Triassic dinosaurs family tree, new research


This 2016 video says about itself:

Triassic Age Of Dinosaur – AMAZING DINOSAURS DOCUMENTARY

Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals of the clade Dinosauria. They first appeared during the Triassic period, 231.4 million years ago, and were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for 135 million years, from the start of the Jurassic (about 200 million years ago) until the end of the Cretaceous (66 million years ago), when the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of most dinosaur groups at the end of the Mesozoic Era.

The fossil record indicates that birds are modern feathered dinosaurs, having evolved from theropod ancestors during the Jurassic Period. Birds were the only dinosaurs to survive the extinction event that occurred 66 million years ago.

From the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA:

Study sheds light on the evolution of the earliest dinosaurs

Geological evidence suggests the known dinosaur groups diverged early on, supporting the traditional dinosaur family tree

July 29, 2020

Summary: Geological evidence suggests the known dinosaur groups diverged early on, supporting the traditional dinosaur family tree.

The classic dinosaur family tree has two subdivisions of early dinosaurs at its base: the Ornithischians, or bird-hipped dinosaurs, which include the later Triceratops and Stegosaurus; and the Saurischians, or lizard-hipped dinosaurs, such as Brontosaurus and Tyrannosaurus.

In 2017, however, this classical view of dinosaur evolution was thrown into question with evidence that perhaps the lizard-hipped dinosaurs evolved first — a finding that dramatically rearranged the first major branches of the dinosaur family tree.

Now an MIT geochronologist, along with paleontologists from Argentina and Brazil, has found evidence to support the classical view of dinosaur evolution. The team’s findings are published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

The team reanalyzed fossils of Pisanosaurus, a small bipedal dinosaur that is thought to be the earliest preserved Ornithiscian in the fossil record. The researchers determined that the bird-hipped herbivore dates back to 229 million years ago, which is also around the time that the earliest lizard-hipped Saurischians are thought to have appeared.

The new timing suggests that Ornithiscians and Saurischians first appeared and diverged from a common ancestor at roughly the same time, giving support to the classical view of dinosaur evolution.

The researchers also dated rocks from the Ischigualasto Formation, a layered sedimentary rock unit in Argentina that is known for having preserved an abundance of fossils of the very earliest dinosaurs. Based on these fossils and others across South America, scientists believe that dinosaurs first appeared in the southern continent, which at the time was fused together with the supercontinent of Pangaea. The early dinosaurs are then thought to have diverged and fanned out across the world.

However, in the new study, the researchers determined that the period over which the Ischigualasto Formation was deposited overlaps with the timing of another important geological deposit in North America, known as the Chinle Formation.

The middle layers of the Chinle Formation in the southwestern U.S. contain fossils of various fauna, including dinosaurs that appear to be more evolved than the earliest dinosaurs. The bottom layers of this formation, however, lack animal fossil evidence of any kind, let alone early dinosaurs. This suggests that conditions within this geological window prevented the preservation of any form of life, including early dinosaurs, if they walked this particular region of the world.

“If the Chinle and Ischigualasto formations overlap in time, then early dinosaurs may not have first evolved in South America, but may have also been roaming North America around the same time,” says Jahandar Ramezani, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, who co-authored the study. “Those northern cousins just may not have been preserved.”

The other researchers on the study are first author Julia Desojo from the National University of La Plata Museum, and a team of paleontologists from institutions across Argentina and Brazil.

“Following footsteps”

The earliest dinosaur fossils found in the Ischigualasto Formation are concentrated within what is now a protected provincial park known as “Valley of the Moon” in the San Juan Province. The geological formation also extends beyond the park, albeit with fewer fossils of early dinosaurs. Ramezani and his colleagues instead looked to study one of the accessible outcrops of the same rocks, outside of the park.

They focused on Hoyada del Cerro Las Lajas, a less-studied outcrop of the Ischigualasto Formation, in La Rioja Province, which another team of paleontologists explored in the 1960s.

“Our group got our hands on some of the field notes and excavated fossils from those early paleontologists, and thought we should follow their footsteps to see what we could learn,” Desojo says.

