WFS News: Atopodentatus unicus: Earth’s Earliest Herbivorous Marine Reptile

Nearly two years ago, an international team of paleontologists discovered a bizarre fossil — Atopodentatus unicus, a 10 feet (3 m) long marine reptile that lived in what is now China 247 to 242 million years ago (Middle Triassic).

Atopodentatus unicus’ head was poorly preserved, but it seemed to have a flamingo-like ‘beak.’

But according to a new paper, published in the journal Science Advances, that beak is actually part of a hammerhead-shaped jaw apparatus, whichAtopodentatus unicus used to feed on plants on the ocean floor.

It’s the earliest known example of a plant-eating marine reptile.

Life restoration of Atopodentatus unicus. Image credit: Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Life restoration of Atopodentatus unicus. Image credit: Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

“The wide jaw of Atopodentatus unicus was shaped like a hammerhead, and along the edge, it had peg-like teeth. Then, further into its mouth, it had bunches of needle-like teeth,” said co-author Dr. Olivier Rieppel from Field Museum in Chicago.

“That arrangement wouldn’t have been too useful for chewing prey.”

To figure out how Atopodentatus unicus’ jaw fit together and how the reptile actually fed, the scientists bought some children’s clay and rebuilt it with toothpicks to represent the teeth.

Prepared skulls of the newly-discovered specimens of Atopodentatus unicus. Scale bar – 2 cm. Image credit: Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Prepared skulls of the newly-discovered specimens of Atopodentatus unicus. Scale bar – 2 cm. Image credit: Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

“We looked at how the upper and lower jaw locked together, and that’s how we proceeded and described it,” Dr. Rieppel said.

The verdict: Atopodentatus unicus used its bizarre jaw to help it eat plants.

Atopodentatus unicus used its front teeth to nip algae or other plants from rocky surfaces and then, with its mouth closed, forced mouthfuls of water through its side teeth, which acted as a filter trapping the plants and letting the water back out, like how whales filter-feed with their baleen,” Dr. Rieppel explained.

Not only does this discovery solve the mystery of the strange-toothedAtopodentatus unicus, but it also provides us with an example of the first herbivorous marine reptile.

“The jaw structure is clearly that of an herbivore. It has similarities to other marine animals that ate plants with a filter-feeding system, but Atopodentatus unicus is older than them by about 8 million years,” Dr. Rieppel said.

This reptile also helps tell a bigger story about the world’s largest mass extinction 252 million years ago.

“Animals living the years surrounding the Permian-Triassic extinction help us see how life on Earth reacted to that event,” Dr. Rieppel said.

“The existence of specialized animals like Atopodentatus unicus shows us that life recovered and diversified more quickly than previously thought. And it’s definitely a reptile that no one would have thought to exist.”

Courtesy: Li Chun et al. 2016. The earliest herbivorous marine reptile and its remarkable jaw apparatus. Science Advances, vol. 2, no. 5, e1501659; doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1501659

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WFS NEWS: Pterosaur flies safely home after 95 million years

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With the help of University of Alberta scientists, a newly described pterosaur has finally flown home. This spectacular fossil material was discovered in a private Lebanese limestone quarry more than a decade ago and has led to what UAlberta paleontologist Michael Caldwell calls “priceless scientific findings.”

Michael Caldwell (L) and Philip Currie (R) pictured with the pterosaur before its return to Lebanon Credit: U of Alberta

Michael Caldwell (L) and Philip Currie (R) pictured with the pterosaur before its return to Lebanon
                                                                           Credit: U of Alberta

“This is the first complete pterosaur from Lebanon and the very first pterosaur from this age of marine-deposited rocks,” says Caldwell of the new genus and species, whose name is yet to be revealed. The animal lived in the Cenomanian era — 95 million years ago during the lowest part of the Upper Cretaceous — in the middle of what is now called the Tethys Seaway, a vast expanse of shallow seaway filled with reefs and lagoons, separating Europe from Africa and stretching all the way to southeast Asia. “That chunk of ocean was huge — think 10 or 20 times the size of the Great Barrier Reef and chock-full of living things. I’m sure our little pterosaur was living on one of the reef islands.”

