Mid-Permian extinction of animals, new study


This 2013 video says about itself:

Animal Armageddon The Great Dying – Episode 5

The Permian-Triassic extinction event, informally known as the Great Dying, was an extinction event that occurred 252 million years ago, forming the boundary between the Permian and Triassic geologic periods, as well as the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras. It is the Earth’s most severe known extinction event, with up to 96% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species becoming extinct. It is the only known mass extinction of insects. Some 57% of all families and 83% of all genera became extinct. Because so much biodiversity was lost, the recovery of life on Earth took significantly longer than after any other extinction event, possibly up to 10 million years.

Researchers have variously suggested that there were from one to three distinct pulses, or phases, of extinction. There are several proposed mechanisms for the extinctions; the earlier phase was likely due to gradual environmental change, while the latter phase has been argued to be due to a catastrophic event. Suggested mechanisms for the latter include large or multiple impact events, increased volcanism, coal/gas fires and explosions from the Siberian Traps, and sudden release of methane from the sea floor; gradual changes include sea-level change, increasing aridity, and a shift in ocean circulation driven by climate change.

From the Geological Society of America:

15 April 2015

New evidence adds the Capitanian extinction to the list of major extinction crises

Boulder, Colo., USA – Since the Cambrian Explosion, ecosystems have suffered repeated mass extinctions, with the “Big 5″ crises being the most prominent. Twenty years ago, a sixth major extinction was recognized in the Middle Permian (262 million years ago) of China, when paleontologists teased apart losses from the “Great Dying” at the end of the period. Until now, this Capitanian extinction was known only from equatorial settings, and its status as a global crisis was controversial.

David P.G. Bond and colleagues provide the first evidence for severe Middle Permian losses amongst brachiopods in northern paleolatitudes (Spitsbergen). Their study shows that the Boreal crisis coincided with an intensification of marine oxygen depletion, implicating this killer in the extinction scenario.

The widespread loss of carbonates across the Boreal Realm also suggests a role for acidification. The new data cements the Middle Permian crisis’s status as a true “mass extinction.” Thus the “Big 5″ extinctions should now be considered the “Big 6.”

An abrupt extinction in the Middle Permian (Capitanian) of the Boreal Realm (Spitsbergen) and its link to anoxia and acidification: David P.G. Bond et al., University of Hull, Hull, UK. Published online ahead of print on 14 Apr. 2015; http://dx.doi.org/10.1130/B31216.1. This article is OPEN ACCESS (available for free online).

Baleen whale evolution, new research in New Zealand


This video is called Humpback whales feeding on krill – Deep into the Wild – BBC. It says about itselF:

26 July 2010

Nick Baker crosses some of the world’s most treacherous seas as his mission to get close to some of the wildest animals on Earth takes him to Antarctica. Despite the cold, these oceans are rich with marine life as the mighty humpback whale demonstrates as it gorges itself on krill.

From the University of Otago in New Zealand:

Otago research details 40 million-year-old family tree

Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 3:11 pm

Otago research details 40 million-year-old family tree of baleen whales

New University of Otago research is providing the most comprehensive picture of the evolutionary history of baleen whales, which are not only the largest animals ever to live on earth, but also among the most unusual.

Most other mammals feed on plants or grab a single prey animal at a time, but baleen whales are famous for their gigantic mouths and their ability to gulp and filter an enormous volume of water and food.

In a paper appearing in the UK journal Royal Society Open Science, Otago Geology PhD graduate Dr Felix Marx and Professor Ewan Fordyce present a comprehensive family tree of living and extinct baleen whales stretching back nearly 40 million years.

The pair says that similar family trees have been constructed before, but theirs is by far the largest and, crucially, the first to be directly calibrated using many dated fossils.

The research shows which whales are related and exactly how long ago every branch of the tree—whether extinct or still alive—first arose.

This new family tree allows the researchers to estimate: (1) how many species of baleen whale have existed, (2) similarities and differences between different lineages in terms of overall body shape, and (3) how fast baleen whales evolved at any chosen time over the last 40 million years.

“We find that the earliest baleen whales underwent an adaptive radiation, or sudden ‘evolutionary burst’, similar to that of ‘Darwin’s finches’ on the Galapagos Islands,” says Professor Fordyce.

Dr Marx adds that this early phase of whale evolution coincided with a period of global cooling. At the same time, the Southern Ocean opened, and gave rise to a strong, circum-Antarctic current that today provides many of the nutrients sustaining the modern global ocean.

