WFS News: Scientists have discovered the oldest colors in the geological record

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 1.1-billion-year-old porphyrins establish a marine ecosystem dominated by bacterial primary producers.

 N. Gueneli, A. M. McKenna, N. Ohkouchi, C. J. Boreham, J. Beghin, E. J. Javaux, and J. J. Brocks.

             PNAS, 2018 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1803866115

The average cell size of marine phytoplankton is critical for the flow of energy and nutrients from the base of the food web to higher trophic levels. Thus, the evolutionary succession of primary producers through Earth’s history is important for our understanding of the radiation of modern protists ∼800 million years ago and the emergence of eumetazoan animals ∼200 million years later. Currently, it is difficult to establish connections between primary production and the proliferation of large and complex organisms because the mid-Proterozoic (∼1,800–800 million years ago) rock record is nearly devoid of recognizable phytoplankton fossils. We report the discovery of intact porphyrins, the molecular fossils of chlorophylls, from 1,100-million-year-old marine black shales of the Taoudeni Basin (Mauritania), 600 million years older than previous findings. The porphyrin nitrogen isotopes (δ15Npor = 5.6–10.2‰) are heavier than in younger sedimentary sequences, and the isotopic offset between sedimentary bulk nitrogen and porphyrins (εpor = −5.1 to −0.5‰) points to cyanobacteria as dominant primary producers. Based on fossil carotenoids, anoxygenic green (Chlorobiacea) and purple sulfur bacteria (Chromatiaceae) also contributed to photosynthate. The low εpor values, in combination with a lack of diagnostic eukaryotic steranes in the time interval of 1,600–1,000 million years ago, demonstrate that algae played an insignificant role in mid-Proterozoic oceans. The paucity of algae and the small cell size of bacterial phytoplankton may have curtailed the flow of energy to higher trophic levels, potentially contributing to a diminished evolutionary pace toward complex eukaryotic ecosystems and large and active organisms.

Biogeochemistry Lab Manager Janet Hope from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences holds a vial of pink colored porphyrins representing the oldest intact pigments in the world. Credit: The Australian National University

Biogeochemistry Lab Manager Janet Hope from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences holds a vial of pink colored porphyrins representing the oldest intact pigments in the world.
Credit: The Australian National University

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WFS News: Evidence for arboreal radiation of stem primates in the Palaeocene

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Oldest skeleton of a plesiadapiform provides additional evidence for an exclusively arboreal radiation of
stem primates in the Palaeocene

Stephen G. B. ChesterThomas E. WilliamsonJonathan I. BlochMary T. SilcoxEric J. Sargis

Hypothesis of evolutionary relationships of Torrejonia wilsoni and other eutherian mammals. (Left) Resulting single most parsimonious cladogram based on modified morphological dataset of Bloch et al. [4], sampling a total of 240 morphological characters (68 postcranial, 45 cranial and 127 dental) with Primates sensu lato indicated in blue and Torrejonia wilsoni supported as a stem primate and indicated in orange. Numbers below branches represent Absolute Bremer Support values. See the electronic supplementary material for detailed methods, descriptions of morphological characters, specimens examined (also see [5]), and the taxon-character matrix in TNT format. (Bottom) Simplified subset of resulting tree topology focused on Primates. Boxes (a–f) illustrate tarsals of select primates with great mobility at the upper ankle joint (yellow: lateral tibial facet extends distally onto neck of astragalus in dorsal view), lower ankle joint (red: sustentacular facet extends distally onto body of calcaneus in dorsal view) and transverse tarsal joint (orange: round, concave cuboid facet of calcaneus in distal view) indicating arboreality. Boxes (a–f) also illustrate micro X-ray CT scan reconstructions of (a) purgatoriid Purgatorius unio p4-m3 (UCMP 107406) with tall molar cusps in buccal view, (b) micromomyid Dryomomys szalayi cranium (UM 41870) in right lateral view with large IOF, (c) Torrejonia wilsoni partial skeleton (NMMNH P-54500), (d) paromomyid Ignacius graybullianus cranium (USNM 421608) in right lateral view with relatively large olfactory bulbs (OB) of endocast (violet), (e) carpolestid Carpolestes simpsoni cranium (USNM 482354) in right lateral view and tarsals (UM 101963) and (f) notharctid Notharctus tenebrosus cranium (AMNH 127167) in right lateral view. Some elements reversed for clarity. See figure 3 legend for specimen numbers of tarsals not listed above. See the electronic supplementary material for institutional abbreviations.

