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.

Triassic tanystropheid reptile discovery in Brazil


This 2016 video says about itself:

Paleo Profile is back! Today we look a super-weird Triassic long-necked reptile, Tanystropheus! We will examine what this animal used its long neck for, what it ate, and where and how it lived.

Hope you enjoy!

Life restoration of Elessaurus gondwanoccidens, from the Sanga do Cabral Formation (Lower Triassic), Brazil. Credit: Márcio L. Castro

From PLOS:

New fossil from Brazil hints at the origins of the mysterious tanystropheid reptiles

New species named after Tolkien‘s Aragorn hints at early southern evolution for these reptiles

April 8, 2020

A new species of Triassic reptile from Brazil is a close cousin of a mysterious group called tanystropheids, according to a study published April 8, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Tiane De-Oliviera of the Federal University of Santa Maria, Brazil and colleagues.

After the Permian mass extinction, 250 million years ago, reptiles took over global ecosystems. Among the early groups to appear after this extinction event were the tanystropheids, a group of long-necked animals whose lifestyles are still mysterious, but who were nonetheless successful in the Triassic Period. However, the early evolution of this group is poorly understood, as their remains are very rare from the Early Triassic.

In this study, De-Oliviera and colleagues describe a new specimen of reptile from Early Triassic rocks of the Sanga do Cabral Formation in southern Brazil. Skeletal comparison indicates this specimen, known from remains of the hind leg, pelvis, and tail, is the closest known relative of tanystropheids. The researchers identified these remains as belonging to a new species, which they named Elessaurus gondwanoccidens. The name derives in part from the Elvish name (Elessar) of a character from Lord of the Rings also known as Aragorn or Strider, chosen as a reference to the fossil animal’s long legs.

Most tanystropheid fossils are found in Middle to Late Triassic rocks of Europe, Asia, and North America, and often in marine sediments. The presence of Elessaurus in continental deposits of Early Triassic South America suggests that the origins of this group may lie in the southern continents, and that their ancestors may have lived on land before later species adapted to aquatic life. A clearer view of the group’s origins will rely on more rare fossils from this early time in their evolution.

New Triassic thalattosaur species discovery in Alaska


This video says about itself:

A walk along the beach in the spring of 2011 led to the discovery of what might be a new species of ancient marine reptile. In May 2011, the earth sciences team from the University of Alaska Museum of the North excavated the thalattosaur fossil and brought it back to the museum to study. This is the story of that adventure and the quest to learn more about the fossil.

From the University of Alaska Fairbanks:

New thalattosaur species discovered in Southeast Alaska

Gunakadeit joseeae is the most complete thalattosaur ever found in North America

February 4, 2020

Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks have identified a new species of thalattosaur, a marine reptile that lived more than 200 million years ago.

The new species, Gunakadeit joseeae, is the most complete thalattosaur ever found in North America and has given paleontologists new insights about the thalattosaurs’ family tree, according to a paper published today in the journal Scientific Reports. Scientists found the fossil in Southeast Alaska in 2011.

Thalattosaurs were marine reptiles that lived more than 200 million years ago, during the mid to late Triassic Period, when their distant relatives — dinosaurs — were first emerging. They grew to lengths of up to 3-4 meters and lived in equatorial oceans worldwide until they died out near the end of the Triassic.

“When you find a new species, one of the things you want to do is tell people where you think it fits in the family tree,” said Patrick Druckenmiller, the paper’s lead author and director and earth sciences curator at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. “We decided to start from scratch on the family tree.”

Prior to the discovery of Gunakadeit joseeae, it had been two decades since scientists had thoroughly updated thalattosaur interrelationships, Druckenmiller said. The process of re-examining a prehistoric animal’s family tree involves analyzing dozens and dozens of detailed anatomical features from fossil specimens worldwide, then using computers to analyze the information to see how the different species could be related.

Druckenmiller said he and collaborator Neil Kelley from Vanderbilt University were surprised when they identified where Gunakadeit joseeae landed.

