaurs ate plants using a beak that somewhat resembled a duck’s bill.

By Carolyn Gramling, 9:00am, September 21, 2017:

Shhhh! Some plant-eating dinos snacked on crunchy critters

Crustacean shells discovered in fossilized poop reveal diet secrets of ancient herbivores

Some dinosaurs liked to cheat on their vegetarian diet.

Based on the shape of their teeth and jaws, large plant-eating dinosaurs are generally thought to have been exclusively herbivorous. But for one group of dinosaurs, roughly 75-million-year-old poop tells another story. Their fossilized droppings, or coprolites, contained tiny fragments of mollusk and other crustacean

Mollusks and crustaceans are two different groups.

shells along with an abundance of rotten wood, researchers report September 21 in Scientific Reports. Eating the crustaceans as well as the wood might have given the dinosaurs an extra dose of nutrients during breeding season to help form eggs and nourish the embryos.

“Living herd animals do occasionally turn carnivore to fulfill a particular nutritional need,” says vertebrate paleontologist Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum in London. “Sheep and cows are known to eat carcasses or bone when they have a deficiency in a mineral such as phosphorus or calcium, or if they’re pregnant or ill.” But the discovery that some plant-eating dinos also ate crustaceans is the first example of this behavior in an extinct herbivore, says Barrett, who was not involved in the new study.

Ten years ago, paleoecologist Karen Chin of the University of Colorado Boulder described finding large pieces of rotted wood in dino dung. The coprolites were within a layer of rock in Montana, known as the Two Medicine Formation, dating to between 80 million and 74 million years ago. That layer also contained numerous fossils of Maiasaura, a type of large, herbivorous duck-billed dinosaur, or hadrosaur (SN: 8/9/14, p. 20).

Chin wondered whether the wood itself was the dino’s real dietary target. “The coprolites in Montana were associated with the nesting grounds of the Maiasaura,” she says. “I suspected that the dinosaurs were after insects in the wood. But I never found any insects in the coprolites there.”

Her hunch wasn’t too far off. Now she’s found evidence of some kind of crustaceans in dino poop. The new evidence comes from an 860-meter-thick layer of rock in Utah known as the Kaiparowits Formation, which dates to between 76.1 million and 74 million years ago. Ten of the 15 coprolites that Chin and her team examined contained tiny fragments of shell that were scattered throughout the dung. They were too small to identify by species, and may have been crabs, insects or some other type of shelled animal, Chin says. Based on the scattering of shell fragments, the animals were certainly eaten along with the wood rather than being later visitors to the dung heap.

Since bones from hadrosaurs are especially abundant in the Kaiparowits Formation, Chin suspects those kinds of dinos deposited the dung. Other large herbivores, such as three-horned ceratopsians and armored ankylosaurs, also roamed the area (SN: 6/24/17, p. 4).

The crustacean diet cheat may have been a seasonal event, related perhaps to breeding to obtain extra nutrients, Chin and colleagues say.

But how often — or why — the dinosaurs ate the shelled critters is hard to prove from the fossil dung alone, Barrett says. Herbivore coprolites are rare in the fossil record because a diet of leaves and other green plant material doesn’t leave a lot of hard material to preserve (unlike bones in carnivore dung). Coprolites with crustaceans, on the other hand, are more likely to get fossilized — and that preferential preservation might make it appear that this behavior was more frequent than it actually was. “These kinds of things give neat snapshots of specific behaviors that those animals are doing at any one time,” he adds. “But it’s difficult to build that into a bigger picture.”

Newly discovered hermit crab shelters in corals, not shells


Left: Diogenes heteropsammicola and its coral house. Right: the hermit crab without its coral house. Image: Momoko Igawa

By Mariah Quintanilla, 2:57pm, September 20, 2017:

This newfound hermit crab finds shelter in corals, not shells

Symbiotic find is surprising as these corals already pal up with another critter: marine worms

A new species of hermit crab discovered in the shallow waters of southern Japan has been enjoying the perks of living like a peanut worm. Like the worms, the 7- to 8-millimeter-long hermit crab uses corals as a covering, researchers report September 20 in PLOS ONE.

Other kinds of hermit crabs live in coral reefs, but typically move in and out of a series of mollusk shells as the crabs grow. Diogenes heteropsammicola is the first hermit crab known to form a mutually beneficial relationship with two species of mobile corals called walking corals. The host coral grows with the crab, providing a permanent home for the crustacean. In exchange, the crab helps the coral “walk.”

Walking corals are already known to be in a symbiotic relationship with a different sea creature — flexible, marine peanut worms called sipunculids. A symbiotic shift between such distantly related species as the worms and the crab is rare because organisms in a mutualistic relationship tend to be specialized and completely dependent on one other, says study coauthor Momoko Igawa, an ecologist at Kyoto University in Japan.

But similar to the worms, D. heteropsammicola appears to be well-adapted to live in the corals. Its extra slim body can slip inside the corals’ narrow cavity. And unlike other hermit crabs — whose tails curve to the right to fit into spiral shells — D. heteropsammicola’s tail is symmetrical and can curl either way, just like the corals’ opening.

“Being able to walk around in something that is going to grow larger as you grow larger, that’s a big plus,” says Jan Pechenik, a biologist at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., who was not involved in the study. A typical hermit crab that can’t find a larger shell to move into “really is in trouble.”

D. heteropsammicola’s relationship with walking corals may begin in a similar way as it does with sipunculan worms, Igawa says. A walking coral larva latches onto a tiny mollusk shell containing a juvenile hermit crab and starts to grow. When the hermit crab outgrows the shell, the crustacean moves into the readily available host coral’s crevice, and the shell remains encapsulated in the coral.

By observing the hermit crab in an aquarium, Igawa and coauthor Makoto Kato, also an ecologist at Kyoto University, determined that the crab provides the corals with the same services as the worms: transportation and preventing the corals from being overturned by currents or buried in sediment.

Igawa hopes to search for this new hermit crab in Indonesia, a region where walking corals are normally found. Plus, because walking coral fossils are easy to come by in Japan, she also wants “to reveal the evolutionary history of the symbioses of walking corals [with] sipunculans and hermit crabs by observing these fossils.”

See also here.