Hypothesis of evolutionary relationships of Torrejonia wilsoni and other eutherian mammals. (Left) Resulting single most parsimonious cladogram based on modified morphological dataset of Bloch et al. [4], sampling a total of 240 morphological characters (68 postcranial, 45 cranial and 127 dental) with Primates sensu lato indicated in blue and Torrejonia wilsoni supported as a stem primate and indicated in orange. Numbers below branches represent Absolute Bremer Support values. See the electronic supplementary material for detailed methods, descriptions of morphological characters, specimens examined (also see [5]), and the taxon-character matrix in TNT format. (Bottom) Simplified subset of resulting tree topology focused on Primates. Boxes (a–f) illustrate tarsals of select primates with great mobility at the upper ankle joint (yellow: lateral tibial facet extends distally onto neck of astragalus in dorsal view), lower ankle joint (red: sustentacular facet extends distally onto body of calcaneus in dorsal view) and transverse tarsal joint (orange: round, concave cuboid facet of calcaneus in distal view) indicating arboreality. Boxes (a–f) also illustrate micro X-ray CT scan reconstructions of (a) purgatoriid Purgatorius unio p4-m3 (UCMP 107406) with tall molar cusps in buccal view, (b) micromomyid Dryomomys szalayi cranium (UM 41870) in right lateral view with large IOF, (c) Torrejonia wilsoni partial skeleton (NMMNH P-54500), (d) paromomyid Ignacius graybullianus cranium (USNM 421608) in right lateral view with relatively large olfactory bulbs (OB) of endocast (violet), (e) carpolestid Carpolestes simpsoni cranium (USNM 482354) in right lateral view and tarsals (UM 101963) and (f) notharctid Notharctus tenebrosus cranium (AMNH 127167) in right lateral view. Some elements reversed for clarity. See figure 3 legend for specimen numbers of tarsals not listed above. See the electronic supplementary material for institutional abbreviations.

Palaechthonid plesiadapiforms from the Palaeocene of western North America have long been recognized as among the oldest and most primitive euarchontan mammals, a group that includes extant primates, colugos and treeshrews. Despite their relatively sparse fossil record, palaechthonids have played an important role in discussions surrounding adaptive scenarios for primate origins for nearly a half-century. Likewise, palaechthonids have been considered important for understanding relationships among plesiadapiforms, with members of the group proposed as plausible ancestors of Paromomyidae and Microsyopidae. Here, we describe a dentally associated partial skeleton of Torrejonia wilsoni from the early Palaeocene (approx. 62 Ma) of New Mexico, which is the oldest known plesiadapiform skeleton and the first postcranial elements recovered for a palaechthonid. Results from a cladistic analysis that includes new data from this skeleton suggest that palaechthonids are a paraphyletic group of stem primates, and that T. wilsoni is most closely related to paromomyids. New evidence from the appendicular skeleton of T. wilsoni fails to support an influential hypothesis based on inferences from craniodental morphology that palaechthonids were terrestrial. Instead, the postcranium of T. wilsoni indicates that it was similar to that of all other plesiadapiforms for which skeletons have been recovered in having distinct specializations consistent with arboreality.

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WFS News: Early African Fossils Elucidate the Origin of Embrithopod Mammals

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Long before rhinoceros, giraffes, hippos, and antelopes roamed the African savannah, a group of large and highly specialized mammals known as embrithopods inhabited the continent. The most well known is Arsinoitherium, an animal that looked much like a rhinoceros but was in fact more closely related to elephants, sea cows, and hyraxes. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on June 28 offer a glimpse into this ancient past with the discovery of the earliest and most ancient embrithopod yet described.

The approximately 55-million-year-old fossilized dental remains found in the first lower Eocene levels of the Ouled Abdoun phosphate basin in Morocco represent two new species in the genus Stylolophus, the researchers report. The earliest embrithopods were previously known from 48-million-year-old fossils collected in Africa and Turkey.