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The extremely fragile yet nearly perfectly preserved fossil was split into two pieces when it was discovered in its slab of limestone rock. Though the limestone quarries leftover from the ancient oceans are famously filled with fossil fish, this is the first ever complete pterosaur discovered in that region. Besides a fracture to the skull from the pick axe of a quarry worker, the skull is intact, as are the wings, legs, and body. “It is in immaculate condition as a result of a lot of delicate preparation work,” says Caldwell. “We can really see how this animal was built. It’s a nice little piece of science and a great story about rescuing this specimen from certain doom.”

The University of Alberta has long dominated the field of vertebrate paleontology, and the quarry owner allowed a team of experts to prepare and describe the specimen with the intent that it would one day be sold — an activity that is legal in Lebanon. Caldwell teamed up with his University of Alberta colleague, dinosaur paleobiologist Philip Currie along with lead authors Alexander Kellner from the National Museum in Brazil and Fabio Dalla Vecchia in Italy. The group has described the new species and genus, and scientific results are forthcoming in a prestigious journal.

From one university to another

Following a decade of stewardship at the University of Alberta, the quarry owner recently sold the pterosaur. The buyer subsequently donated the specimen to the Mineralogy Museum at Saint Joseph’s University in Beirut — the oldest university in Lebanon — to become the centrepiece of their Lebanese vertebrate fossil exhibition.

For his part, Caldwell is pleased to see that the specimen will not only continue to be used for teaching and research but also that it will be publicly exhibited back in its home country of Lebanon. A cast of the specimen now resides at the University of Alberta.

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Citation:University of Alberta. “Pterosaur flies safely home after 95 million years.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 June 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com

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WFS News: Dinosaur-era fossils unearthed in Antarctica

An international research team just made a big fossil discovery in Antarctica, unearthing a haul of remains that date between 67 million and 71 million years old.

“We found a lot of really great fossils,” Steve Salisbury, of the University of Queensland School of Biological Sciences, said in a press release. “The rocks the were focusing on come from the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.”

Salisbury was one of 12 scientists who traveled to the James Ross Island area in a research trip that lasted from February through March. The research was funded through the National Science Foundation and the United States Antarctic Program. Salisbury was part of a research team that included scientists from the U.S., South Africa and Australia.

A member of the research team holds one of their finds in Antarctica. UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND/VIMEO

A member of the research team holds one of their finds in Antarctica.                                                                                        UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND/VIMEO

Given that they were looking at shallow marine rocks, most of the fossils they found were of ancient ocean-dwelling animals.

“We did find a lot of marine reptile remains, so things like plesiosaurs and mosasaurs — a type of marine lizard made famous by the recent film ‘JurassicWorld,’” he added.

The team also found a few dinosaur remains as well. They hope to publish those findings separately in the future.Right now, the fossils are in Chile, but will soon be shipped to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for further study.

Salisbury stressed that a lot of the larger bones will need more preparation before research can be conducted on them, and added that it might be “a year or two” before final results of the research are released.

The research trip was a little “Indiana Jones” in its globetrotting. To get to the research area, the team had to first fly to South America and then reach the Antarctic peninsula by ship. They used helicopters and inflatable boats to ultimately reach the shore.

“Crossing the Drake Passage can be kind of rough — some of the biggest seas in the world occur in that area — so most of us just bunkered down for the time we were crossing it,” Salisbury recounted. “I’ve tried to get to Antarctica to do this research several times before, but sea ice has prevented us from making land.”

Salisbury added that the discovery of this fossil haul lays the groundwork for more expeditions in the future.

“We found a lot of new ground to continue the search,” he added. “So, we’d all really love to get back down there at some point soon.”

Citation: Article By BRIAN MASTROIANNI CBS NEWS

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WFS News: ‘Fossil’ meteorite was from asteroid smash-up

Scientists have identified a completely new type of meteorite.

The 8cm space rock is said to be chemically distinct from any of the 50,000 other such objects held in collections.Called Österplana 65, it was found in a limestone quarry in Thorsberg, Sweden, that produces floor tiles.Dating suggests the meteorite’s parent body was involved in a huge collision in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter some 470 million years ago.

This would have been the same smash-up that produced a large class of other rocks known as L chondrites, Birger Schmitz and colleagues tell the journal Nature Communications.

he chemistry of the meteorite is distinct from anything in the catalogues

                        The chemistry of the meteorite is distinct from anything in the catalogues

The L chondrites are picked up in significant quantities in the Thorsberg sediments of Ordovician age – a period in Earth history when the Northern Hemisphere was largely under water and marine lifeforms such as the trilobites were flourishing.Dr Schmitz’ team has recovered more than a hundred of these “fossil” objects in the quarry. But the new meteorite stands out because geochemically its oxygen and chromium signatures are distinct.