Over four expeditions between 2013 to 2019, the team collected fossils and rocks from various layers of the Las Lajas outcrop, including more than 100 new fossil specimens, though none of these fossils were of dinosaurs. Nevertheless, they analyzed the fossils and found they were comparable, in both species and relative age, to nondinosaur fossils found in the park region of the same Ischigualasto Formation. They also found out that the Ischigualasto Formation in Las Lajas was significantly thicker and much more complete than the outcrops in the park. This gave them confidence that the geological layers in both locations were deposited during the same critical time interval.

Ramezani then analyzed samples of volcanic ash collected from several layers of the Las Lajas outcrops. Volcanic ash contains zircon, a mineral that he separated from the rest of the sediment, and measured for isotopes of uranium and lead, the ratios of which yield the mineral’s age.

With this high-precision technique, Ramezani dated samples from the top and bottom of the outcrop, and found that the sedimentary layers, and any fossils preserved within them, were deposited between 230 million and 221 million years ago. Since the team determined that the layered rocks in Las Lajas and the park match in both species and relative timing, they could also now determine the exact age of the park’s more fossil-rich outcrops.

Moreover, this window overlaps significantly with the time interval over which sediments were deposited, thousands of kilometers northward, in the Chinle Formation.

“For many years, people thought Chinle and Ischigualasto formations didn’t overlap, and based on that assumption, they developed a model of diachronous evolution, meaning the earliest dinosaurs appeared in South America first, then spread out to other parts of the world including North America,” Ramezani says. “We’ve now studied both formations extensively, and shown that diachronous evolution isn’t really based on sound geology.”

A family tree, preserved

Decades before Ramezani and his colleagues set out for Las Lajas, other paleontologists had explored the region and unearthed numerous fossils, including remains of Pisanosaurus mertii, a small, light-framed, ground-dwelling herbivore. The fossils are now preserved in an Argentinian museum, and scientists have gone back and forth on whether it is a true dinosaur belonging to the Ornithiscian group, or a ” basal dinosauromorph” — a kind of pre-dinosaur, with features that are almost, but not quite fully, dinosaurian.

“The dinosaurs we see in the Jurassic and Cretaceous are highly evolved, and ones we can nicely identify, but in the late Triassic, they all looked very much alike, so it’s very hard to distinguish them from each other, and from basal dinosauromorphs,” Ramezani explains.

His collaborator Max Langer from the University of São Paulo in Brazil painstakingly reanalyzed the museum-preserved fossil of Pisanosaurus, and concluded, based on certain key anatomical features, that it is indeed a dinosaur — and what’s more, that it is the earliest preserved Ornithiscian specimen. Based on Ramezani’s dating of the outcrop and the interpretation of Pisanosaurus, the researchers concluded that the earliest bird-hipped dinosaurs appeared around 229 million years ago — around the same time as their lizard-hipped counterparts.

“We can now say the earliest Ornithiscians first showed up in the fossil record roughly around the same time as the Saurischians, so we shouldn’t throw away the conventional family tree,” Ramezani says. “There are all these debates about where dinosaurs appeared, how they diversified, what the family tree looked like. A lot of those questions are tied to geochronology, so we need really good, robust age constraints to help answer these questions.”

This research was mainly funded by the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (Argentina) and the São Paulo State Research Support Foundation (Brazil). Geochronologic research at the MIT Isotope Lab has been supported in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Prehistoric amphibians, four or five fingers?


This 2016 video says about itself:

OSTEOHISTOLOGICAL AND COMPUTED FEA OF METOPOSAURUS KRASIEJOWENSIS SKULL BIOMECHANICS

By Kamil Gruntmejer

Recorded at XIV Annual Meeting of the European Association of Vertebrate Palaeontologists, Teylers Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands.

From the University of Bonn in Germany:

Fossil tracks: Wrong number of fingers leads down wrong track

July 24, 2020

Have you ever wondered why our hands have five fingers? And what about amphibians? They usually only have four. Until now it was assumed that this was already the case with the early ancestors of today’s frogs and salamanders, the Temnospondyli. However, a new find of the crocodile-like Temnospondyl Metoposaurus krasiejowensis from the late Triassic (about 225 million years old) in Poland shows five metacarpal bones and thus five fingers. As the researchers from the Universities of Bonn and Opole (Poland) note, this finding is very important, because until now, fossil animal tracks may have been wrongly assigned. The results have now been published in the Journal of Anatomy.