The researchers found that during their early history, whales branched out into many different lineages, each with a unique body shape and feeding strategy.

“Rather surprisingly, many of these early whales were quite unlike their modern descendants: Although some had baleen, others had well-developed teeth and actively hunted for much bigger prey than is taken by modern species,” says Professor Fordyce.

Yet, after a few million years of co-existence, the toothed ‘baleen’ whales disappeared, leaving behind only their filter-feeding cousins, he says.

That extinction occurred between 30 and 23 million years ago and was about the time that the circum-Antarctic current reached its full strength, providing more nutrients that made filter feeding a more viable option.

The researchers say that the toothed ‘baleen’ whales disappeared perhaps because of increasing competition from other newly evolved toothed marine mammals, such as dolphins and seals.

They found that filter-feeding whales remained successful and diverse until about 3 million years ago, when the number of lineages suddenly crashed.

“This decline was driven mainly by the disappearance of small species of baleen whale, which left behind only the giants—ranging from 6 to as much as 30 metres—that plough the ocean today,” says Dr Marx.

He says the disappearance of small whales likely resulted from the onset of the ice ages, which altered the distribution of available food, caused shallow water habitats to shift or sometimes disappear, and created a need for long-distance migration between polar feeding grounds and equatorial breeding grounds.

“This behaviour—long distance-migration—is still one of the hallmarks of all baleen whales alive today,” notes Professor Fordyce.

See also here. And here.

Brontosaurus coming back to dinosaur science?


Brontosaurus as researchers imagined it in the late 1800s, on a chocolate wrapper. Photograph: Picasa

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Brontosaurus is back! New analysis suggests genus might be resurrected

Despite its relegation to a subset of the Apatosaurus family in 1903, new research suggests that the Brontosaurus is distinct enough to be a genus

Hannah Devlin, science correspondent

Tuesday 7 April 2015 12.52 BST

The Brontosaurus is famous for having been resigned to extinction twice – the second time when scientists concluded that it was another long-necked dinosaur that had been misclassified.

Now, the “thunder lizard” looks set to make a comeback, after a new analysis suggests that Brontosaurus skeletons really are distinct enough to warrant their own genus.

The scientists behind the work hope the findings will trigger the resurrection of the Brontosaurus genus, which was discarded by most academics more than 100 years ago.

“It’s a nice example of how science works. A new finding can overturn more than 100 years of beliefs,” said Emanuel Tschopp, who led the study at the Nova University in Lisbon.

The discovery of Brontosaurus dates back to the so-called “Bone Wars”, a period in the US when a wealth of new dinosaur fossils were being discovered and rival palaeontologists were racing to name as many as possible. Brontosaurus was hastily named in 1870, a few years after another bulky long-necked specimen, the Apatosaurus (deceptive lizard), was discovered.

By 1903, it had been relegated to a subset of the Apatosaurus family, but the dinosaur has lived on as a mainstay in popular culture. “It’s probably because when it was found it was one of the first really complete long-necked dinosaurs,” said Tschopp. “It also just has a really good name.”

The argument for bringing back the iconic title is entirely objective, the scientists say. “Although I was excited when I found it might be the case,” he added.

Professor Paul Barrett, a senior dinosaur researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, said he is ready to re-adopt the Brontosaurus title, based on the findings. “It’s the biggest study on this family, they martial a lot of evidence and make a very good case,” he said.

“It’s taken us a long time to convince people that we shouldn’t be using the name ‘Brontosaurus’,” he added. “Just as we’ve got to that point, it looks like we’re going to have to turn around and say ‘Actually, it’s alright again’.”

Brian Switek, author of My Beloved Brontosaurus and amateur palaeontologist based in Utah, said: “I want to believe, but I’m not sure the Brontosaurus is here to stay just yet.”

The problem, he said, is that there is no standard way of picking which anatomical traits are significant, meaning there will always be a degree of subjectivity in drawing up distinctions between closely related species. Done a different way, another analysis could easily sink Brontosaurus back into the Apatosaurus genus. The question is unlikely to be definitively agreed, Switek predicts, without the discovery of new fossils, in particular a Brontosaurus skull.

The latest analysis focussed on the Diplodocidae clade, the family containing Diplodocus, Apatosaurus and several other long-necked specimens.

The Diplodocidae dinosaurs lived from 170 to 130 million years ago, and are distinguished by their short legs (they are sometimes dubbed the “dachshund” of dinosaurs) and incredible length. The average length of an Apatosaurus was 22m, but a related species, Supersaurus, was thought to have reached 34m head to tail.