This figure show the lower jaw of Stylolophus minor, holotype of the new species. C is 3-D model reconstructed from CT scans. It shows by transparency the teeth roots, and especially those of the anterior incisors that are enlarged and oriented (tilted) horizontally as in the early proboscidean Phosphatherium. Length of M1-3 series: 38.5 mm. Scale bar, 10 mm. Credit: Photographs by Philippe Loubry (MNHN). Drawing by Charlène Letenneur (MNHN)

This figure show the lower jaw of Stylolophus minor, holotype of the new species. C is 3-D model reconstructed from CT scans. It shows by transparency the teeth roots, and especially those of the anterior incisors that are enlarged and oriented (tilted) horizontally as in the early proboscidean Phosphatherium. Length of M1-3 series: 38.5 mm. Scale bar, 10 mm.Credit: Photographs by Philippe Loubry (MNHN). Drawing by Charlène Letenneur (MNHN)

“The embrithopods were large and strange extinct mammals that belonged, together with hyraxes and elephants, to the early megaherbivorous mammalian fauna that inhabited the island Africa, well before the arrival about 23 million years ago of the Eurasian ungulate lineages such as the artiodactyls, including giraffes, buffalos, hippopotamus, and antelopes, and the perissodactyls, including zebras and rhinoceros,” says Emmanuel Gheerbrant of CNRS-MNHN in Paris, France. “They belong to the old endemic African fauna.”

Gheerbrant said that the origins of embrithopods had been uncertain, with two known co-existing families: one in Africa and the other in Turkey and Romania. It’s been unclear what the exact relationships of the embrithopods were with respect to sea cows and elephants.

The new phylogenetic study of the two species of Stylolophus found in Morocco confirms that they are basal embrithopods. It also shows that the extinct Embrithopod order is ancient, predating the divergence of the sea cows and elephants.

“Comparative anatomy of the new Moroccan species shows that the highly specialized embrithopod teeth derived from the ancestral dental morphology of all paenungulates, a clade including elephants, sea cows, and hyraxes, with the W-crested molars seen in some of the oldest hyracoids,” the group including hyraxes, Gheerbrant says. “The specialized design of the teeth with two transverse ridges, known in the most advanced forms such as Arsinoitherium, is a convergence of the embrithopods and the extant group of tethytheres, including manatees and elephants, towards leaf eating, which was favored by the ancient herbivorous niches available on the African island.”

The new species S. minor — which was unusually small at about the size of a sheep — is also the first to show the presence in embrithopods of enlarged and anteriorly inclined incisors, in the form of incipient tusks, as seen in the early ancestors of the group including elephants.

The early age and primitive state of Stylolophus, together with the high-level relationships (paenungulate and afrotherian), all support an African origin of the order Embrithopoda, the researchers say. The findings suggest that the Paleoamasiidae family found in Turkey arrived on the Eurasian shores of the Tethys Ocean (an ocean during much of the Mesozoic Era and the Paleogene period located between the ancient continents of Gondwana and Laurasia), after an early dispersal of an African ancestor resembling Stylolophus across the sea.

The researchers say that they’ll continue to search for paleontological evidence elucidating the evolutionary history and relationships of African ungulate-like mammals and insectivore-like afrotherian mammals, including golden moles, elephant shrews, tenrecs, aardvarks, and hyraxes. They’ll also continue the search for the enigmatic early roots of all placental mammals in Africa, going back even further in time to the Cretaceous Period.

  1. Emmanuel Gheerbrant, Arnaud Schmitt, László Kocsis. Early African Fossils Elucidate the Origin of Embrithopod MammalsCurrent Biology, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.05.032

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WFS News: Birds of a Feather: Neanderthal Exploitation of Raptors and Corvids

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Birds of a Feather: Neanderthal Exploitation of Raptors and Corvids

Citation: Finlayson C, Brown K, Blasco R, Rosell J, Negro JJ, Bortolotti GR, et al. (2012) Birds of a Feather: Neanderthal Exploitation of Raptors and Corvids. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45927. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0045927

Editor: Michael D. Petraglia, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Examples of cut-marks from Gibraltar sites. a) distal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax humerus (Gor'96 No. 87); b) proximal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax humerus; c) proximal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax humerus (GOR'96 NO. 299); d) distal diaphysis of Milvus milvus radius (GOR'00/B8/NIV/205); e) middle shaft of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax tarsometatarsus (Ibex 94 No. 24); f) middle shaft of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax femur (Ibex 94 No. 166); g) proximal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax graculus ulna (GOR'00/B5/NIV/57); h) distal diaphysis of Gyps fulvus ulna (Van 96 No. 209A).