Modern amphibians usually have four fingers on the forelimb (and never more), which is called a “four-rayed hand,” as opposed to our five-rayed hand. Of all groups of terrestrial vertebrates, amphibians show the greatest variation in the number of frontfingers. Reptiles are the most conservative and usually have five. In birds, the finger bones in the wing have been lost completely. In mammals, the number of toes in the forelimb also varies greatly: Primates and raccoons have five, in horses only the third has survived, while in cattle and other even-toed ungulates fingers three and four remain. What they all have in common, however, is that this loss of toes or fingers originates from a five-ray pattern, which is why amphibians cannot be the ancestors of all these terrestrial vertebrate groups.

Exact number of toes is controversial

It has been known for some time that the earliest quadrupeds had significantly more fingers than five, such as Acanthostega, which had eight in the forelimb, or Ichthyostega with seven in the hind foot. As early as 300 million years ago, all but the five-fingered forms became extinct. The five-ray pattern was then retained in the real land animals, but was reduced again and again (see horses). The ancestors of today’s amphibians, the Temnospondyli, presented contradictory evidence of skeletons with four fingers, but also tracks that had five.

Temnospondyli is an important group of the early, very diverse quadrupeds. Some temnospondyls became as big as crocodiles, others were rather small. However, like all amphibians, they were dependent on water during their larval stage. Their most famous representatives include Eryops or Mastodonsaurus. “It’s also important to understand the evolution of modern amphibians, as this group probably evolved from the Temnospondyli,” says Dr. Dorota Konietzko-Meier from the Institute for Geosciences at the University of Bonn, who discovered and prepared the left forelimb of a Metoposaurus krasiejowensis in Krasiejów (southwest Poland).

However, despite the long history of research, the exact number of fingers in Metoposaurus and other temnospondyls is still controversial. “It’s remarkable that even in the case of the very well-researched Eryops, the skeletal reconstruction exhibited at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris has five fingers, while only four fingers can be seen at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington,” says Ella Teschner, a doctoral student from Bonn and Opole. Lately, science has assumed that, similar to most modern amphibians, all Temnospondyli have only four toes in their forelimbs. This resulted in the five-toed footprints common in the Permian and Triassic periods being almost automatically assumed to not belong to Temnospondyli.

“The find from the famous Upper Triassic site Krasiejów in Poland therefore offers a new opportunity to study the architecture and development of the hand of the early quadrupeds,” says paleontologist Prof. Dr. Martin Sander from the University of Bonn. A considerably broader view of the entire group of Temnospondyli did not show a clear trend with regard to the five-ray pattern and suggested that the number of digits was not as limited in the phylogenetic context as was assumed. “Evidently, the temnospondyls were already experimenting with the four-ray pattern, and the five-ray pattern died out before the emergence of modern amphibians,” adds Sander.

Five fingers on each hand?

“Even if the ossification of five metacarpal bones described here was only a pathology, it still shows that a five-ray pattern was possible in Temnospondyli,” says Konietzko-Meier. However, it could not be assumed with certainty that the reduction in the number of fingers/digits from five to four always affected the fifth place on the hand in these fossil taxa. The possibility that some of the four-fingered taxa were caused by the loss of the first ray cannot be excluded. Sander: “The new finding of a five-fingered hand is particularly important for the interpretation of tracks, as it shows that a five-fingered forefoot print could also belong to the Temnospondyli and thus indicate a considerably wider distribution area of these animals.”

These results are also of general importance, since limb development plays an important role in evolutionary biology and medicine, and fossils may therefore provide important information for the evaluation of theories of hand development.

Triassic era catastrophes and wildlife


This 18 June 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

Big Amphibians of the Chinle Formation!