The scientists analysed around 50 skeletons and measured around 500 anatomical traits to assess the hierarchy of differences within the family. Statistically, they found there were two main groups: one containing more slender species, such as Diplodocus, and a second containing the bulkier Apatosaurus. Within the Apatosaurus group, though, there were further considerable distinctions, including the fact that Apatosaurus had a thicker neck, according to the PeerJ report.

“The differences we found between Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were at least as numerous as the ones between other closely related genera, and much more than what you normally find between species,” said Roger Benson, a co-author from the University of Oxford.

The distinction between species and genera is without clear rules, but should at least be self-consistent, the authors argue.

Unlike with living species, there is no official procedure for creating a new genus or reinstating an old one, and whether Brontosaurus makes a comeback will depend on popular consensus within the community. “Other researchers will now need to test the evidence for resuscitating Brontosaurus,” said Tschopp.

The authors said the research was only possible due to the recent discovery of several new dinosaurs similar to both Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus, which made it possible to undertake a detailed investigation of how different they actually were.

“Our research would not have been possible at this level of detail 15 or more years ago,” said Tschopp. “In fact, until very recently, the claim that Brontosaurus was the same as Apatosaurus was completely reasonable, based on the knowledge we had.”

Irrespective of the scientific outcome, the dinosaur is likely to live on in the popular imagination. “The ghost of Brontosaurus will always be with us,” said Switek.

See also here.

Fossil whale discovery in Vietnam


Whale fossil, discovered in Vietnam

From Vietnamnet:

06/04/2015

Local resident discovers whale fossil in Ha Tinh

A large piece of a whale‘s fossilised vertebra has just been found in the central province of Ha Tinh.

The fossil, measuring 37cm by 35cm by 80cm and weighing 19kg, was discovered accidentally at Thach Khe metal mine, 1km from Thach Hai Beach, by a local person named Duong Dinh Canh.

Director of Ha Tinh Museum Nguyen Tri Son and Australian archaeologist Philip Palmer examined the fossil and determined it was part of a whale‘s vertebral column. But they cannot determine the exact age of the fossil till some more research is done.

The experts will soon transport the fossil to the provincial museum for further study and exhibition.

Pterosaur flight, an engineer’s perspective


This video is called Largest flying creature ever – Pterosaurs Documentary HQ.

From Palaeocast today:

Episode 42: Pterosaur aerodynamics

Palaeontology is more than just going out into the field, digging up bones, and putting them back together. A good understanding of biology, geology, and even engineering can help to figure out how extinct animals lived and especially how they moved around.

To further comprehend how we can use knowledge of engineering in palaeontology, especially with respect to understanding extinct animal flight, we spoke to Colin Palmer from the University of Bristol, and the University of Southampton. His background in engineering provides a unique set of skills and angle to studying pterosaur flight.

Two-milion-year-old redshank discovery


This is a redshank video from the Netherlands.

Translated from Vroege Vogels TV in the Netherlands:

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dutch amateur paleontologists have found a bone of a redshank, two million years old. This makes this fossil the oldest known redshank in the world, two hundred thousand years older than previous finds. They will publish their findings soon in the renowned paleontological journal Cranium.

Carboniferous forest simulation on your computer?


This video is called The Carboniferous Period.

From the Carboniferous Forest Simulation site, where you can download this program:

Carboniferous Forest Simulation

Lost in the darkness of our coal mines for more than 300 millions of years, the swamps and forests of the ancient past of our planet now come to new life:

A free, interactive realtime simulation places you into a time machine and enables you to take a walk through the overgrown jungle of ferns, tree-like clubmosses and giant insects our modern civilization was founded on.

The application is currently in alpha state. This means, that the application is not complete both technical and content-wise (for example plant descriptions and sound are not complete, and animals are still missing) and it may contain errors. Nevertheless, we decided to release it as early as possible to share the development progress with you. You can also track and discuss the progress in the interesting “Making of”-thread in The Fossil Forum.

In its final version, the application will be free for personal, museum and educational use, in its current alpha version it is only free for personal use.

Any feedback, hints and reviews by paleontologists, fossil specialists, game/simulation developers and any interested persons are highly appreciated!

Please note, that you will need a pretty tough computer to run the simulation. The minimum requirement is a 2.4 GHz Core I5 processor or similar, 4 GB of RAM and a 1GB 3D graphics card (at least Geforce 560TI or similar).