WFS News: Surprise beach find adds missing piece to fossil record

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A beach can be a place of discovery. Broken shells, whimsical weathered bits of wood, flotsam from a foreign corner of the globe. You never know what treasure you might find.

Tapir Fossil at the Museum of the North (KTUU)

                            Tapir Fossil at the Museum of the North (KTUU)

In July of 2017, the Reising family of Seward, Alaska was enjoying a picnic lunch on a popular beach near Homer, Alaska, taking a break from a favorite hobby, beachcombing.

“We were looking for plant fossils,” said Kai Reising. He was five years old at the time and running late for lunch. As he joined the rest of his family, he spotted a rock almost under his Dad’s feet. “It looked like a piece of petrified wood and I picked it up,” he recalled.

It was a bread loaf-sized piece of brown sandstone. Kai thought it was interesting, so he passed it to his dad for a second opinion. George Reising, Kai’s father, is a science and math teacher at Seward High School. “We flipped it over and right on the bottom were all these teeth,” George Reising said.

Kai’s mom, Deb Klien, is a biologist. She homeschools Kai and his younger brother Silas. “We just had a lot of fun speculating on what it might be,” she said. That’s when everyone got excited– making guesses as to what type of animal Kai’s find might be.

On their way home to Seward, they stopped by a rock shop in Sterling, Alaska for an additional opinion. It was pointed out that there was coal present in the sandstone. That’s when George Reising knew what they had found was about 10 million years old. “All of our lights went on. And we said, wait a minute, this is not Pleistocene at all. This is something significant. Nothing in the record,” George Reising said.

Dr. Patrick Druckenmiller, Director of the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, explains why there would be something new to Alaska’s fossil record. “We have dinosaur fossils in Alaska up to about 69-70 million years ago. And we have ice age mammal fossils in Alaska about just several thousand years old. And in between is a big gap that we have almost nothing in terms of fossil vertebrates.”

The Reisings had met Druckenmiller on a trip to Fairbanks they made earlier in the year. So they sent him some pictures of the fossil. When he saw the pictures, his heart rate went up. “This was something we had never seen before,” Druckenmiller said. A hand-off of the rock was arranged and a basic identification of what had been found quickly followed. “These teeth are very distinctly Tapir Teeth,” Druckenmiller said.

Tapirs can still be found in some parts of South America but they are a fraction of the size of their fossilized cousin. “This is the first evidence of this group of animals ever found in the state of Alaska,” Druckenmiller said. He thinks it is possible this might even be a new species.

A dark spot on the fossil offers an important clue to Druckenmiller. “It is very clearly a fresh break and this is probably right where this was attached to more of the skull in the side of the hill before it weathered out and tumbled down the bluff.”

That speculation prompted a trip back to the Homer beach this past summer. Hopes were high of finding additional pieces of the Tapir. But a group of scientists couldn’t duplicate the luck of a 5-year-old boy and no other pieces were found.

Druckenmiller wasn’t surprised this important fossil was found by a family on a picnic. “A lot of major fossil finds, whether they be dinosaurs or mammals or whatever, they’re not made by professional paleontologists,” he said. “They’re made by people out walking on the beach or out hunting or out fishing… because they are out in a place people don’t normally go.”

Also, he adds, “Five-year-olds are a lot closer to the ground.”

Druckenmiller wants to remind people that fossils found on state land are property of the state. He says, if you find something interesting, you can help by taking lots of pictures of the find and of the area. And if possible, note the GPS coordinates.

Source: www.ktuu.com

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WFS News: Oldest Frog Relative from North America

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It’s possible that during the Triassic period, the crocodile-like phytosaur snapped at a frog-like creature, but missed. It’s a good thing it did, because 216 million years later, paleontologists have found the fossils of these tiny creatures, the oldest known frog relative from North America, a new study finds.

This frog — nicknamed the Chinle frog because it was found in the Chinle Formation of northern Arizona — is a big finding, but the creature itself was small, just over 0.5 inches (1.3 centimeters) long.

“The Chinle frog could fit on the end of your finger,” study lead researcher Michelle Stocker, an assistant professor of geosciences at Virginia Tech, said in a statement.

An artist’s interpretation of the newly discovered Chinle frog that’s dangling from the jaw of a phytosaur, a heavily armoured semi-aquatic reptile.Credit: Andrey Atuchin/Virginia Tech

The frog fossils were found next to the fossils of the crocodile-like phytosaur and those of early dinosaurs, the researchers said. The scientists, however, didn’t find entire frog skeletons, but rather a few fragmented ilium, or hip bones, from several of these ancient frogs during an excavation in May 2018. But they hope to find more of the frogs’ fossils soon, which is why they haven’t given the creature a scientific name yet.

They are still sifting through the dirt and rock excavated at the site, where they expect to find more skull and skeletal material from the frogs — findings they say will be more informative about the identity of this kind of creature, Stocker said.