“We’ve been hunting these Ordovician meteorites for 25 years. We found 50, then 60, then 70 – and it was getting boring,” he told BBC News.

“Then in 2011, we found one meteorite that was entirely different. For a long time we called it ‘the mysterious object’ because it didn’t resemble anything. For five years, we have done all types of analysis and now we’re certain of what it is.”

The meteorites are deemed to spoil the floor tiles and will be rejected by the quarry

        The meteorites are deemed to spoil the floor tiles and will be rejected by the quarry

The hypothesis is that Öst 65 comes from the “second asteroid” in the collision.The scientists can make this claim because of the results of so-called cosmogenic dating.This is a technique that will reveal how long the fresh surface of a broken object has been exposed to space radiation.Impacts from high energy particles generate particular types, or isotopes, of atoms in the rock – in this case, it is forms of helium and neon.

The more of these isotopes that are present, the greater the time since the fragmentation event.When this dating is done for the L chondrites and Öst 65, the exposure times line up.

“We show that Öst 65 was liberated from its parent body at the same time as the L chondrites were released from their parent body, and that’s very strong empirical evidence that this new meteorite comes from the same impact,” said Dr Schmitz.

The discovery reinforces the idea that different types of meteorite have fallen to Earth through geological time; that the space rocks we find on the surface of our planet today reflect a somewhat different Solar System to the one that existed 500 million years ago.Dr Schmitz refers to Öst 65 as an “extinct meteorite”. Just as the trilobites eventually died out, so other members of the Öst 65 family are likely only to be found in fossil sediments like those at Thorsberg.Dr Schmitz’ meteorite hunt in the quarry is certainly more interesting now: “It used to be that they threw away the floor tiles that had ugly black dots in them. One of my co-authors on the paper, Mario Tassinari, contacted the quarry owners to ask them not to do that. The very first fossil meteorite we found was in one of their dumps.”

Courtesy: Article by 

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WFS News: Last dinosaur before mass extinction discovered

A team of scientists has discovered the youngest dinosaur preserved in the fossil record before the catastrophic meteor impact 65 million years ago. The finding indicates that dinosaurs did not go extinct prior to the impact and provides further evidence as to whether the impact was in fact the cause of their extinction.

Researchers from Yale University discovered the fossilized horn of a ceratopsian — likely a Triceratops, which are common to the area — in the Hell Creek formation in Montana last year. They found the fossil buried just five inches below the K-T boundary, the geological layer that marks the transition from the Cretaceous period to the Tertiary period at the time of the mass extinction that took place 65 million years ago.

Three small primitive mammals walk over a Triceratops skeleton, one of the last dinosaurs to exist before the mass extinction that gave way to the age of mammals. Credit: Mark Hallett

Three small primitive mammals walk over a Triceratops skeleton, one of the last dinosaurs to exist before the mass extinction that gave way to the age of mammals.   Credit: Mark Hallett

Since the impact hypothesis for the demise of the dinosaurs was first proposed more than 30 years ago, many scientists have come to believe the meteor caused the mass extinction and wiped out the dinosaurs, but a sticking point has been an apparent lack of fossils buried within the 10 feet of rock below the K-T boundary. The seeming anomaly has come to be known as the “three-meter gap.” Until now, this gap has caused some paleontologists to question whether the non-avian dinosaurs of the era — which included Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, Torosaurus and the duckbilled dinosaurs — gradually went extinct sometime before the meteor struck. (Avian dinosaurs survived the impact, and eventually gave rise to modern-day birds.)

“This discovery suggests the three-meter gap doesn’t exist,” said Yale graduate student Tyler Lyson, director of the Marmarth Research Foundation and lead author of the study, published online July 12 in the journal Biology Letters. “The fact that this specimen was so close to the boundary indicates that at least some dinosaurs were doing fine right up until the impact.”

While the team can’t determine the exact age of the dinosaur, Lyson said it likely lived tens of thousands to just a few thousand years before the impact. “This discovery provides some evidence that dinosaurs didn’t slowly die out before the meteor struck,” he said.