Dinosaur Journey Re-Opens today! And to celebrate we wanted to share a video of Dr. Julia McHugh talking amphibians. Ever noticed the large red rock base of Independence Monument?! Well, that’s the Triassic age rock these amazing creatures were discovered. WATCH now to learn more!

From the University of Texas at Austin in the USA:

Arizona rock core sheds light on Triassic dark ages

July 20, 2020

A rock core from Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona, has given scientists a powerful new tool to understand how catastrophic events shaped Earth’s ecosystems before the rise of the dinosaurs.

The quarter-mile core is from an important part of the Triassic Period when life on Earth endured a series of cataclysmic events: Our planet was struck at least three times by mountain-sized asteroids, chains of volcanoes erupted to choke the sky with greenhouse gases, and tectonic movement tore apart Earth’s single supercontinent, Pangea.

Among the chaos, many plants and animals, including some of the long-snouted and armored reptiles that ruled Pangea throughout the Triassic, vanished in a possible shake-up of life on Earth that scientists have yet to explain.

The study, published July 20 in GSA Bulletin, offers scientists a foundation to explain the changes in the fossil record and determine how these events may have shaped life on Earth.

By determining the age of the rock core, researchers were able to piece together a continuous, unbroken stretch of Earth’s history from 225 million to 209 million years ago. The timeline offers insight into what has been a geologic dark age and will help scientists investigate abrupt environmental changes from the peak of the Late Triassic and how they affected the plants and animals of the time.

“The core lets us wind the clock back 225 million years when Petrified Forest National Park was a tropical hothouse populated by crocodile-like reptiles and turkey-size early dinosaurs,” said Cornelia Rasmussen, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG), who led the analysis that determined the age of the core.

“We can now begin to interpret changes in the fossil record, such as whether changes in the plant and animal world at the time were caused by an asteroid impact or rather by slow geographic changes of the supercontinent drifting apart,” she said.

Petrified Forest National Park’s paleontologist Adam Marsh said that despite a rich collection of fossils from the period in North America, until now there was little information on the Late Triassic’s timeline because most of what scientists knew came from studying outcrops of exposed rock pushed to the surface by tectonic movements.

“Outcrops are like broken pieces of a puzzle,” said Marsh, who earned his Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences. “It is incredibly difficult to piece together a continuous timeline from their exposed and weathered faces.”

Marsh was not an author of the study but is part of the larger scientific coring project. UTIG is a unit of the Jackson School.

The Petrified Forest National Park core overcomes the broken puzzle problem by recovering every layer in the order it was deposited. Like tree rings, scientists can then match those layers with the fossil and climate record.

To find the age of each layer, the researchers searched the rock core for tiny crystals of the mineral zircon, which are spewed into the sky during volcanic eruptions. Zircons are a date stamp for the sediments with which they are buried. Researchers then compared the age of the crystals with traces of ancient magnetism stored in the rocks to help develop a precise geologic timeline.

Geoscience is rarely so simple, however, and according to Rasmussen, the analysis of the core gave them two slightly different stories. One shows evidence that a shake-up in the species might not be connected to any single catastrophic event and could simply be part of the ordinary course of gradual evolution. The other shows a possible correlation between the change in the fossil record and a powerful asteroid impact, which left behind a crater in Canada over 62 miles wide.

For Marsh, the different findings are just part of the process to reach the truth.

“The two age models are not problematic and will help guide future studies,” he said.

The research is the latest outcome of the Colorado Plateau Coring Project. The research and the coring project were funded by the National Science Foundation and International Continental Drilling Program.

Small ancestor of dinosaurs and pterosaurs discovered


Life restoration of Kongonaphon kely, a newly described reptile near the ancestry of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, in what would have been its natural environment in the Triassic (~237 million years ago). © Alex Boersma

From the American Museum of Natural History in the USA:

A tiny ancient relative of dinosaurs and pterosaurs discovered

New study suggests a miniaturized origin for some of the largest animals ever to live on Earth

July 6, 2020

Dinosaurs and flying pterosaurs may be known for their remarkable size, but a newly described species from Madagascar that lived around 237 million years ago suggests that they originated from extremely small ancestors. The fossil reptile, named Kongonaphon kely, or “tiny bug slayer”, would have stood just 10 centimeters (or about 4 inches) tall. The description and analysis of this fossil and its relatives, published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may help explain the origins of flight in pterosaurs, the presence of “fuzz” on the skin of both pterosaurs and dinosaurs, and other questions about these charismatic animals.