The team noted that while Chinle specimens are distant relatives of frogs, they are not the direct ancestor of modern frogs. But they’re still salientians — a group that includes living frogs and their closely related, extinct relatives.

In fact, the Chinle frog is the oldest known salientian from near the equator, the researchers noted.

That’s because during the Triassic period, when these frog-like animals lived, Arizona wasn’t where it is today. Instead, the Grand Canyon state was once part of the supercontinent Pangaea and was located about 10 degrees north of the equator, the researchers said.

An analysis of the frogs’ hip bones shows that the species shares more features with modern frogs and Prosalirus, an early Jurassic frog discovered in the present-day Navajo Nation, than it does with Triadobatrachus, an early Triassic frog found in modern-day Madagascar.

“These are the oldest frogs from near the equator,” Stocker said. “The oldest frogs overall are roughly 250 million years old from Madagascarand Poland, but those specimens are from higher latitudes [than the Chinle frog] and not equatorial.”

The discovery of the Chinle frog may also be a sign of things to come. “Now [that] we know that tiny frogs were present approximately 215 million years ago from North America, we may be able to find other members of the modern vertebrate communities in the Triassic period,” study co-researcher Sterling Nesbitt, an assistant professor of geosciences at Virginia Tech, said in the statement.

The study was published online today (Feb. 27) in the journal Biology Letters.

Source: article by  Laura Geggel, Associate Editor, livescience.com

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WFS News: Computer simulations on swimming of Ichthyosaurs

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Using computer simulations and 3D models, palaeontologists from the University of Bristol have uncovered more detail on how Mesozoic sea dragons swam.

The research, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, sheds new light on their energy demands while swimming, showing that even the first ichthyosaurs had body shapes well adapted to minimise resistance and maximise volume, in a similar way to modern dolphins.

Digital models of the ichthyosaurs analysed in this study shown in their phylogenetic context. Simplified phylogeny

Digital models of the ichthyosaurs analysed in this study shown in their phylogenetic context. Simplified phylogeny

Ichthyosaurs are an extinct group of sea-going reptiles that lived during the Mesozoic Era, around 248-93.9 million years ago.

During their evolution, they changed shape substantially, from having narrow, lizard-like bodies to more streamlined fish-shaped bodies.

It was assumed that the change in body shape made them more efficient swimmers, especially by reducing the drag of the body, in other words, the resistance to movement.

Drag coefficients of nine ichthyosaurs and a modern analogue, the bottlenose dolphin. (a,b) CFD-computed total drag coefficients of nine ichthyosaurs and a bottlenose dolphin without (a) and with (b) limbs at Reynolds numbers from 106 to 5 × 107. (c,d) Comparison of the drag coefficients and their mean values (in grey) between taxa, without (c) and with (d) limbs; two-sample t-tests between groups not significant (NS). (e,f) Mean values of the drag coefficient of ichthyosaurs plotted against the mean occurrence age for each taxon, without (e) and with (f) fins; no correlation detected, Kendall's τ = −0.29, p = 0.28, NS (no limbs); Kendall's τ = −0.22, p = 0.39, NS (with limbs). Ichthyosaurs from the ‘basal grade’ are highlighted in yellow, the ‘intermediate grade’ in green and the ‘fish-shaped ichthyosaurs' in blue. The bottlenose dolphin Tursiops is highlighted in red. (g) Two-dimensional plots of flow velocity magnitude (Re = 5 × 106; inlet velocity of 5 m s−1).

Drag coefficients of nine ichthyosaurs and a modern analogue, the bottlenose dolphin. (a,b) CFD-computed total drag coefficients of nine ichthyosaurs and a bottlenose dolphin without (a) and with (b) limbs at Reynolds numbers from 106 to 5 × 107. (c,d) Comparison of the drag coefficients and their mean values (in grey) between taxa, without (c) and with (d) limbs; two-sample t-tests between groups not significant (NS). (e,f) Mean values of the drag coefficient of ichthyosaurs plotted against the mean occurrence age for each taxon, without (e) and with (f) fins; no correlation detected, Kendall’s τ = −0.29, p = 0.28, NS (no limbs); Kendall’s τ = −0.22, p = 0.39, NS (with limbs). Ichthyosaurs from the ‘basal grade’ are highlighted in yellow, the ‘intermediate grade’ in green and the ‘fish-shaped ichthyosaurs’ in blue. The bottlenose dolphin Tursiops is highlighted in red. (g) Two-dimensional plots of flow velocity magnitude (Re = 5 × 106; inlet velocity of 5 m s−1).

If they could produce less resistance for a given body mass, they would have more power for swimming, or swimming would take less effort. Then they could swim longer distances or reach faster speeds.

Susana Gutarra, a PhD student in palaeobiology at the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, said: “To test whether fish-shaped bodies helped ichthyosaurs reduce the energy demands of swimming, we made 3D models of several different ichthyosaurs.

“We also created a model of a bottlenose dolphin, a living species which can be observed in the wild, so we could test if the method worked.”