“It was so specialized and weird, we thought it might be out at the furthest branches of the tree,” he said. Instead, it’s a relatively primitive type of thalattosaur that survived late into the existence of the group.

“Thalattosaurs were among the first groups of land-dwelling reptiles to readapt to life in the ocean,” Kelley said. “They thrived for tens of millions of years, but their fossils are relatively rare so this new specimen helps fill an important gap in the story of their evolution and eventual extinction.”

That the fossil was found at all is remarkable. It was located in rocks in the intertidal zone. The site is normally underwater all but a few days a year. In Southeast Alaska, when extreme low tides hit, people head to the beaches to explore. That’s exactly what Jim Baichtal, a geologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Tongass National Forest, was doing on May 18, 2011, when low tides of -3.7 feet were predicted.

He and a few colleagues, including Gene Primaky, the office’s information technology professional, headed out to the Keku Islands near the village of Kake to look for fossils. Primaky saw something odd on a rocky outcrop and called over Baichtal, “Hey Jim! What is this?” Baichtal immediately recognized it as a fossilized intact skeleton. He snapped a photo with his phone and sent it to Druckenmiller.

A month later, the tides were forecasted to be almost that low, -3.1 feet, for two days. It was the last chance they would have to remove the fossil during daylight hours for nearly a year, so they had to move fast. The team had just four hours each day to work before the tide came in and submerged the fossil.

“We rock-sawed like crazy and managed to pull it out, but just barely,” Druckenmiller said. “The water was lapping at the edge of the site.”

Once the sample was back at the UA Museum of the North, a fossil preparation specialist worked in two-week stints over the course of several years to get the fossil cleaned up and ready for study.

When they saw the fossil’s skull, they could tell right away that it was something new because of its extremely pointed snout, which was likely an adaptation for the shallow marine environment where it lived.

“It was probably poking its pointy schnoz into cracks and crevices in coral reefs and feeding on soft-bodied critters,” Druckenmiller said. Its specialization may have been what ultimately led to its extinction. “We think these animals were highly specialized to feed in the shallow water environments, but when the sea levels dropped and food sources changed, they had nowhere to go.”

Once the fossil was identified as a new species, it needed a name. To honor the local culture and history, elders in Kake and representatives of Sealaska Corp. agreed the Tlingit name “Gunakadeit” would be appropriate. Gunakadeit is a sea monster of Tlingit legend that brings good fortune to those who see it. The second part of the new animal’s name, joseeae, recognizes Primaky’s mother, Joseé Michelle DeWaelheyns.

Walking With Dinosaurs BBC TV, how accurate?


This 3 November 2019 video on the Triassic says about itself:

The Scientific Accuracy of Walking With Dinosaurs – Episode 1: New Blood

20 years after it originally aired, how scientifically accurate is Walking With Dinosaurs?

This video is that episode of that BBC series.

Fern fossils and the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction


This video from the USA says about itself:

(9/27/2003) Host Steve Owens gives a tour of the Prehistoric Theme garden at the studio gardens, and talks a little about the ancient plants featured in it.

From Aarhus University in Denmark:

Mutated ferns shed light on ancient mass extinction

October 28, 2019

Most researchers believe that the mass extinction 201 million years ago was caused by release of CO2 by volcanism with global warming as a consequence. Now, new data from fern spores suggest there might have been more to it than that.

At the end of the Triassic around 201 million years ago, three out of four species on Earth disappeared. Up until now, scientists believed the cause of the catastrophe to be the onset of large-scale volcanism resulting in abrupt climate change. Now, new research suggest there might be several factors in play.

An international research team led by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) show that increased concentrations of the toxic element mercury in the environment contributed to the mass extinction. They recently published their finds in Science Advances.

“By looking at fern spores in sediments from the mass extinction, it was evident that these ferns were negatively affected by the mercury levels. Since mercury is accumulated in the food chain, it seems likely that other species have suffered as well,” says lead scientist Sofie Lindström.

“These results suggest that the end-Triassic mass extinction was not just caused by greenhouse gases from volcanoes causing global climate change, but that they also emitted toxins such as mercury wreaking havoc,” she says.