Eric Sargis, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and graduate student Stephen Chester discovered the ceratopsian last year while searching for fossilized mammals that evolved after the meteor impact. At first, Lyson said, the team thought it was buried within about three feet of the K-T boundary, but were surprised to learn just how close to the boundary — and hence, how close in time to the impact — it was. They sent soil samples to a laboratory to determine the exact location of the boundary, which is marked by the relative abundance of certain types of fossilized pollen and other geological indicators but is difficult to determine visually while in the field.

Because the dinosaur was buried in a mudstone floodplain, the team knew it hadn’t been re-deposited from older sediments, which can sometimes happen when fossils are found in riverbeds that may have eroded and re-distributed material over time.

The team is now examining other fossil specimens that appear to be buried close to the K-T boundary and expect to find more, Lyson said. He suspects that other fossils discovered in the past may have been closer to the boundary than originally thought and that the so-called three-meter gap never existed.

“We should be able to verify that using the more sophisticated soil analysis technique rather than estimating the boundary’s location based solely on a visual examination of the rock formations while in the field, which is what has typically been done in the past,” Lyson said.

Other authors of the paper include Eric Sargis and Stephen Chester (Yale University); Antoine Bercovici (China University of Geosciences); Dean Pearson (Pioneer Trails Regional Museum) and Walter Joyce (University of Tübingen).

Citation: Yale University. “Last dinosaur before mass extinction discovered.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 July 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110712211016.htm

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If Dung Beetles (Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae) Arose in Association with Dinosaurs, Did They Also Suffer a Mass Co-Extinction at the K-Pg Boundary?

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The evolutionary success of beetles and numerous other terrestrial insects is generally attributed to co-radiation with flowering plants but most studies have focused on herbivorous or pollinating insects. Non-herbivores represent a significant proportion of beetle diversity yet potential factors that influence their diversification have been largely unexamined. In the present study, we examine the factors driving diversification within the Scarabaeidae, a speciose beetle family with a range of both herbivorous and non-herbivorous ecologies. In particular, it has been long debated whether the key event in the evolution of dung beetles (Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae) was an adaptation to feeding on dinosaur or mammalian dung. Here we present molecular evidence to show that the origin of dung beetles occurred in the middle of the Cretaceous, likely in association with dinosaur dung, but more surprisingly the timing is consistent with the rise of the angiosperms.

 

Bayesian Phylogeny of scarab beetles (Scarabaeidae). Taxa color-coded by scarab subfamily, with outgroups in grey (superfamily) and black (other beetles). Grey circles indicate polyphagous (P) and saprophagous (S) lifestyles. White circles represent the node priors A-S as per Table 2.* represents nodes for which divergence dates are inferred. See also S1 Fig for posterior probability and terminal names.

Bayesian Phylogeny of scarab beetles (Scarabaeidae).
Taxa color-coded by scarab subfamily, with outgroups in grey (superfamily) and black (other beetles). Grey circles indicate polyphagous (P) and saprophagous (S) lifestyles. White circles represent the node priors A-S as per Table 2.* represents nodes for which divergence dates are inferred. See also S1 Fig for posterior probability and terminal names.

We hypothesize that the switch in dinosaur diet to incorporate more nutritious and less fibrous angiosperm foliage provided a palatable dung source that ultimately created a new niche for diversification. Given the well-accepted mass extinction of non-avian dinosaurs at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, we examine a potential co-extinction of dung beetles due to the loss of an important evolutionary resource, i.e., dinosaur dung. The biogeography of dung beetles is also examined to explore the previously proposed “out of Africa” hypothesis. Given the inferred age of Scarabaeinae as originating in the Lower Cretaceous, the major radiation of dung feeders prior to the Cenomanian, and the early divergence of both African and Gondwanan lineages, we hypothesise that that faunal exchange between Africa and Gondwanaland occurred during the earliest evolution of the Scarabaeinae. Therefore we propose that both Gondwanan vicariance and dispersal of African lineages is responsible for present day distribution of scarabaeine dung beetles and provide examples.