Dr Colin Palmer, a hydrodynamics expert and a collaborator, added: “Susana used classic methods from ship design to test these ancient reptiles.

“The software builds a “virtual water tank” where we can control variables like the temperature, density and speed or water, and that allow us to measure all resulting forces.

“The model ichthyosaurs were put into this “tank,” and fluid flow conditions modelled, in the same way ship designers test different hull shapes to minimize drag and improve performance.”

Professor Mike Benton, also from Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences and a collaborator, said: “Much to our surprise, we found that the drastic changes to ichthyosaur body shape through millions of years did not really reduce drag very much.

“All of them had low-drag designs, and body shape must have changed from long and slender to dolphin-like for another reason. It seems that body size mattered as well.”

Susana Gutarra added: “The first ichthyosaurs were quite small, about the size of an otter, and later ones reached sizes of 5-20 metres in length.

“When we measured flow over different body shapes at different sizes, we found that large bodies reduced the mass-specific energy demands of steady swimming.”

Dr Benjamin Moon, another collaborator from Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, said: “There was a shift in swimming style during ichthyosaur evolution. The most primitive ichthyosaurs swam by body undulations and later on they acquired broad tails for swimming by beating their tails (more efficient for fast and sustained swimming).

However, we found that some very early ichthyosaurs, like Utatsusaurus, might have been well suited for endurance swimming thanks to their large size, in spite of swimming by body undulations. Our results provide a very interesting insight into the ecology of ichthyosaurs.”

Susana Gutarra concluded: “Swimming is a very complex phenomenon and there are some aspects of it that are particularly hard to test in fossil animals, like motion.

“In the future, we’ll probably see simulations of ichthyosaurs moving through water.

“At the moment, simulating the ichthyosaurs in a static gliding position, enables us to focus our study on the morphology, minimizing our assumptions about their motion and also allow us to compare a relatively large sample of models.”

Comparison of the effects of body shape, swimming style and body size on the net energy cost of steady swimming in ichthyosaurs. (a,b) Relative net cost of steady swimming (COTnet) for ichthyosaurs of the same mass moving at the same speed. (a) Differences owing to morphology, not accounting for swimming style (propulsive efficiency, η = 1). (b) Differences owing to body shape and swimming style, incorporating propulsive efficiency estimates from living aquatic vertebrates; η = 0.48 for anguilliform swimmers [31] and η = 0.81 for carangiform swimmers [28,29]. (c,d) Relative differences in the net cost of swimming owing to body shape and size (length for each taxon is the mean of multiple specimens), moving at the same speed of 1 m s−1, when swimming efficiency is not accounted for (η = 1) (c), or (d) after incorporating the propulsive efficiency as in (b). (e) Mean COTnet of ichthyosaurs at life-size scale calculated as in (d), plotted against the mean occurrence age for each taxon. Colour coding for (a–e) corresponds to the one used in figures 2 and 3.

Comparison of the effects of body shape, swimming style and body size on the net energy cost of steady swimming in ichthyosaurs. (a,b) Relative net cost of steady swimming (COTnet) for ichthyosaurs of the same mass moving at the same speed. (a) Differences owing to morphology, not accounting for swimming style (propulsive efficiency, η = 1). (b) Differences owing to body shape and swimming style, incorporating propulsive efficiency estimates from living aquatic vertebrates; η = 0.48 for anguilliform swimmers [31] and η = 0.81 for carangiform swimmers [28,29]. (c,d) Relative differences in the net cost of swimming owing to body shape and size (length for each taxon is the mean of multiple specimens), moving at the same speed of 1 m s−1, when swimming efficiency is not accounted for (η = 1) (c), or (d) after incorporating the propulsive efficiency as in (b). (e) Mean COTnet of ichthyosaurs at life-size scale calculated as in (d), plotted against the mean occurrence age for each taxon. Colour coding for (a–e) corresponds to the one used in figures 2 and 3.

This research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, UK.

Journal Reference:Susana Gutarra, Benjamin C. Moon, Imran A. Rahman, Colin Palmer, Stephan Lautenschlager, Alison J. Brimacombe, Michael J. Benton. Effects of body plan evolution on the hydrodynamic drag and energy requirements of swimming in ichthyosaursProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2019; 286 (1898): 20182786 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2018.2786

University of Bristol. “Scientists put ichthyosaurs in virtual water tanks.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 March 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190306081714.htm>.
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WFS News: Origins of giant extinct New Zealand bird adzebill traced to Africa

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Adzebill skeleton on display in the Canterbury Museum, New Zealand. Among the giant bird's closest living relatives are the tiny flufftails from Madagascar and Africa. Credit: Canterbury Museum

Adzebill skeleton on display in the Canterbury Museum, New Zealand. Among the giant bird’s closest living relatives are the tiny flufftails from Madagascar and Africa.Credit: Canterbury Museum

Scientists have revealed the African origins of New Zealand’s most mysterious giant flightless bird — the now extinct adzebill — showing that some of its closest living relatives are the pint-sized flufftails from Madagascar and Africa.