“There’s a general perception of dinosaurs as being giants,” said Christian Kammerer, a research curator in paleontology at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and a former Gerstner Scholar at the American Museum of Natural History. “But this new animal is very close to the divergence of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, and it’s shockingly small.”

Dinosaurs and pterosaurs both belong to the group Ornithodira. Their origins, however, are poorly known, as few specimens from near the root of this lineage have been found. The fossils of Kongonaphon were discovered in 1998 in Madagascar by a team of researchers led by American Museum of Natural History Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals John Flynn (who worked at The Field Museum at the time) in close collaboration with scientists and students at the University of Antananarivo, and project co-leader Andre Wyss, chair and professor of the University of California-Santa Barbara’s Department of Earth Science and an American Museum of Natural History research associate.

“This fossil site in southwestern Madagascar from a poorly known time interval globally has produced some amazing fossils, and this tiny specimen was jumbled in among the hundreds we’ve collected from the site over the years,” Flynn said. “It took some time before we could focus on these bones, but once we did, it was clear we had something unique and worth a closer look. This is a great case for why field discoveries — combined with modern technology to analyze the fossils recovered — is still so important.”

“Discovery of this tiny relative of dinosaurs and pterosaurs emphasizes the importance of Madagascar’s fossil record for improving knowledge of vertebrate history during times that are poorly known in other places,” said project co-leader Lovasoa Ranivoharimanana, professor and director of the vertebrate paleontology laboratory at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar. “Over two decades, our collaborative Madagascar-U.S. teams have trained many Malagasy students in paleontological sciences, and discoveries like this helps people in Madagascar and around the world better appreciate the exceptional record of ancient life preserved in the rocks of our country.”

Kongonaphon isn’t the first small animal known near the root of the ornithodiran family tree, but previously, such specimens were considered “isolated exceptions to the rule,” Kammerer noted. In general, the scientific thought was that body size remained similar among the first archosaurs — the larger reptile group that includes birds, crocodilians, non-avian dinosaurs, and pterosaurs — and the earliest ornithodirans, before increasing to gigantic proportions in the dinosaur lineage.

“Recent discoveries like Kongonaphon have given us a much better understanding of the early evolution of ornithodirans. Analyzing changes in body size throughout archosaur evolution, we found compelling evidence that it decreased sharply early in the history of the dinosaur-pterosaur lineage,” Kammerer said.

This “miniaturization” event indicates that the dinosaur and pterosaur lineages originated from extremely small ancestors yielding important implications for their paleobiology. For instance, wear on the teeth of Kongonaphon suggests it ate insects. A shift to insectivory, which is associated with small body size, may have helped early ornithodirans survive by occupying a niche different from their mostly meat-eating contemporaneous relatives.

The work also suggests that fuzzy skin coverings ranging from simple filaments to feathers, known on both the dinosaur and pterosaur sides of the ornithodiran tree, may have originated for thermoregulation in this small-bodied common ancestor. That’s because heat retention in small bodies is difficult, and the mid-late Triassic was a time of climatic extremes, inferred to have sharp shifts in temperature between hot days and cold nights.

Sterling Nesbitt, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech and a Museum research associate and expert in ornithodiran anatomy, phylogeny, and histological age analyses, is also an author on this study.

This study was supported, in part, by the National Geographic Society, a Gerstner Scholars Fellowship from the Gerstner Family Foundation and the Richard Gilder Graduate School, the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, and a Meeker Family Fellowship from the Field Museum, with additional support from the Ministry of Energy and Mines of Madagascar, the World Wide Fund for Nature (Madagascar), University of Antananarivo, and MICET/ICTE (Madagascar).

Triassic crocodiles, dinosaur look-alikes


This 9 June 2020 video says about itself:

When Dinosaur Look-Alikes Ruled the Earth

There were a huge number of croc-like animals that flourished during the Triassic Period. Dinosaurs had just arrived on the scene but it was these animals that truly ruled the Earth, becoming both abundant and diverse.