Citation: Gunter NL, Weir TA, Slipinksi A, Bocak L, Cameron SL (2016) If Dung Beetles (Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae) Arose in Association with Dinosaurs, Did They Also Suffer a Mass Co-Extinction at the K-Pg Boundary? PLoS ONE 11(5): e0153570. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0153570

Editor: Ben J. Mans, Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute, SOUTH AFRICA

WFS NEWS: Martharaptor greenriverensis, a New Theropod Dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Utah

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Citation:Senter P, Kirkland JI, DeBlieux DD (2012) Martharaptor greenriverensis, a New Theropod Dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Utah. PLoS ONE 7(8): e43911. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043911Editor: Peter Dodson, University of Pennsylvania, United States of America

Therizinosaurs are an unusual group of Therapod Dinosaurs known from the Cretaceous of Asia and North America (with one dubious fossil from the Early Jurassic of China), usually placed within the Maniraptors, which makes them closely related to the early Birds. Unlike most Therapods they had well developed forelimbs with a wide range of movement and strongly curved claws and dentition suited to a vegetarian diet.
martha raptor greenriverensis

   martha raptor greenriverensis

In a paper published in the journal PLoS One on 29 August 2012, Phil Senter of the Department of Biological Sciences at Fayetteville State University and James Kirkland and Donald DeBlieux of the Utah Geological Survey describe a new species of Therizinosaur from the Early Cretaceous Cedar Mountain Formation of western Utah.

The new dinosaur is named Martharaptor greenriverensis, or Martha’s Raptor from Green River, in honour of Martha Hayden, who co-discovered the site that produced Martharaptor greenriverensis (now named the Hayden-Corbett Site) and has served as the assistant to three successive state paleontologists of Utah over a period of about 25 years (including the current office holder, James Kirkland).
The new dinosaur is described on the basis of three partial vertebrae, a radius and partial ulna (lower arm bones) a number of hand bones, the left scapula (shoulder blade), part of the ischium (part of the hip), a bone which might be part of the pubis (also part of the hip), several foot bones and a large amount of fragmentary bone material.
Manual bones of Martharaptor greenriverensis. (A)–Presumed metacarpal I. (B)–Presumed phalanx I-1. (C)– Penultimate phalanx. (D) Penultimate phalanx. (E)–Unidentified phalanx. (F)–Unidentified phalanx. (G)–Ungual of digit I. (H)–Ungual of digit I. (I)– Ungual of digit II. (J)–Ungual of digit II. (K)–Ungual of digit III. (L)–Ungual of digit III. Scale bar = 50 mm. Numbers on sub-figures refer to proximal (1), distal (2), dorsal (3), palmar (4), and side (5) views; for side views, whether the side is medial or lateral cannot be determined. Senter et al. (2012).

Manual bones of Martharaptor greenriverensis. (A)–Presumed metacarpal I. (B)–Presumed phalanx I-1. (C)– Penultimate phalanx. (D) Penultimate phalanx. (E)–Unidentified phalanx. (F)–Unidentified phalanx. (G)–Ungual of digit I. (H)–Ungual of digit I. (I)– Ungual of digit II. (J)–Ungual of digit II. (K)–Ungual of digit III. (L)–Ungual of digit III. Scale bar = 50 mm. Numbers on sub-figures refer to proximal (1), distal (2), dorsal (3), palmar (4), and side (5) views; for side views, whether the side is medial or lateral cannot be determined. Senter et al. (2012).

 

Vertebrae, scapula, forelimb bones, and pelvic bones of Martharaptor greenriverensis. (A)–Partial cervical neural arch, dorsal view. (B–E)–Cranial dorsal centrum in cranial (B), caudal (C), right lateral (D), and left lateral (E) views. (F–G)–Distal caudal centrum in lateral (F) and ventral (G) views. (H)–Possible ulna. (I)–Possible radius. (J–K)–Left scapula in lateral (J) and medial (K) views. (L)–Proximal end of ischium. (M)–Possible distal end of pubis Scale bar = 50 mm. acr = acromium process, ar = acetabular rim, gl = glenoid, hyp = hypapophysis, poz = postzygapophysis, pnp = pneumatopore, prz = prezygapophysis. Senter et al. (2012).

Vertebrae, scapula, forelimb bones, and pelvic bones of Martharaptor greenriverensis. (A)–Partial cervical neural arch, dorsal view. (B–E)–Cranial dorsal centrum in cranial (B), caudal (C), right lateral (D), and left lateral (E) views. (F–G)–Distal caudal centrum in lateral (F) and ventral (G) views. (H)–Possible ulna. (I)–Possible radius. (J–K)–Left scapula in lateral (J) and medial (K) views. (L)–Proximal end of ischium. (M)–Possible distal end of pubis Scale bar = 50 mm. acr = acromium process, ar = acetabular rim, gl = glenoid, hyp = hypapophysis, poz = postzygapophysis, pnp = pneumatopore, prz = prezygapophysis. Senter et al. (2012).