Led by the University of Adelaide, the research in the journal Diversity showed that among the closest living relatives of the New Zealand adzebills — which weighed up to 19 kilograms — are the tiny flufftails, which can weigh as little as 25 grams. The closeness of the relationship strongly suggests that the ancestors of the adzebills flew to New Zealand after it became physically isolated from other land.

This finding mirrors the close relationship between New Zealand’s kiwi and the extinct Madagascan elephant birds, published by University of Adelaide researchers in 2014, hinting at an unappreciated biological connection between Madagascar and New Zealand.

Like the better-known moa, the two species of adzebill — the North Island adzebill and South Island adzebill -disappeared following the arrival of early Maori in New Zealand, who hunted them and cleared their forest habitats. Unlike the moa, adzebills were predators and not herbivores.

“The adzebill were almost completely wingless and had an enormous reinforced skull and beak, almost like an axe, which is where they got their English name,” says Alexander Boast, lead author and former Masters student at the University of Adelaide.

“If they hadn’t gone extinct, they would be among the largest living birds.”

A team of researchers from Australia, New Zealand, and the US analysed genetic data from the two adzebill species.

“A lot of past genetic research and publicity has focused on the moa, which we know were distant relatives of the ostrich, emu, and cassowary,” says co-author Dr Kieren Mitchell, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Adelaide.

“But noone had analysed the genetics of the adzebill, despite a lot of debate about exactly what they were and where they came from.”

“We know that adzebills have been in New Zealand for a relatively long time, since we previously discovered a 19 million-year-old adzebill fossil on the South Island,” says co-author Associate Professor Trevor Worthy, a palaeontologist at Flinders University.

“A key question is whether they’ve been present since New Zealand broke away from the other fragments of the supercontinent Gondwana or whether their ancestors flew to New Zealand from elsewhere later on.”

Researchers at both the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA and Curtin University’s Ancient DNA Lab sequenced adzebill DNA from fragments of bone and eggshell. They compared this to DNA from living birds to discover the identity and origin of the adzebill.

“It’s possible that ancient migration of birds between Madagascar and New Zealand may have occurred via Antarctica,” says Dr Mitchell.

“Some coastal regions of the continent remained forested and ice free until as recently as 30 million years ago.”

Dr Paul Scofield, Senior Curator Natural History at Canterbury Museum says: “The North Island adzebill likely evolved from its South Island counterpart relatively recently. We know the North and South Islands were joined by a narrow piece of land around two million years ago. Adzebills probably developed in the South Island, then walked over this land bridge to the North Island.”

  1. alexander P. Boast, Brendan Chapman , Michael B. Herrera, Trevor H. Worthy, R. Paul Scofield, Alan J. D. Tennyson, Peter Houde, Michael Bunce, Alan Cooper and Kieren J. Mitchell. Mitochondrial Genomes from New Zealand’s Extinct Adzebills (Aves: Aptornithidae: Aptornis) Support a Sister-Taxon Relationship with the Afro-Madagascan SarothruridaeDiversity, 2019 DOI: 10.3390/d11020024  
University of Adelaide. “Origins of giant extinct New Zealand bird traced to Africa.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 February 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190221110359.htm>.
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WFS News: Prehistoric worms populated the sea bed 500 million years ago

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Prehistoric worms populated the sea bed 500 million years ago — evidence that life was active in an environment thought uninhabitable until now, research by the University of Saskatchewan (USask) shows.

The sea bed in the deep ocean during the Cambrian period was thought to have been inhospitable to animal life because it lacked enough oxygen to sustain it.

But research published in the scientific journal Geology reveals the existence of fossilized worm tunnels dating back to the Cambrian period — 270 million years before the evolution of dinosaurs.

These are worm tunnels (labelled) visible in small section of rock. Credit: Professor Brian Pratt, University of Saskatchewan

These are worm tunnels (labelled) visible in small section of rock.
Credit: Professor Brian Pratt, University of Saskatchewan

The discovery, by USask professor Brian Pratt, suggests that animal life in the sediment at that time was more widespread than previously thought.

The worm tunnels — borrows where worms lived and munched through the sediment — are invisible to the naked eye. But Pratt “had a hunch” and sliced the rocks and scanned them to see whether they revealed signs of ancient life.

The rocks came from an area in the remote Mackenzie Mountains of the Northwest Territories in Canada which Pratt found 35 years ago.

Pratt then digitally enhanced images of the rock surfaces so he could examine them more closely. Only then did the hidden ‘superhighway’ of burrows made by several different sizes and types of prehistoric worm emerge in the rock.

Some were barely a millimetre in size and others as large as a finger. The smaller ones were probably made by simple polychaetes — or bristle worms — but one of the large forms was a predator that attacked unsuspecting arthropods and surface-dwelling worms.

Pratt said he was “surprised” by the unexpected discovery.