Examples of cut-marks from Gibraltar sites.
a) distal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax humerus (Gor’96 No. 87); b) proximal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax humerus; c) proximal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax humerus (GOR’96 NO. 299); d) distal diaphysis of Milvus milvus radius (GOR’00/B8/NIV/205); e) middle shaft of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax tarsometatarsus (Ibex 94 No. 24); f) middle shaft of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax femur (Ibex 94 No. 166); g) proximal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax graculus ulna (GOR’00/B5/NIV/57); h) distal diaphysis of Gyps fulvus ulna (Van 96 No. 209A).

The hypothesis that Neanderthals exploited birds for the use of their feathers or claws as personal ornaments in symbolic behaviour is revolutionary as it assigns unprecedented cognitive abilities to these hominins. This inference, however, is based on modest faunal samples and thus may not represent a regular or systematic behaviour. Here we address this issue by looking for evidence of such behaviour across a large temporal and geographical framework. Our analyses try to answer four main questions: 1) does a Neanderthal to raptor-corvid connection exist at a large scale, thus avoiding associations that might be regarded as local in space or time?; 2) did Middle (associated with Neanderthals) and Upper Palaeolithic (associated with modern humans) sites contain a greater range of these species than Late Pleistocene paleontological sites?; 3) is there a taphonomic association between Neanderthals and corvids-raptors at Middle Palaeolithic sites on Gibraltar, specifically Gorham’s, Vanguard and Ibex Caves? and; 4) was the extraction of wing feathers a local phenomenon exclusive to the Neanderthals at these sites or was it a geographically wider phenomenon?. We compiled a database of 1699 Pleistocene Palearctic sites based on fossil bird sites. We also compiled a taphonomical database from the Middle Palaeolithic assemblages of Gibraltar. We establish a clear, previously unknown and widespread, association between Neanderthals, raptors and corvids. We show that the association involved the direct intervention of Neanderthals on the bones of these birds, which we interpret as evidence of extraction of large flight feathers. The large number of bones, the variety of species processed and the different temporal periods when the behaviour is observed, indicate that this was a systematic, geographically and temporally broad, activity that the Neanderthals undertook. Our results, providing clear evidence that Neanderthal cognitive capacities were comparable to those of Modern Humans, constitute a major advance in the study of human evolution.

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WFS News: Fossils of Pufferfish species unearthed in Germany

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Scientists in southern Germany have discovered the fossilized remains of a previously unknown pufferfish.

A team from the Bamberg Museum of Natural History made the find in a stone quarry in nearby Wattendorf.

Matthias Mäuser, the head of the museum, said the pufferfish lived around 150 million years ago.Similar to pufferfish living today, the fossilized remains showed that the fish had teeth.

The previously unknown pufferfish species lived around 150 million years ago. A number of interesting finds have been unearthed at the same stone quarry in northern Bavaria.

The previously unknown pufferfish species lived around 150 million years ago. A number of interesting finds have been unearthed at the same stone quarry in northern Bavaria.

Scientists from the museum regularly excavate the Wattendorf stone quarry and have unearthed many interesting finds to date.In 2011, they discovered the remains of a previously unknown flying dinosaur species known as pterosaurs.

The pufferfish find will be on display at the Bamberg Museum of Natural History before being sent to the Institute of

Palaeontology at the University of Vienna for further research.

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WFS News: New species of sponge-like fossil from the Cambrian Period

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Scientists have discovered the fossil of an unusual large-bodied sponge-like sea-creature from half a billion years ago.

The creature belongs to an obscure and mysterious group of animals known as the chancelloriids, and scientists are unclear about where they fit in the tree of life.They represent a lineage of spiny tube-shaped animals that arose during the Cambrian evolutionary “explosion” but went extinct soon afterwards. In some ways they resemble sponges, a group of simple filter-feeding animals, but many scientists have dismissed the similarities as superficial.