WFS NEWS: Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri shed light on the early evolution of ants

Ants comprise one lineage of the triumvirate of eusocial insects and experienced their early diversification within the Cretaceous. The success of ants is generally attributed to their remarkable social behavior. Recent studies suggest that the early branching lineages of extant ants formed small colonies of either subterranean or epigeic, solitary specialist predators.

The vast majority of Cretaceous ants belong to stem-group Formicidae and comprise workers and reproductives of largely generalized morphologies, and it is difficult to draw clear conclusions about their ecology, although recent discoveries from the Cretaceous suggest relatively advanced social levels.

This is a general dorsal view of holotype of new late Cretaceous worker ants Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri. Credit: Image by WANG Bo

            This is a general dorsal view of holotype of new late Cretaceous worker ants Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri.
                                                                                     Credit: Image by WANG Bo

Remarkable exceptions to this pattern of generalized morphologies are ants with bizarre mouthparts in which both female castes have modified heads and bladelike mandibles that uniquely move in a horizontal rather than vertical plane. Haidomyrmecines have puzzled evolutionary biologists as to their specific ecology, with the mandibles apparently acting as traps triggered by sensory hairs in a way distinct from that of modern trap-jaw ants.

Not all ants cooperate in social hunting, however, and some of the most effective predatory ants are solitary hunters with powerful trap jaws. Models of early ant evolution predict that the first ants were solitary specialist predators, but discoveries of Cretaceous fossils suggest group recruitment and socially advanced behavior among stem-group ants.

Dr. WANG Bo of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and his colleagues describe a new bizarre ant,Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri, from 99 million-year-old Burmese amber that displays a prominent cephalic horn and oversized, scythelike mandibles that extend high above the head. These structures presumably functioned as a highly specialized trap for large-bodied prey. The horn results from an extreme modification of the clypeus hitherto unseen among living and extinct ants, which demonstrates the presence of an exaggerated trap-jaw morphogenesis early among stem-group ants.

Together with other Cretaceous haidomyrmecine ants, the new fossil suggests that at least some of the earliest Formicidae were solitary specialist predators. In addition, it demonstrates that soon after the advent of ant societies in the Early Cretaceous, at least one lineage, the Haidomyrmecini, became adept at prey capture, independently arriving at morphological specializations that would be lost for millions of years after their disappearance near the close of the Mesozoic. The exaggerated condition in the new fossil reveals a proficiency for carriage of large-bodied prey to the exclusion of smaller, presumably easier-to-subdue prey, and highlights a more complex and diversified suite of ecological traits for the earliest ants.

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WFS NEWS: Underwater ‘lost city’ found to be geological formation

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The ancient underwater remains of a long lost Greek city were in fact created by a naturally occurring phenomenon — according to joint research from the University of East Anglia (UK) and the University of Athens (Greece).

When underwater divers discovered what looked like paved floors, courtyards and colonnades, they thought they had found the ruins of a long-forgotten civilization that perished when tidal waves hit the shores of the Greek holiday island Zakynthos.

But new research published today reveals that the site was created by a natural geological phenomenon that took place in the Pliocene era — up to five million years ago.

The ancient underwater remains of a long lost Greek city were in fact created by a naturally occurring phenomenon -- according to joint research from the University of East Anglia and the University of Athens (Greece). Credit: University of Athens

The ancient underwater remains of a long lost Greek city were in fact created by a naturally occurring phenomenon — according to joint research from the University of East Anglia and the University of Athens (Greece).
                                                                               Credit: University of Athens

Lead author Prof Julian Andrews, from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “The site was discovered by snorkelers and first thought to be an ancient city port, lost to the sea. There were what superficially looked like circular column bases, and paved floors. But mysteriously no other signs of life — such as pottery.”

The bizarre discovery, found close to Alikanas Bay, was carefully examined in situ by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of Greece.

Archaeologist Magda Athanasoula and diver Petros Tsampourakis studied the site, together with Prof Michael Stamatakis from the Department of Geology and Geoenvironment at the University of Athens (UoA).