“For the first time, we saw evidence of large populations of worms living in the sediment — which was thought to be barren,” he said. “There were cryptic worm tunnels — burrows — in the mud on the continental shelf 500 million years ago, and more animals reworking, or bioturbating, the sea bed than anyone ever thought.”

Pratt, a geologist and paleontologist and Fellow of the Geological Society of America, found the tunnels in sedimentary rocks that are similar to the Burgess Shale, a famous fossil-bearing deposit in the Canadian Rockies.

The discovery may prompt a rethink of the level of oxygenation in ancient oceans and continental shelves.

The Cambrian period saw an explosion of life on Earth in the oceans and the development of multi-cellular organisms including prehistoric worms, clams, snails and ancestors of crabs and lobsters. Previously the seas had been inhabited by simple, single-celled microbes and algae.

It has always been assumed that the creatures in the Burgess Shale — known for the richness of its fossils — had been preserved so immaculately because the lack of oxygen at the bottom of the sea stopped decay, and because no animals lived in the mud to eat the carcasses.

Pratt’s discovery, with co-author Julien Kimmig, now of the University of Kansas, shows there was enough oxygen to sustain various kinds of worms in the sea bed.

“Serendipity is a common aspect to my kind of research,” Pratt said. “I found these unusual rocks quite by accident all those years ago. On a hunch I prepared a bunch of samples and when I enhanced the images I was genuinely surprised by what I found,” he said.

“This has a lot of implications which will now need to be investigated, not just in Cambrian shales but in younger rocks as well. People should try the same technique to see if it reveals signs of life in their samples.”

The research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

  1. Brian R. Pratt, Julien Kimmig. Extensive bioturbation in a middle Cambrian Burgess Shale–type fossil Lagerstätte in northwestern CanadaGeology, 2019; 47 (3): 231 DOI: 10.1130/G45551.1

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Source: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190228113640.htm

WFS News:Plant leaf tooth feature extraction

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Plant leaf tooth feature extraction

Citation: Wang H, Tian D, Li C, Tian Y, Zhou H (2019) Plant leaf tooth feature extraction. PLoS ONE 14(2): e0204714. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0204714

Editor: Yi Jiang, Georgia State University, UNITED STATES

The eight types of leaves. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0204714.g004

The eight types of leaves.https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0204714.g004

Leaf tooth can indicate several systematically informative features and is extremely useful for circumscribing fossil leaf taxa. Moreover, it can help discriminate species or even higher taxa accurately. Previous studies extract features that are not strictly defined in botany; therefore, a uniform standard to compare the accuracies of various feature extraction methods cannot be used. For efficient and automatic retrieval of plant leaves from a leaf database, in this study, we propose an image-based description and measurement of leaf teeth by referring to the leaf structure classification system in botany. First, image preprocessing is carried out to obtain a binary map of plant leaves. Then, corner detection based on the curvature scale-space (CSS) algorithm is used to extract the inflection point from the edges; next, the leaf tooth apex is extracted by screening the convex points; then, according to the definition of the leaf structure, the characteristics of the leaf teeth are described and measured in terms of number of orders of teeth, tooth spacing, number of teeth, sinus shape, and tooth shape. In this manner, data extracted from the algorithm can not only be used to classify plants, but also provide scientific and standardized data to understand the history of plant evolution. Finally, to verify the effectiveness of the extraction method, we used simple linear discriminant analysis and multiclass support vector machine to classify leaves. The results show that the proposed method achieves high accuracy that is superior to that of other methods.

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WFS News: Tiny tyrannosaur fossil discovery changes the dinosaur timeline

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Tyrannosaurus rex wasn’t always the king of the dinosaurs. Before they became towering predators, tyrannosaurs started out much smaller, and a newly discovered fossil is helping fill the gap between those two extremes.