The new discovery by a team of scientists from the University of Leicester, the University of Oxford and Yunnan University, China, adds new evidence that could help solve the mystery.

The new species of fossil chancelloriid: an enigmatic animal from the Cambrian Period with a tube-like body, 'minotaur-horn' spines, and doughnut-shaped scars. Credit: Derek Siveter/Tom Harvey/Peiyun Cong

The new species of fossil chancelloriid: an enigmatic animal from the Cambrian Period with a tube-like body, ‘minotaur-horn’ spines, and doughnut-shaped scars.Credit: Derek Siveter/Tom Harvey/Peiyun Cong

The researchers have published their findings in the Royal Society journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The Leicester authors are Tom Harvey, Mark Williams, David Siveter & Sarah Gabbott.The new species, named Allonnia nuda, was discovered in the Chengjiang deposits of Yunnan Province, China. It was surprisingly large in life (perhaps up to 50 cm or more) but had only a few very tiny spines. Its unusual “naked” appearance suggests that further specimens may be “hiding in plain sight” in fossil collections, and shows that this group was more diverse than previously thought.

Furthermore, the new species holds clues about the pattern of body growth, with clear links to modern sponges. It is too soon to say the mystery has been solved, but the discovery highlights the central role of sponge-like fossils in the debate over earliest animal evolution.

Dr Tom Harvey, from the University of Leicester’s School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, explained: “Fossil chancelloriids were first described around 100 years ago, but have resisted attempts to place them in the tree of life. We argue that their pattern of body growth supports a link to sponges, reinvigorating an old hypothesis. We’re not suggesting that it’s “case closed” for chancelloriids, but we hope our results will inspire new research into the nature of the earliest animals.”

Dr Peiyun Cong, from the Yunnan Key Laboratory for Palaeobiology, Kunming, China, and The Natural History Museum, UK, added: “The Chengjiang deposits of Yunnan Province continue to reveal surprising new fossils we could hardly have imagined. Together, they provide a crucial snapshot of life in the oceans during the Cambrian explosion.”

  1. Pei-Yun Cong, Thomas H. P. Harvey, Mark Williams, David J. Siveter, Derek J. Siveter, Sarah E. Gabbott, Yu-Jing Li, Fan Wei, Xian-Guang Hou. Naked chancelloriids from the lower Cambrian of China show evidence for sponge-type growthProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2018; 285 (1881): 20180296 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2018.0296
University of Leicester. “Strange sponge-like fossil creature from half a billion years ago.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 June 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180619230853.htm>.
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WFS News: A new Miocene pinniped Allodesmus from Japan

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A new Miocene pinniped Allodesmus (Mammalia: Carnivora) from Hokkaido, northern Japan
Wataru TonomoriHiroshi SawamuraTamaki SatoNaoki Kohno
Reconstruction of Allodesmus skeleton. Blue parts indicate preserved bones of the holotype (AMP 25) of Allodesmus uraiporensis.

Reconstruction of Allodesmus skeleton. Blue parts indicate preserved bones of the holotype (AMP 25) of Allodesmus uraiporensis.

A nearly complete pinniped skeleton from the middle Miocene Okoppezawa Formation (ca 16.3–13.9 Ma), Hokkaido, northern Japan, is described as the holotype of Allodesmus uraiporensis sp. nov. The new species is distinguishable from other species of the genus by having the palatine fissure (incisive foramen) that is located anterior to the canine, an anteriorly located supraorbital process of the frontal, and by having the calcaneum with a developed peroneal tubercle. Our phylogenetic analysis suggests that the subfamily Allodesminae are represented by two genera, Atopotarus and Allodesmus, and the latter genus is represented by at least six species; AlkernensisAlsinanoensisAlnaoraiAlpackardi, Al. demerei and Al. uraiporensis sp. nov. Allodesmus uraiporensis sp. nov. is one of the oldest and the northernmost record of the genus in the western North Pacific, and it suggests that the diversification of the genus in the western North Pacific was synchronous to the time of their diversification in the eastern North Pacific.

Reconstruction of skull of the holotype (AMP 25) of Allodesmus uraiporensis. (a) dorsal, (b) ventral and (c) lateral views. Solid lines indicate those elements that are preserved on at least one side of the holotype, and other missing parts are represented by dashed lines.