Permian-Triassic mass extinction and biodiversity


This 2018 video says about itself:

The Permian Extinction

252 million years ago 96% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species vanished, this was the Permian extinction the second greatest mass extinction the earth has ever witnessed.

From the University of Leeds in England:

Permo-Triassic biodiversity patterns could offer a window into our climate future

June 17, 2020

A new study by the University of Leeds and University of Oxford has examined spatial biodiversity patterns across the Permo-Triassic mass extinction event (c. 252 million years ago). The Permo-Triassic mass extinction represents the most catastrophic event in the last 500 million years of evolutionary history and caused the loss of up 95% of species because of a cocktail of volcanic effects including extreme greenhouse warming.

Examination of the global distribution of tetrapods — amphibians, reptiles and their relatives — reveals that biodiversity was consistently higher at temperate latitudes, both before and after the mass extinction. This is in strong contrast to the modern day, where the greatest levels of biodiversity are found in the low latitudes of the tropics, near the equator.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows how patterns of biodiversity can respond when temperatures in tropical regions become too extreme to support high levels of biodiversity. Examining the responses of organisms to rapid climatic changes in the distant past can offer a window into the potential impact of future global warming.

Study lead author Bethany Allen, PhD researcher at the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, said: “Higher equatorial diversity has been recognised for over 200 years, but the consistency of this pattern throughout Earth history has been uncertain.

“The Late Permian to Middle Triassic is an ideal time interval to examine biodiversity trends. It is characterised by large-scale volcanic episodes, extreme greenhouse temperatures, and the most severe mass extinction event in Earth’s history.

“Our study shows that the regions we now associate with some of the richest and most diverse ecosystems on Earth were once too hot to support communities of large animals, likely reaching over 40°C. In the face of a rapidly warming planet, this window into our past could offer a glimpse into the future of those regions and the very real risk to the species that live there if we do not act to curb our carbon emissions and limit global warming.”

Oldest dinosaur eggs were like turtle eggs


This 2009 video says about itself:

Dinosaur Eggs & Babies

Recent discoveries of dinosaur eggs, nests, and even embryos, are providing new evidence to unlock the mysteries of dinosaur reproductive behavior.

This educational program explores the mysteries of dinosaur reproduction with animation and interviews with renowned dinosaur experts including Robert Bakker, Philip Currie, Mark Norell, and others.

Were dinosaurs social animals? Did they care for their young? What was life like for baby dinosaurs? These are some of the intriguing questions addressed in this informative program.

From the American Museum of Natural History in the USA:

First dinosaur eggs were soft like a turtle’s

New study suggests that hard eggshells evolved at least three times in dinosaur family tree

June 17, 2020

New research suggests that the first dinosaurs laid soft-shelled eggs — a finding that contradicts established thought. The study, led by the American Museum of Natural History and Yale University and published today in the journal Nature, applied a suite of sophisticated geochemical methods to analyze the eggs of two vastly different non-avian dinosaurs and found that they resembled those of turtles in their microstructure, composition, and mechanical properties. The research also suggests that hard-shelled eggs evolved at least three times independently in the dinosaur family tree.

“The assumption has always been that the ancestral dinosaur egg was hard-shelled,” said lead author Mark Norell, chair and Macaulay Curator in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology. “Over the last 20 years, we’ve found dinosaur eggs around the world. But for the most part, they only represent three groups — theropod dinosaurs, which includes modern birds, advanced hadrosaurs like the duck-bill dinosaurs, and advanced sauropods, the long-necked dinosaurs. At the same time, we’ve found thousands of skeletal remains of ceratopsian dinosaurs, but almost none of their eggs. So why weren’t their eggs preserved? My guess — and what we ended up proving through this study — is that they were soft-shelled.”