The fossil findings are detailed in a study published Thursday in Communications Biology.
The dinosaur fossil was found in Utah, where it lived 96 million years ago in a lush delta during the Cretaceous period. It’s been named Moros intrepidus, which means “harbinger of doom.” The dinosaur lived at the end of the allosaurs’ reign at the top of the food chain and before Tyrannosaurus rex arrived.
It’s now the oldest tyrannosaur from the Cretaceous period found in North America.
Medium-size tyrannosaur fossils have been found from the Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago. And then, about 81 million years ago during the Cretaceous, tyrannosaurs grew into giant predators and replaced allosaurs as the top of the food chain.
So what happened in between? Moros is helping researchers fill that 70 million-year gap, as well as provide a portrait of tyrannosaur lineage in North America. Moros links the earliest, smaller tyrannosaurs to Tyrannosaurus rex.
“With a lethal combination of bone-crunching bite forces, stereoscopic vision, rapid growth rates, and colossal size, tyrant dinosaurs reigned uncontested for 15 million years leading up to the end-Cretaceous extinction — but it wasn’t always that way,” said Lindsay Zanno, lead study author and paleontologist at North Carolina State University, in a statement. “When and how quickly tyrannosaurs went from wallflower to prom king has been vexing paleontologists for a long time. The only way to attack this problem was to get out there and find more data on these rare animals.”
Zanno and her team spent a decade searching for fossils from the Late Cretaceous period. They recovered teeth and a hind limb consisting of a femur, a tibia and parts of a foot belonging to Moros in the same area where Zanno found the fossil of a giant carnivorous carcharodontosaur.
But Moros stood between 3 and 4 feet tall. The dinosaur they found was 7 years old when it died, a nearly full-grown adult that would have weighed around 172 pounds. The elongated leg and foot bones indicated that it would be a great runner.
“Moros was lightweight and exceptionally fast,” Zanno said. “These adaptations, together with advanced sensory capabilities, are the mark of a formidable predator. It could easily have run down prey, while avoiding confrontation with the top predators of the day.”
This allowed Moros to be a survivor as the environment shifted and changed. For 15 million years, tyrannosaurs were restricted to this smaller size before evolving into giants (about 12 feet tall and 11,000 to 15,500 pounds) over a 16 million-year period.
“Although the earliest Cretaceous tyrannosaurs were small, their predatory specializations meant that they were primed to take advantage of new opportunities when warming temperatures, rising sea-level and shrinking ranges restructured ecosystems at the beginning of the Late Cretaceous,” Zanno said. “We now know it took them less than 15 million years to rise to power.”
Moros is most closely related to tyrannosaurs from Asia, which helped the researchers trace the dinosaurs’ lineage. This means Moros crossed the Alaskan land bridge during the Early Cretaceous to reach North America.
“T. rex and its famous contemporaries such as Triceratops may be among our most beloved cultural icons, but we owe their existence to their intrepid ancestors who migrated here from Asia at least 30 million years prior,” Zanno said. “Moros signals the establishment of the iconic Late Cretaceous ecosystems of North America.”
Source: Article By Ashley Strickland, CNN
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WFS News: 2.1-Billion-Year-Old Fossil May Be Evidence of Earliest Moving Life-Form

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About 2.1 billion years ago, a blob-like creature inched along on an early Earth. As the organism moved, it carved out tunnels, which may be the earliest evidence of a moving critter on the planet.

Until this discovery, the earliest evidence of motility — that is, an organism’s ability to move independently using its own metabolic energy — dated to about 570 million years ago, according to fossils from different locations. That’s a good 1.5 billion years younger than the new finding.

Whatever left the teeny, tiny tunnels was likely a cluster of single cells that joined ranks to form a slug-like multicellular organism, the researchers said. And perhaps, this sluggy conglomerate tunneled through the mud in search of greener pastures or food to gobble up, the international team of scientists said. [In Images: The Oldest Fossils on Earth]

However, not everyone agrees that these tunnels were made by complex life, and one researcher, who was not affiliated with the study, called the claims “imprecise.”

The researchers found the trace fossils in Gabon, along Africa’s west coast. A trace fossil is a fossil that was not part of an organism’s body that it leaves behind, such as a footprint, a burrow or even poop. In this case, the trace fossils are a series of slender tunnels that were made in what was once called the Francevillian inland sea — an oxygenated and shallow marine environment that existed during the Paleoproterozoic, an eralasting from about 2.5 billion to 1.6 billion years ago.

Until now, the oldest traces of motility (an organism’s ability to move independently using metabolic energy) dated to about 600 million years ago. But now, newly analyzed fossils suggest that motility dates back to 2.1 billion years ago. (Scale bar: 1 centimeter, or 0.4 inches.) Credit: A. El Albani/IC2MP/CNRS – Université de Poitiers

After collecting hundreds of specimens from the ancient inland sea, the scientists in the recent study found fossilized tunnels. These structures indicated that some ancient multicellular organisms were complex enough to scoot through the mud, said first author Abderrazak El Albani, a professor of paleobiology and geochemistry at IC2MP, an institute of the University of Poitiers and the the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France.

There is a modern analogue to this weird slug-like creature. During times of starvation, some cellular slime molds aggregate together in what is called a “migratory slug phase,” so they can look for food together, El Albani said.

The tunnels these ancient critters left behind are small, with a diameter of up to 2.3 inches (6 centimeters) and a length of up to 6.7 inches (17 cm). What’s more, the tunnels appear to be made by something that moved laterally and vertically through the muck, El Albani told Live Science. To determine for sure that these tunnels were left by living creatures, the researchers analyzed the structures in several ways. For starters, the scientists used an X-ray computed microtomography (micro-CT) scan to analyze the specimen in 3D (see the above video).

The team also analyzed the chemical components in the trace fossils, finding that these traces were biological in origin and also matched the age of the 2.1-billion-year-old sediment around them. Moreover, the tunnels were next to fossilized microbial mats, known as biofilms. Perhaps the strange, slug-like beast grazed on these microbial “carpets,” the researchers said.

