15-million-year-old snaggletooth shark discovery in Maryland, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

7 November 2014

Snaggletooth Shark Skeleton quarried in Chesapeake Beach on Halloween. Found by the Gibson family in their back yard.
This is the first articulated snaggletooth shark from Calvert Cliffs, if not the world.

From Associated Press today:

Md. family uncovers 15-million-year-old skeleton during dig

JULIE ZAUZMER | Updated 22 hours ago

SOLOMONS, Md. (AP) — Donald Gibson found the first vertebra Oct. 23, just as he had begun to dig out the space for the sunroom he had promised to build in the back yard of his parents’ home in Calvert County.

Over the following week, his brother, Shawn, found another vertebra, and then another, and then a few more — each one about 18 inches deep into the ground. Soon, Shawn Gibson’s 7-year-old, Caleb, joined in on the digging. He’s at an age of being “thrilled to go out and not just play in the dirt, but actually find pieces,” Gibson said of his son.

After all, it’s not that unusual to dig up fossils in the Calvert Cliffs neighborhood. But then they found something more: a straight column of vertebrae, two feet long. And at the end, a tooth.

The digging stopped.

What the Gibsons unearthed were the remains of a 15-million-year-old snaggletooth shark, which paleontologists say is more complete than any other fossil of its kind in the world.

Stephen Godfrey, curator of paleontology for the Calvert Marine Museum, said that the Gibsons’ discovery is so unusual because of the number of bones they found — more than 80 vertebrae and hundreds of teeth, all from the same shark — as well as the position they were in and their unusually good preservation.

In fact, the discovery is so rare that when Shawn Gibson called museum officials and asked them to come out immediately — on Halloween night — Godfrey said he had his doubts.

The description Gibson provided — of a complete snaggletooth shark skeleton, including the spine and the skull cavity — seemed so outlandish to Godfrey that he could scarcely believe it.

But he and John Nance, an assistant curator, were intrigued enough to hop in the car right away.

“While we’re driving up there, I’m thinking to myself, ‘This can’t be an actual fossil of a shark,'” Godfrey said. “But it couldn’t be a horse or a cow. It had to be a shark.”

Once he laid eyes on it, he had no doubt.

“It was immediately obvious,” he said. “It was a genuine article.”

The Gibsons showed him about 50 vertebrae they had unearthed, and Godfrey was grateful that they had stopped digging once they reached the teeth. Godfrey and Nance wrapped the entire skull cavity in a stiff plaster cast, like one used to set a broken bone.

Sharks’ skulls are made mostly of cartilage, not bone, so they almost never withstand the ravages of time, Godfrey said. Yet somehow, the shark that came to rest in the Gibsons’ backyard sank belly-up when it died during the Miocene Epoch. It became buried in sand, then by sediment eroding from the Appalachian Mountains. And its skull cavity — containing hundreds of the distinctively shaped teeth, up to an inch-and-a-half long, that give the snaggletooth its name — kept its shape.

Using a microscope, the scientists digging in the Gibsons’ yard were able to see the distinctive hexagonal shape of shark cartilage, fossilized and preserved.

Donald Gibson said he had pulled vertebrae out of the ground, one by one in a straight line, just as they were positioned in the back of the shark, which Godfrey said was 8 to 10 feet long during its life.

Having preserved the teeth and surrounding remnants of cartilage in exactly the positions they were found in, the paleontologists will be able to take CT scans of the cast and analyze the specific three-dimensional layout of the prehistoric shark‘s mouth, something scientists have never done.

“For the first time, we’re going to be able to know what the dentition — what the teeth — looked like in this kind of shark,” Godfrey said.

Then they will remove the cast, gently clean each piece and put the discovery on exhibit.

Shawn Gibson said that his parents had lent the fossil to the museum but might bring it home eventually.

“Obviously, we wanted to make sure it was able to be studied,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that the historical significance was documented and the specimen’s there to be studied. But it came from the yard, and it was a family affair. ”

There’s also the issue of the value of the fossil. Shawn Gibson said he doesn’t know what the shark might be worth.

“There’s obviously not a Blue Book for shark fossils and certainly not a one-of-a-kind find,” he said.

Godfrey said he is receiving emails from paleontologists up and down the East Coast who are excited about the discovery.

The skeleton will allow scientists to compare the prehistoric snaggletooth, an extinct species, and modern snaggletooths, a descendant species that lives in the Pacific.

Comparing the teeth of snaggletooths then and now will help scientists understand the workings of shark evolution, the likely diet of prehistoric species and the climate during the Miocene Epoch.

And the fact that the spine and the skull cavity of the shark found by the Gibsons are definitively associated with each other, the most complete snaggletooth skeleton ever found will allow scientists to identify whether smaller pieces of future fossils come from snaggletooths or other species.