Amniotes — the group that includes birds, mammals, and reptiles — produce eggs with an inner membrane or “amnion” that helps to prevent the embryo from drying out. Some amniotes, such as many turtles, lizards, and snakes, lay soft-shelled eggs, whereas others, such as birds, lay eggs with hard, heavily calcified shells. The evolution of these calcified eggs, which offer increased protection against environmental stress, represents a milestone in the history of the amniotes, as it likely contributed to reproductive success and so the spread and diversification of this group. Soft-shelled eggs rarely preserve in the fossil record, which makes it difficult to study the transition from soft to hard shells. Because modern crocodilians and birds, which are living dinosaurs, lay hard-shelled eggs, this eggshell type has been inferred for all non-avian dinosaurs.

The researchers studied embryo-containing fossil eggs belonging to two species of dinosaur: Protoceratops, a sheep-sized plant-eating dinosaur that lived in what is now Mongolia between about 75 and 71 million years ago, and Mussaurus, a long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur that grew to 20 feet in length and lived between 227 and 208.5 million years ago in what is now Argentina.

The exceptionally preserved Protoceratops specimen includes a clutch of at least 12 eggs and embryos, six of which preserve nearly complete skeletons. Associated with most of these embryos — which have their backbones and limbs flexed — consistent with the position the animals would assume while growing inside of the egg — is a diffuse black-and-white egg-shaped halo that obscures some of the skeleton. In contrast, two potentially hatched Protoceratops newborns in the specimen are largely free of the mineral halos. When they took a closer look at these halos with a petrographic microscope and chemically characterized the egg samples with high-resolution in situ Raman microspectroscopy, the researchers found chemically altered residues of the proteinaceous eggshell membrane that makes up the innermost eggshell layer of all modern archosaur eggshells. The same was true for the Mussaurus specimen. And when they compared the molecular biomineralization signature of the dinosaur eggs with eggshell data from other animals, including lizards, crocodiles, birds, and turtles, they determined that the Protoceratops and Mussaurus eggs were indeed non-biomineralized — and, therefore, leathery and soft.

“It’s an exceptional claim, so we need exceptional data,” said study author and Yale graduate student Jasmina Wiemann. “We had to come up with a brand-new proxy to be sure that what we were seeing was how the eggs were in life, and not just a result of some strange fossilization effect. We now have a new method that can be applied to all other sorts of questions, as well as unambiguous evidence that complements the morphological and histological case for soft-shelled eggs in these animals.”

With data on the chemical composition and mechanical properties of eggshells from 112 other extinct and living relatives, the researchers then constructed a “supertree” to track the evolution of the eggshell structure and properties through time, finding that hard-shelled, calcified eggs evolved independently at least three times in dinosaurs, and probably developed from an ancestrally soft-shelled type.

“From an evolutionary perspective, this makes much more sense than previous hypotheses, since we’ve known for a while that the ancestral egg of all amniotes was soft,” said study author and Yale graduate student Matteo Fabbri. “From our study, we can also now say that the earliest archosaurs — the group that includes dinosaurs, crocodiles, and pterosaurs — had soft eggs. Up to this point, people just got stuck using the extant archosaurs — crocodiles and birds — to understand dinosaurs.”

Because soft eggshells are more sensitive to water loss and offer little protection against mechanical stressors, such as a brooding parent, the researchers propose that they were probably buried in moist soil or sand and then incubated with heat from decomposing plant matter, similar to some reptile eggs today.

Other authors on this paper include Congyu Yu from the American Museum of Natural History; Claudia Marsicano from the University of Buenos Aires; Anita Moore-Nall and David Varricchio from Montana State University; Diego Pol from the Museum of Paleontology Egidio Feruglio, Argentina; and Darla K. Zelenitsky from the University of Calgary.