Reconstruction of skull of the holotype (AMP 25) of Allodesmus uraiporensis. (a) dorsal, (b) ventral and (c) lateral views. Solid lines indicate those elements that are preserved on at least one side of the holotype, and other missing parts are represented by dashed lines.

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WFS News:Fossil Anemone Tracks Don’t Fit Evolution

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Fossil Anemone Tracks Don’t Fit Evolution

Interesting markings were recently found on a rock in Newfoundland. A study concluded that they were trails left by seafloor-dwelling animals around 565 million years ago. But such a find is difficult to reconcile with the evolutionary teaching that muscles, and therefore animal locomotion, did not evolve until much later.

Before they could suggest that evolutionary history ought to be rewritten on this point, researchers first had to be quite certain that they were looking at some kind of animal track. They found over 70 tracks up to 13mm wide and 17cm long. At the end of some of the marks in siltstone was a circular kind of “footprint.” The traces cannot be scratch marks, because they show curves and “directional changes.”1 Does any living animal make similar markings on today’s seafloors?

Fossil Anemone Tracks Don't Fit Evolution

Fossil Anemone Tracks Don’t Fit Evolution

In their study published in the Geological Society of America’s journal Geology, British and Canadian paleontologists determined that the tracks were comparable to those made by certain modern sea anemones. They wrote, “Anemones are capable of crawling across sediment and can exhibit swimming and burrowing behavior.”1 And anemones have a tubular body plan, which is consistent with the creature that made these tracks.

If correct, this extends muscular animal locomotion “five million years earlier”1 than previous evolutionary thinking had held. Fossil finds consistently cause a rewriting of evolutionary history. There are often as many versions of it as there are scientists looking into the relevant fossils.

For example, a recent find of tracks made by a four-legged creature in Poland demonstrated that animals with fully operable legs were walking long before their supposed ancestors, such as Tiktaalik, “emerged.”2 That highly debated fossil was initially hailed as one of the earliest creatures to make the evolutionary transition from water to land. Although the Polish tracks should erase Tiktaalik’s transitional status, the removal of its accompanying story from textbooks and museums promises to be painstakingly slow.

The Geology study’s authors concluded their report on the Newfoundland tracks with, “We consider that these impressions are consistent with locomotion traces produced by a cnidarian-like organism.”1 Cnidarians are animals that include jellyfish and sea anemones. But how cnidarian-like was it? Since it was presumably able to live, reproduce, consume, metabolize, and move around enough to leave behind a trail, there is no empirical reason to believe that it was anything less than a real and complete sea anemone, perhaps like those living today.

If so, sea anemones may take the prize for the most stable animal life form over the longest evolutionary period of time. Though a body fossil found nearby―either horizontally or below―would provide higher quality evidence that these tracks were indeed made by sea anemones, the evidence at present is convincing.

That would mean that not only do anemones appear suddenly and fully formed in the fossil record, but they were able to leave behind prints of their characteristic circular footpad and have retained the same form since. The anemone has therefore not evolved significantly in “565 million years,” a wildly unlikely assertion in the context of macroevolution.3

The evidence may not fit the evolutionary story, but it does not conflict with biblical history. Ediacaran deposits like the one the tracks were found in can be thought of as remains from the pre-Flood ocean floor. Though in many places it would have been ripped up, reworked, and re-deposited by the great Flood, it appears that some of it was covered over and preserved by flood-borne sediments. Most often, this material lies far beneath vast fossil-bearing flood deposits, but it crops up in a few places around the globe.

In any case, the animal that made these tracks definitely had the ability to move. And moving animals today must use a fully intact suite of precisely specified muscle proteins, including actin, myosin, and a host of supporting enzymes for construction and operation. In jellyfish, which are often transparent, there are no muscle cells. They do have, however, the same muscle proteins as muscle cells have, although the protein suite resides in their skin cells.