“When in the future we find just a single vertebra, we’ll be able to say, ‘This comes from that kind of shark.’ And only because we have this association being made,” Godfrey said. “It’s just incredibly unlikely that we would make this kind of discovery.”

As for the Gibsons, the family now has a new hobby. While the sunroom goes up in the backyard, they have continued to dig. Caleb has found less-valuable bits of four more shark species.

“He had the day off of school for Election Day. I told him we could go fishing,” Shawn Gibson said. “He said, ‘I’d like to go look for shark’s teeth.'”

Michael Brown’s death, still protests


This video, recorded in the USA, is called Ferguson, Missouri: Darren Wilson resignation not enough, say protesters – video.

Daily The Guardian in Britain says about this video today:

Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, return to the city police station on Saturday night to reject the resignation of officer Darren Wilson. Wilson resigned six days after a grand jury cleared him of charges in the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

From DelmarvaNow in the USA:

UMES NAACP to rally in protest of Ferguson decision

Deborah Gates, DelmarvaNow

12:52 a.m. EST November 30, 2014

The UMES chapter of the NAACP plan to rally Tuesday evening in protest of the Ferguson decision

The NAACP college chapter at UMES plans a “UMES Blackout” to protest a grand jury’s decision to not charge the white police officer that fatally shot a black teenager in Missouri.

According to news accounts, 18-year-old Michael Brown was unarmed when fatally shot Aug. 9 by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson, 28.

The grand jury’s decision earlier this week set off protests across the nation, including university campuses.

The national NAACP is keeping a close watch. The decision also sparked protests and disruptions at retail centers during Thanksgiving holiday shopping.

The UMES NAACP rally invites supporters to join Tuesday’s gathering in the courtyard at the Student Services Center on the Princess Anne campus. The event starts 7 p.m., according to the group’s Facebook page.

Kianna Harris, president of the UMES chapter of the NAACP, could not be reached Saturday to comment.

A statement on the group’s social media page reads “we are filled with frustration, disbelief, and anger over this decision that the officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man with his hands in the air remain free!”

The group calls for justice for Brown, as well as for “all our sons” whose deaths escaped punishment.

“We will not allow the justice system let us down once more,” the statement reads. “Take action today, for Michael, and for all of our sons.”

The “UMES Blackout” also urges participants to wear black clothing.

The “UMES Blackout” was posted on the campus NAACP’s Facebook page Thursday, two days before Wilson’s attorney announced Saturday evening that the officer had resigned from the Ferguson Police Department.

The grand jury decision sparked protests across the nation and abroad.

Activists gathered in Ferguson, Missouri, on Saturday to march 120-miles to the state capital, Jefferson City, to protest the killing of Michael Brown and a grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who shot him dead: here.

Goats better than herbicides, new study


This video is called common reed (Phragmites australis).

From Duke University in the USA:

Goats better than chemicals for curbing invasive marsh grass

18 hours ago

Herbivores, not herbicides, may be the most effective way to combat the spread of one of the most invasive plants now threatening East Coast salt marshes, a new Duke University-led study finds.

Phragmites australis, or the common reed, is a rapid colonizer that has overrun many coastal wetlands from New England to the Southeast. A non-native perennial, it can form dense stands of grass up to 10 feet high that block valuable shoreline views of the water, kill off native grasses, and alter marsh function.

Land managers traditionally have used chemical herbicides to slow phragmites’ spread but with only limited and temporary success.

Now, field experiments by researchers at Duke and six other U.S. and European universities have identified a more sustainable, low-cost alternative: goats.

“We find that allowing controlled grazing by goats or other livestock in severely affected marshes can reduce the stem density of phragmites cover by about half in around three weeks,” said Brian R. Silliman, lead author of the new study and Rachel Carson associate professor of marine conservation biology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

“The goats are likely to provide an effective, sustainable and much more affordable way of mowing down the invasive grass and helping restore lost ocean views,” he said.

In fenced-in test plots at the USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland, Silliman and his colleagues found that a pair of the hungry herbivores could reduce phragmites cover from 94 percent to 21 percent, on average, by the end of the study. Separate trials showed that horses and cows would also readily eat the invasive grass.

In addition to restoring views, the controlled grazing allowed native plant species to re-establish themselves in the test plots over time. The native species diversity index increased five-fold.

“For more than two decades, we’ve declared major chemical and physical warfare on this grass, using all the latest manmade weapons,” Silliman said. “We’ve used helicopters to spray it with herbicides and bulldozers to remove its roots. More often than not, however, it returns.