Ancient Triassic woodlouse discovery in Dutch Winterswijk


Winterswijk quarry with reconstruction drawing of Gelrincola winterswijkensis.  © Photo: Herman Winkelhorst, drawing by Erik-Jan Bosch (Naturalis Biodiversity Center)

Gelrincola winterswijkensis, A: Light microscope photo. B: Fluorescence microscope photo. C: Interpretative drawing. © Mario Schädel & prof. dr. Joachim Haug, Bulletin of Geosciences

Translated from Utrecht University in the Netherlands today:

Oldest woodlouse in the Netherlands discovered in Winterswijk quarry

A fossil woodlouse from the Triassic age, aged between 247 and 242 million years, has been discovered in the Winterswijk quarry. Never before has such an old woodlouse fossil been found in the Netherlands. It also turns out to be a new species. The find is extra special because fossil woodlice are extremely rare: until recently only nine species from the Triassic were known worldwide. The special fossil can be admired from 8 June on in Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

Woodlice do not only live in dark places or under stones: about half of all woodlouse species live in the sea. This in itself is not remarkable since woodlice are closely related to crabs and lobsters. The Winterswijk woodlouse also lived in the sea. The researchers named the new species Gelrincola winterswijkensis after the fossil site.

Gelrincola means ‘inhabitant of Gelderland province’.

The first woodlice appeared about 300 million years ago, during the Carboniferous. There are not many remains as ancient as Gelrincola winterswijkensis. Only ten species of woodlice are known from before the Triassic. More woodlice species are known from the eras after the Triassic. Today, more than ten thousand species of these crustaceans live.

The Winterswijk animal originates from the middle Triassic, a period of 247 to 242 million years ago. Back then Winterswijk was located on the edge of a large inland sea, the so-called Muschelkalk Sea. Along the coast of this Muschelkalk Sea there were extensive tidal plains where many remains of animals have been preserved in the lime mud. In Winterswijk you will find fossils from the sea as well as remains of animals that lived on land.

This yields a wide variety of fossils, including marine reptiles (such as Nothosaurus), fish, seashells, snails, ammonites, lobsters, a horseshoe crab, plant remains, pollen grains, footprints of terrestrial reptiles, and even fossil insects. So now a marine woodlouse can be added to this fossil biodiversity. This creates an increasingly complete picture of the ecosystem of the time. …

In our country, rocks from that interesting period only occur in the Winterswijk quarry.

This summer Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Utrecht University will continue to search for fossils there. A new visitors centre will be built next to the quarry, where the most important fossils from the quarry will be exhibited.

Lisowicia, big extinct Polish mammal-like reptile


This 8 May 2020 video says about itself:

Lisowicia – The Polish Turtle Dragon

The single largest species of Dicynodonts was described last year. It wasn’t altogether extraordinary for weird crests, lumps, spines, or claws, but what it means by its sheer size is quite important for the evolution of mammals and dinosaurs.

Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction, new research


This March 2019 video is called End-of-Triassic Extinction, by Megan Doyle & Leah Gordon.

From McGill University in Canada:

Volcanic carbon dioxide emissions helped trigger Triassic climate change

Study offers sobering warning on the impact of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere

April 14, 2020

A new study finds volcanic activity played a direct role in triggering extreme climate change at the end of the Triassic period 201 million year ago, wiping out almost half of all existing species. The amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from these volcanic eruptions is comparable to the amount of CO2 expected to be produced by all human activity in the 21st century.

The end-Triassic extinction has long been thought to have been caused by dramatic climate change and rising sea levels. While there was large-scale volcanic activity at the time, known as the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province eruptions, the role it played in directly contributing to the extinction event is debated. In a study for Nature Communications, an international team of researchers, including McGill professor Don Baker, found evidence of bubbles of carbon dioxide trapped in volcanic rocks dating to the end of the Triassic, supporting the theory that volcanic activity contributed to the devastating climate change believed to cause the mass extinction.

The researchers suggest that the end-Triassic environmental changes driven by volcanic carbon dioxide emissions may have been similar to those predicted for the near future. By analysing tiny gas exsolution bubbles preserved within the rocks, the team estimates that the amount of carbon emissions released in a single eruption — comparable to 100,000 km3 of lava spewed over 500 years — is likely equivalent to the total produced by all human activity during the 21st century, assuming a 2C rise in global temperature above pre-industrial levels.

“Although we cannot precisely determine the total amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when these volcanoes erupted, the correlation between this natural injection of carbon dioxide and the end-Triassic extinction should be a warning to us. Even a slight possibility that the carbon dioxide we are now putting into the atmosphere could cause a major extinction event is enough to make me worried,” says professor of earth and planetary sciences Don Baker.