The tubes in the sample are filled with pyrite crystals, which are generated by the transformation by bacteria of biological tissue. The parallel horizontal layers are fossilized microbial mats.Credit: Copyright A. El Albani & A. Mazurier/IC2MP/CNRS – Université de Poitiers

While much about this critter remains a mystery, its existence raises new questions about the history of life, El Abani said. Was this the first time a complex organism moved, and was movement perfected later on? Or was this creature’s experiment cut short when atmospheric oxygen levels dropped drastically about 2 billion years ago, only for this kind of movement to resurface much later? [7 Theories on the Origin of Life]

But not everyone thinks these tunnels represent the oldest proof of motility.

“The claim sounds really imprecise,” Tanja Bosak, an associate professor of geobiology in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Live Science in an email. “Perhaps they are referring to something macroscopic moving — there are much older rocks (stromatolites) with shapes and textures that require the former presence of motile microbes.”

She emphasized that while she didn’t have time for an in-depth reading of the study, Bosak told Live Science, “I hope that they discuss this somewhere and tone down the splashy claims at least a little.”

The study was published online yesterday (Feb. 11) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: Article By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer , www.livescience.com

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WFS News: Ancient Passerines Fossils reveals Oldest Finch-Beaked Birds

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A 52-million-year fossil of a “perching bird” has been found in Wyoming with its feathers still attached, a discovery that “no one’s ever seen before.”

Also known as passerines, the perching bird was discovered in Fossil Lake, WY. Passerines are well-known for eating seeds, as most modern-day birds do and account for approximately 65 percent of the 10,000 different species of birds alive today.

 

 

Figure 1Morphology of Eofringillirostrum (A) Photograph and (B) line drawing of the holotype skeleton of Eofringillirostrum boudreauxi (FMNH PA 793) with enlargements showing details of the (C) skull and (D) foot, and (E) line drawing of foot. (F) Holotype slab (IRSNB Av 128a) and (G) counterslab (IRSNB Av 128b) of Eofringillirostrum parvulum with enlargements showing details of (H) skull and (I) carpometacarpus; for contrast enhancement, the specimen was coated with ammonium chloride. Abbreviations: at: accessory trochlea, br: base of the main body of fourth metatarsal trochlea (articular end broken off); d-I – d-IV: pedal digits I – IV, dvf: distal vascular foramen, ext: extensor process, int: intermetacarpal process, ot: ossified tendon, py: pygostyle, rp: retroarticular process, sup: dorsal supracondylar process, tr: tracheal rings. Arrows in (D) indicate borders of intermetacarpal process. Grey shaded regions in (B) indicate portions of the carpometacarpus that were displaced during splitting of the slab. See also Figure S2.

Figure 1Morphology of Eofringillirostrum
(A) Photograph and (B) line drawing of the holotype skeleton of Eofringillirostrum boudreauxi (FMNH PA 793) with enlargements showing details of the (C) skull and (D) foot, and (E) line drawing of foot. (F) Holotype slab (IRSNB Av 128a) and (G) counterslab (IRSNB Av 128b) of Eofringillirostrum parvulum with enlargements showing details of (H) skull and (I) carpometacarpus; for contrast enhancement, the specimen was coated with ammonium chloride. Abbreviations: at: accessory trochlea, br: base of the main body of fourth metatarsal trochlea (articular end broken off); d-I – d-IV: pedal digits I – IV, dvf: distal vascular foramen, ext: extensor process, int: intermetacarpal process, ot: ossified tendon, py: pygostyle, rp: retroarticular process, sup: dorsal supracondylar process, tr: tracheal rings. Arrows in (D) indicate borders of intermetacarpal process. Grey shaded regions in (B) indicate portions of the carpometacarpus that were displaced during splitting of the slab. See also Figure S2.

FIRST DINOSAUR FEATHER EVER DISCOVERED REVEALS MYSTERIOUS SECRETS

The study has been published in the scientific journal Current Biology.

Now known as Eofringillirostrum boudreauxi, the bird had a “finch-like beak,” similar to modern day finches and sparrows, which could give clues as to its diet.

Figure 2Phylogenetic Relationships of Early Passerines Strict consensus of 394 most parsimonious trees (707 steps, RC = 0.174, RI = 0.626) based on analysis of 146 morphological characters enforcing the backbone constraint and divergence dates from [20]. Bootstrap support values are shown above the branches they pertain to, though note nodes that are constrained may receive artificially high support (e.g., Psittaciformes). Character list, scorings, and additional details of analyses are provided in the Supplemental Information and Figure S3.

Figure 2Phylogenetic Relationships of Early Passerines
Strict consensus of 394 most parsimonious trees (707 steps, RC = 0.174, RI = 0.626) based on analysis of 146 morphological characters enforcing the backbone constraint and divergence dates from [20]. Bootstrap support values are shown above the branches they pertain to, though note nodes that are constrained may receive artificially high support (e.g., Psittaciformes). Character list, scorings, and additional details of analyses are provided in the Supplemental Information and Figure S3.