After the preliminary mineralogical and chemical analyses, a scientific research team was formed, composed of UoA and UEA staff.

The research team went on to investigate in detail the mineral content and texture of the underwater formation in minute detail, using microscopy, X-ray and stable isotope techniques.

Prof Andrews said: “We investigated the site, which is between two and five meters under water, and found that it is actually a natural geologically occurring phenomenon.

“The disk and doughnut morphology, which looked a bit like circular column bases, is typical of mineralization at hydrocarbon seeps — seen both in modern seafloor and palaeo settings.

“We found that the linear distribution of these doughnut shaped concretions is likely the result of a sub-surface fault which has not fully ruptured the surface of the sea bed. The fault allowed gases, particularly methane, to escape from depth.

“Microbes in the sediment use the carbon in methane as fuel. Microbe-driven oxidation of the methane then changes the chemistry of the sediment forming a kind of natural cement, known to geologists as concretion.

“In this case the cement was an unusual mineral called dolomite which rarely forms in seawater, but can be quite common in microbe-rich sediments.

“These concretions were then exhumed by erosion to be exposed on the seabed today.

“This kind of phenomenon is quite rare in shallow waters. Most similar discoveries tend to be many hundreds and often thousands of meters deep underwater.

“These features are proof of natural methane seeping out of rock from hydrocarbon reservoirs. The same thing happens in the North Sea, and it is also similar to the effects of fracking, when humans essentially speed up or enhance the phenomena.”

WFS NEWS:Radix carbonica (320 MYO stem-cell fossil)

Key: WFS,World Fossil Society,Riffin T Sajeev,Russel T Sajeev

Scientists at Oxford University have discovered the oldest known population of plant root stem cells in a 320-million-year-old fossil.

The cells, which gave rise to the roots of an ancient plant, were found in a fossilized root tip held in the Oxford University Herbaria.

As well as revealing the oldest plant root stem cells identified to date, the research also marks the first time an actively growing fossilised root has been discovered — in effect, an ancient plant frozen in time.The study is published in the journal Current Biology.

The oldest fossilized remains of an actively growing plant root. Credit: Sandy Hetherington/Oxford University Herbaria

  The oldest fossilized remains of an actively growing plant root.Credit: Sandy Hetherington/Oxford University Herbaria

Oxford Plant Sciences PhD student Alexander (Sandy) Hetherington, who made the discovery during the course of his research, said: ‘I was examining one of the fossilised soil slides held at the University Herbaria as part of my research into the rooting systems of ancient trees when I noticed a structure that looked like the living root tips we see in plants today.

‘I began to realise that I was looking at a population of 320 million-year-old plant stem cells preserved as they were growing — and that it was the first time anything like this had ever been found.

‘It gives us a unique window into how roots developed hundreds of millions of years ago.’

Stem cells — self-renewing cells responsible for the formation of multicellular organisms — are located in plants at the tips of shoots and roots in groups called meristems. The 320 million-year-old stem cells discovered in Oxford are different to all those living today, with a unique pattern of cell division that remained unknown until now. That tells us that some of the mechanisms controlling root formation in plants and trees have now become extinct and may have been more diverse than thought.

These roots were important because they comprised the rooting structures of the plants growing in Earth’s first global tropical wetland forests with tall trees over 50m in height and were in part responsible for one of the most dramatic climate change events in history. The evolution of deep rooting systems increased the rate of chemical weathering of silicate minerals in rocks — a chemical reaction that pulled CO2 out of the atmosphere, leading to the cooling of Earth and thus one of the planet’s great ice ages.

The fossils studied during this research are the remains of the soil from the first giant tropical rainforests on Earth. The rock in which the soil is preserved formed in the Carboniferous swamps that gave rise to the coal sources spanning what is now Appalachia to central Europe, including the coal fields in Wales, northern England and Scotland.

Sandy has named the stem-cell fossil Radix carbonica (Latin for ‘coal root’).

Professor Liam Dolan, Head of the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford University and senior author of the paper, said: ‘These fossils demonstrate how the roots of these ancient plants grew for the first time. It is startling that something so small could have had such a dramatic effect on Earth’s climate.

‘This discovery also shows the importance of collections such as the Oxford University Herbaria — they are so valuable, and we need to maintain them for future generations.’