“In this study, we show that sustainable, low-cost rotational livestock grazing can suppress the unwanted tall grass and favor a more diverse native plant system,” he said.

Silliman said the re-emergence of native marsh plants could happen even faster and be more sustained if managers combine grazing with the selective use of herbicides to eradicate any remaining phragmites and then re-plant native species in its place.

The research findings appear this week in the open-access online journal PeerJ.

“This could be a win-win-win-win situation,” Silliman said. Marshes win because native diversity and function is largely restored. Farmers benefit because they receive payment for providing the livestock and they gain access to free pasture land. Managers win because control costs are reduced. Communities and property owners win because valuable and pleasing water views are brought back.

The approach has been used for nearly 6,000 years in parts of Europe and recently has been successfully tested on small patches of heavily phragmites-invaded marshes in New York, he notes. “Now, it just has to be tested on a larger spatial scale.”

The only drawback, he added, is that “people have to be okay with having goats in their marsh for a few weeks or few months in some years. It seems like a fair trade-off to me.”

LSU ecologist James Cronin and colleague Laura Meyerson from the University of Rhode Island conducted an ambitious large-scale study on the native and invasive species of reed, Phragmites australis, in North America and Europe funded by the National Science Foundation. They found that the intensity of plant invasions by non-native species can vary considerably with changes in latitude. Read more here.

Flowering plants after dinosaur extinction


This video is called Angiosperm (flowering plant) Life Cycle.

From Smithsonian.com in the USA:

Flowering Plants Appeared in Forest Canopies Just a Few Million Years After Dinosaurs Went Extinct

A new study gives scientists some more insight into the weird history of flowering plants

By Mary Beth Griggs

Taking a minute to smell the flowers isn’t that hard nowadays, but angiosperms (a.k.a. flowering plants) weren’t always as ubiquitous as they are now. They appeared rather suddenly in the fossil record, definitively showing up around 132 million years ago. Their sudden appearance has puzzled scientists from Darwin on to the present day, and while today we understand a bit more about how they diversified, scientists are still learning new things about their history.

In a new study published in Geology, scientists think that they’ve figured out another piece of the angiosperm puzzle. Researchers looked at the patterns of leaf veins of flowering plants in tropical forests in Panama and a temperate forest in Maryland. They looked at the leaves of 132 species, reaching the top of the forest canopy with a 131-foot tall crane, and also taking a look at the leaves that had fallen to the forest floor. Leaves that originated at the very top of the trees tended to have a denser collection of veins than the ones further down the tree trunk.

The scientists then compared the patterns found on the leaves in the forests to leaves found in the fossil record, and discovered that flowering plants had reached the heights of the forest canopy around 58 million years ago, during the Paleocene, just a few million years after the dinosaurs went extinct.

Bald eagles in the USA, where to see them


This video is called American Bald Eagle.

From Discovery News in the USA:

Endangered Species

Bald Eagle Spotting: Top Spots

Dec 27, 2013 12:43 PM ET // by Tim Wall

Forty years ago, the Endangered Species Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. The act’s authors sought to protect animals, plants and other wildlife from extinction caused by “economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation,” in the words of the Act.

One symbol of the United States, the bald eagle, provides an example of how a change to the economy saved an icon of North America.

DDT, or dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, weakened eagle and other bird egg shells so much that the eggs would collapse under the mother. The chemical was introduced in the 1940s and already had decimated bird populations by the early 1960s.

NEWS: Bald Eagle Nestlings Contaminated by Chemicals

In 1972, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the pesticide. The removal of DDT from the market allowed eagle eggs to regain their strength, and the raptors began a recovery.

Bald eagles soared off of the Endangered Species List in 2007. Although off the list, the birds are still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

LIST: Animals Back From the Brink

An eagle-watching trip could be a thrilling way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act and the success of bald eagles.

From coast to coast, National Wildlife Refuges offer winter-long opportunities to observe the raptors, along with special events.

The USFWS presents a cross-country list of these eagle adventures in Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah, California, Oregon and Washington. Here are a few highlights:

Maryland: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Eagle Festival March 15, 2014, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The festival is a free way to see more than 200 eagles overwintering in the refuge, the largest population on the East Coast, north of Florida.

Illinois: Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Eagle Watch Jan. 18-19, 25-26 at  8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Reservations are required for this guided van trip to see eagle nests.

Missouri: Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge Open all winter. A 1.5-mile trail offers views of hundreds of eagles.

Oregon: Winter Wings Festival in Klamath Falls Feb. 13-16. Sessions on bald eagles and other raptors are featured events at this avian extravaganza.

The Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 99% of the more than 2,140 species it currently protects: here.

West Nile Virus Behind Utah Bald Eagle Deaths: here.