Interdependent, complicated systems like these never spontaneously “emerge.” They are always intentionally constructed. And sea anemones, if they are indeed responsible for these tracks, were apparently constructed correctly from the start of creation only thousands, not billions, of years ago.4

References

  1. Liu, A. G., D. McIlroy, D. and M. Brasier. 2010. First evidence for locomotion in the Ediacara biota from the 565 Ma Mistaken Point Formation, Newfoundland. Geology. 38 (2): 123-126.
  2. Sherwin, F. Banner Fossil for Evolution Is DemotedICR News. Posted on icr.org January 27, 2010, accessed February 18, 2010.
  3. The same problem is evident with the damselfly and other living fossils. See Thomas, B. New Population Found of Damselfly ‘Living Fossil.’ ICR News. Posted on icr.org January 19, 2010, accessed February 19, 2010.
  4. DeYoung, D. 2005. Thousands, Not Billions. Green Forest, AR: Master Books.

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WFS News: Prehistoric frog in 99-million-year-old amber

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In the film Jurassic Park, dinosaur DNA is extracted from mosquitoes which had been preserved in amber.

Now, scientists have discovered an amber fossil of a juvenile frog in present-day Myanmar dating back about 99 million years.Although the species is extinct, it has now been named Electrorana limoae and is one of four fossils that proves ancient frogs lived in wet tropical forests.

“It’s almost unheard of to get a fossil frog from this time period that is small, has preservation of small bones and is mostly three-dimensional. This is pretty special,” said Dr David Blackburn.

The best-preserved fossil of the group is of Electrorana limoae. Pic: Lida Xing/University of Geosciences

The best-preserved fossil of the group is of Electrorana limoae. Pic: Lida Xing/University of Geosciences

Dr Blackburn, who is the study’s co-author and the associate curator of herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, added: “But what’s most exciting about this animal is its context.

“These frogs were part of a tropical ecosystem that, in some ways, might not have been that different to what we find today – minus the dinosaurs.”

The findings and species description have been published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, alongside a CT scan of the amber fossil.They state that while frogs have been around for at least 200 million years, it’s difficult to know what their early evolutionary forms were like because their fossils do not tend to be well preserved.This means that the fossil record for frogs is skewed towards more robust species which live in arid and seasonal environments, despite the bulk of today’s frog species living in tropical forests.

“Ask any kid what lives in a rainforest, and frogs are on the list,” said Dr Blackburn, “but surprisingly, we have almost nothing from the fossil record to say that’s a longstanding association.”

Fortunately the amber deposits of northern Myanmar in southeast Asia provide a rare glimpse into the ecosystems of ancient forests.

Scientists have found fossil evidence of mosses as well as bamboo-like plants, and more complicated life including aquatic spiders and velvet worms in the amber.Electrorana and the other fossils are the first frogs to be recovered from these deposits and show how frogs inhabited wet, tropical forests during the Cretaceous period.

Although less than an inch long, Electrorana is the most well-preserved of this group of fossils.The frog’s skull is clearly visible through the amber, as are its forelimbs and part of its backbone, as well as a partial hind limb and the unidentified beetle.

But the fossil of the frog raises more questions than it answers, said Dr Blackburn.

Many of the characteristics which herpetologists use to analyse a frog’s evolutionary and life history – the wrist bones, the pelvis, hip bones, the inner ear, and the top of the backbone – are either missing from the fossil or were not yet fully developed in the juvenile frog.

Although the bones that the team are able to see do provide some clues about Electrorana’s possible living relatives, the results are puzzling.Dr Blackburn said that species which have similar features include fire-bellied toads and midwife toads – Eurasian species that live in temperate and not tropical ecosystems.

Gathering CT skeletal data for both living and extinct frogs, one of Dr Blackburn’s long-term projects, is intended to reveal their ancient evolutionary relationships.

@WFS,World Fossil Society,Riffin T Sajeev,Russel T Sajeev

WFS News: A new therocephalian from Russia

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A new therocephalian (Gorynychus masyutinae gen. et sp. nov.) from the Permian Kotelnich locality, Kirov Region, Russia

Kammerer CF, Masyutin V. (2018A new therocephalian (Gorynychus masyutinae gen. et sp. nov.) from the Permian Kotelnich locality, Kirov Region, RussiaPeerJ 6:e4933https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.4933

