EGU Blogs

Palaeontology

Why I think the Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary is super important

This was originally posted here.

Mass extinctions are insanely catastrophic, but important, events that punctuate the history of life on Earth. The Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary, around 145 million years ago, was originally thought of to represent a mass extinction, but has subsequently been ‘down-graded’ to a minor extinction event based on new discoveries.

However, compared to other important stratigraphic boundaries, like the end-Triassic or the end-Cretaceous, both time periods representing mass extinction events, the Jurassic/Cretaceous (J/K) boundary actually remains really poorly understood. This is both in terms of what was going on with different animal groups at the time, and what environmental changes were occurring alongside this.

Well, I have a new research paper out now that synthesises more than 600 research articles, bringing them together to try and build a single picture of what was going on around this time! It’s free to read here, and is essentially the literature review from my thesis, or as I like to think of it, the justification for my existence as a researcher!

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New species of ‘river dolphin’ reveals their ancient marine origins

A new species of extinct dolphin closely related to modern Amazonian ‘river dolphins’, but which dwelled in ancient oceans, is helping to solve the mystery of how and when dolphins adapted for life away from the sea.

Freshwater dolphins are endangered, largely due to human activity. In modern ecosystems, only five or six species remain, and among these, the Yangtze ‘river dolphin’ was declared ‘functionally extinct’ in 2006.

These animals are truly remarkable, and show what scientists have interpreted as adaptations for helping to navigate the murky waters of the winding rivers they inhabit: broad, paddle-shaped flippers, and long narrow snouts – much longer than their modern, sea-dwelling cousins – and flexible necks for catching rapidly darting prey.

An artist's recreation of Isthminia panamensis feeding on a flatfish. Many features of this new species appear similar to today’s ocean dolphins, yet the new fossil species is more closely related to the living Amazon River dolphin. Image: Julia Molnar / Smithsonian Institution

An artist’s recreation of Isthminia panamensis feeding on a flatfish. Many features of this new species appear similar to today’s ocean dolphins, yet the new fossil species is more closely related to the living Amazon River dolphin. Image: Julia Molnar / Smithsonian Institution

Scientists from the Smithsonian discovered a new genus and species of extinct ‘river dolphin’, hailing from the Caribbean Coast of Panama 6 million years ago during a time known as the Miocene. Based on a skull and parts of the right flipper, they estimate it could grow to more than 9 feet in length, just slightly larger than its modern relatives. The new animal is named Isthminia panamensis, as a dedication to the people of the Republic of Panama, and the many scientists who’ve studied the biology and geology of the region.

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Welcome to guest blogger Dr. Sabine Lengger!

Hi readers of “Green tea and Velociraptors”, my name is Sabine Lengger, I am a scientist, and I am an avid reader of Jon’s blog too. I started out my scientific career as a chemist / biochemist, and became more and more fascinated by the fields of environmental chemistry and molecular palaeontology. Since Jon spends all day [apparently] writing his thesis these days and asked for a guest writer, I thought I could add the occasional thought on fossils from my perspective. Below there’s a little introduction to palaeontology from the organic chemist’s point of view, and the stuff that we get excited about … molecules!

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SVPCA 2015

This year, the 63rd Symposium for Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy is taking place alongside the 24th Symposium of Palaeontological Preparation and Conservation with the Geological Curators’ Group (what a mouth-full..), at the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton.

I don’t have much to say about this conference, as I’m heading to it’s international cousin, SVP (Society for Vertebrate Paleontology) in Dallas soon, but it’s a pretty cool event. Most importantly, the abstracts are all freely available to read online here in advance. There’s a great range of research, mostly from researchers based in the UK, but a great chance to see some of the fab things that people are working on here in the field. Enjoy!

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