The mercury-volcano link

One of the co-authors of the study, Professor Hamed Sanei from Aarhus University, has previously demonstrated increased mercury levels from volcanism in a Large Igneous Province (LIP) during the most severe mass extinction known, the end-Permian crisis, where perhaps as much as 95% of life on Earth disappeared. Volcanic activity in LIPs is thought to be responsible for four of the five largest mass extinctions during the last 500 million years.

“Prior to industrialism, volcanic activity was the major release mechanism of large amounts of mercury from the Earth’s crust. That makes it possible to use mercury in sediments to trace major volcanic activity in the Earth’s past and in extent tie the extinctions of fossil organisms to LIP volcanism,” Hamed Sanei explains.

Other previous studies have shown elevated mercury concentrations in Triassic-Jurassic boundary sediments over a very large area stretching from Argentina to Greenland and from Nevada to Austria and that made the team curious about the impact on the end-Triassic event.

“We decided to examine whether mercury could have played a role,” Hamed Sanei says.

Fern spores as indicators

When looking at fern spores from core samples dating from 201 million years ago at the end of the Triassic the team indeed saw a link between increased mercury levels and mutations in the spores.

“During the mass extinction the mutated spores become increasingly common, and in turn the mutations get more and more severe. In some of my counts I found almost only mutated spores and no normal ones, which is very unusual,” Sofie Lindström explains.

This rise in mutations happened during a period of increased volcanic activity in a LIP called the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) leading to rising mercury levels. Since mercury is a mutagenic toxin, its’ increased distribution from the volcanic activity could help to explain the sudden deterioration of the ecosystem. Therefore, the fern spores could serve as indicators of increased mercury poisoning.

“This could hint to that the whole food chain might have been negatively affected,” says Sofie Lindström.

Previous studies have found increased amounts of malformed pollen during the end-Permian mass extinction 252 million years ago, which like the end-Triassic crisis is blamed on volcanism. These studies have suggested that the mutations during the end-Permian crisis were caused by increased UVB radiation, due to thinning of the ozone layer from the volcanism.

“This could also be a possible explanation for the mutations that we see during the end-Triassic crisis,” explains co-author Bas van de Schootbrugge from Utrecht University. “However, in our study we found only low amounts of mutated pollen, and during the end-Permian crisis spores do not appear to exhibit the same types of malformations registered during the end-Triassic mass extinction. This may indicate different causes for the plant mutations at the two events.”

Not a simple explanation

However, it is important not to lock on to just one cause when looking at a global crisis such as the end-Triassic event, says Sofie Lindström:

“Generally, we prefer simple explanations to mass extinctions such as meteorite impacts or climate change, but I don’t think it’s that simple. As our study suggests there could very well be a cocktail effect of CO2 and global warming, toxins like mercury, and other factors as well.”

Most of the prehistoric mass extinctions have indeed come in the wake of LIP volcanism, causing climate change and emitting toxic substances, Sofie Lindström says.

“Still, it is very difficult to say how big the importance of one factor is, because mass extinctions like this are very likely very complex events. Our study shows that mercury affected the ferns and likely also other plants, and it may also have had an impact on the entire food chain.”

Present pollution looks like past volcanism

The researchers point out that their study of the end-Triassic mass extinction in many ways draws parallels to the current global situation.

“Our global society emits a lot of the same substances and greenhouse gases as these huge volcanic provinces did during these mass extinctions. Therefore, studies in what happened back then might help us to prevent it from happening again,” says Sofie Lindström.

An emerging scientific consensus is that gases — in particular carbon gases — released by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago contributed to some of Earth’s greatest mass extinctions. But new research at The City College of New York suggests that that’s not the entire story. “The key finding of our research is that carbon from massive, ancient volcanic eruptions does not line up well with the geochemical clues that tell us about how some of Earth’s most profound mass extinctions occurred,” said Benjamin Black, assistant professor in CCNY’s Division of Science, whose expertise includes effects of volcanism on climate and mass extinctions: here.