A new therocephalian taxon (Gorynychus masyutinae gen. et sp. nov.) is described based on a nearly complete skull and partial postcranium from the Permian Kotelnich locality of Russia. Gorynychus displays an unusual mixture of primitive (“pristerosaurian”) and derived (eutherocephalian) characters. Primitive features of Gorynychus include extensive dentition on the palatal boss and transverse process of the pterygoid, paired vomers, and a prominent dentary angle; derived features include the absence of the postfrontal. Gorynychus can be distinguished from all other therocephalians by its autapomorphic dental morphology, with roughly denticulated incisors and postcanines. Phylogenetic analysis recovers Gorynychus as a non-lycosuchid, non-scylacosaurid therocephalian situated as sister-taxon to Eutherocephalia. The identification of Gorynychus as the largest predator from Kotelnich indicates that therocephalians acted as apex predators in middle–late Permian transition ecosystems in Russia, corroborating a pattern observed in South African faunas. However, other aspects of the Kotelnich fauna, and Permian Russian tetrapod faunas in general, differ markedly from those of South Africa and suggest that Karoo faunas are not necessarily representative of global patterns.

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Holotype of Gorynychus masyutinae.

Holotype of Gorynychus masyutinae.

Recent expeditions by the Vyatka Paleontological Museum have collected a wealth of spectacularly-preserved Permian fossils near the town of Kotelnich along the Vyatka River in European Russia. These fossil discoveries include the remains of two previously unknown species of predatory protomammals, newly described in the journal PeerJ by Christian Kammerer of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and Vladimir Masyutin of the Vyatka Paleontological Museum. The first of the two new species, Gorynychus masyutinae, was a wolf-sized carnivore representing the largest predator in the Kotelnich fauna. The second new species, Nochnitsa geminidens, was a smaller, long-snouted carnivore with needle-like teeth. Gorynychus belongs to a subgroup of protomammals called therocephalians (“beast heads”), whereas Nochnitsa belongs to a different subgroup called gorgonopsians (“gorgon faces”).

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Anterior snout and dentition of Gorynychus masyutinae. (A) Photograph and (B) interpretive drawing of the skull (KPM 346) in anterior view. (C) Disarticulated incisor (KPM 348) associated with skull in presumed anterior or anterolateral view. Abbreviations: apc, anterior premaxillary channel; mx, maxilla; na, nasal; nr, naris; pmx, premaxilla; smx, septomaxilla. Gray coloration indicates matrix. Scale bars equal 1 cm. Photographs and drawing by Christian F. Kammerer.

Anterior snout and dentition of Gorynychus masyutinae.
(A) Photograph and (B) interpretive drawing of the skull (KPM 346) in anterior view. (C) Disarticulated incisor (KPM 348) associated with skull in presumed anterior or anterolateral view. Abbreviations: apc, anterior premaxillary channel; mx, maxilla; na, nasal; nr, naris; pmx, premaxilla; smx, septomaxilla. Gray coloration indicates matrix. Scale bars equal 1 cm. Photographs and drawing by Christian F. Kammerer.

Both new species are named after legendary monsters from Russian folklore, befitting their menacing appearances. Gorynychus is named after Zmey Gorynych, a three-headed dragon, and Nochnitsa is named after a malevolent nocturnal spirit. (Based on their relatively large eye sockets, it is likely that Nochnitsa and its relatives were nocturnal.)

Gorynychus and Nochnitsa improve scientists’ understanding of ecosystem reorganization after the mid-Permian extinction (260 mya). Although not as well-known as the more devastating end-Permian mass extinction (252 mya, which nearly wiped out protomammals), the mid-Permian mass extinction also played a major role in shaping the course of protomammal evolution. In typical late Permian ecosystems, the top predators were giant (tiger-sized), saber-toothed gorgonopsians and therocephalians were generally small insectivores. In mid-Permian ecosystems, by contrast, these roles are reversed. At Kotelnich, the saber-toothed top predator Gorynychus is a therocephalian and the only gorgonopsians are much smaller animals.

“In between these extinctions, there was a complete flip-flop in what roles these carnivores were playing in their ecosystems — as if bears suddenly became weasel-sized and weasels became bear-sized in their place,” says Kammerer. The new species from Russia provide the first evidence that there was a worldwide turnover in predators after the mid-Permian extinction, and not just a localized turnover in South Africa.

Kammerer adds, “Kotelnich is one of the most important localities worldwide for finding therapsid fossils — not only because they are amazingly complete and well-preserved there, but also because they provide an all-too-rare window into mammal ancestry in the Northern Hemisphere during the Permian.”

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