“These bills are particularly well-suited for consuming small, hard seeds,” Daniel Ksepka, the paper’s lead author, curator at the Bruce Museum in Connecticut, said in the statement.

“The earliest birds probably ate insects and fish, some may have been eating small lizards,” Grande added. “Until this discovery, we did not know much about the ecology of early passerines. E. boudreauxi gives us an important look at this.”

Stem and Crown Passerines (A–P) Images and comparative line drawings of the skull in (A–H) Eocene stem passerines and photographs of the head and line drawings of the skull in (I–P) crown passerines with a similar bill shape. Fossil taxa: (A and B) Morsoravis sp. (FMNH PA789), (C and D) Eofringillirostrum boudreauxi (FMNH PA 793), (E and F) Pumiliornis tessellatus (SMF-ME 11414a) and (G and H) Psittacopes lepidus (SMF-ME 1279). Extant taxa: (I and J) Catharus guttatus (Hermit Thrush, Turdidae), (K and L) Spinus tristis (American Goldfinch, Fringillidae), (M and N) Aethopyga saturata (Black-throated Sunbird, Nectariniidae) and (O and P) Panurus biarmicus (Bearded Reedling, Panuridae). Photo credits and sources for line drawings are provided in the Supplemental Information. Not to scale.

Stem and Crown Passerines
(A–P) Images and comparative line drawings of the skull in (A–H) Eocene stem passerines and photographs of the head and line drawings of the skull in (I–P) crown passerines with a similar bill shape. Fossil taxa: (A and B) Morsoravis sp. (FMNH PA789), (C and D) Eofringillirostrum boudreauxi (FMNH PA 793), (E and F) Pumiliornis tessellatus (SMF-ME 11414a) and (G and H) Psittacopes lepidus (SMF-ME 1279). Extant taxa: (I and J) Catharus guttatus (Hermit Thrush, Turdidae), (K and L) Spinus tristis (American Goldfinch, Fringillidae), (M and N) Aethopyga saturata (Black-throated Sunbird, Nectariniidae) and (O and P) Panurus biarmicus (Bearded Reedling, Panuridae). Photo credits and sources for line drawings are provided in the Supplemental Information. Not to scale.

Fossil Lake has been home to several discoveries of past species, including birds, reptiles and early mammals, due in large part to what has been described as “perfect conditions.”

“We have spent so much time excavating this locality, that we have a record of even the very rare things,” Grande said.

TRIASSIC ‘LIZARD KING’ RULED ANTARCTICA BEFORE THE DINOSAUR

Fossil Lake provides a rare look into a world after the dinosaurs went extinct, but before mammals really started to take off and become the dominant form of life on Earth.

“I’ve been going to Fossil Lake every year for the last 35 years, and finding this bird is one of the reasons I keep going back. It’s so rich,” Grande added. “We keep finding things that no one’s ever seen before.”

Sources:Current Biology and Fox news

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WFS News: kangaroo fossil reveals origin of marsupial hop

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Artistic reconstruction showing the balbarid kangaroo relative Nambaroo gillespieae (top left) ( Peter Shouten/Australian Geographic )

Artistic reconstruction showing the balbarid kangaroo relative Nambaroo gillespieae (top left)                                                                         ( Peter Shouten/Australian Geographic )Fossils unearthed in the Australian bush have provided new insights into how the kangaroo got its hop.

The 20-million-year-old remains belong to a long-extinct species of kangaroo relative that not only hopped but also bounded along on all fours as well as climbed.

Known as balbarids, these creatures reveal how the distinctive anatomy of these marsupials allowed them to conquer an entire continent.

The origin of the kangaroo’s distinctive method of getting around has been shrouded in mystery, as ancient skeletons belonging to their ancestors are rare.

“The long held idea is that the kangaroo hop evolved in response to climate change, with the spread of arid grasslands opening up new habitats that selected for high speed hopping gaits,” Dr Benjamin Kear, a palaeontologist at Uppsala University told The Independent.

While some other animals, including the hopping mouse, have adopted a similar gait, kangaroos have unique anatomy to facilitate this highly efficient mode of locomotion.

To find out if the same was true of balbarids, Dr Kear and his colleagues analysed the few bones they had unearthed belonging to one known as Nambaroo gillespieae, comparing them to different modern relatives that live in trees and on the plains.

Their results, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, challenged the idea that kangaroos began hopping on Australia’s arid plains.

The scientists said these creatures appear to have evolved a versatile anatomy to scramble around their forest environment.

“The iconic kangaroo body plan is therefore extremely adaptable, and was probably a key to their success over the last 20 million years or more,” said Dr Kear.

It was not enough to save the balbarids, however, and the team think these creatures were probably driven to extinction as their forest homes shrunk.

“On the other hand, the ancestors of modern kangaroos used the same suite of locomotory morphologies to exploit newly emerging open habitats, and thus gave rise to one of the most successful mammal radiations on the Australian landmass today,” said Dr Kear.

Source: Article by  Josh Gabbatiss,Science Correspondent,Independent.

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