EGU Blogs

Biodiversity

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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IPC4 Day 1 – Using the past to inform the present

Welcome to the fourth International Palaeontology Congress! 900 palaeontologists have piled into the land of steak, sun, and malbec in Mendoza, Argentina, for the biggest palaeontology conference that draws from all parts of the field.

What I want to do with these posts is just provide snapshot summaries of the talks I’ve been at to provide a window into the conference and the amazing diversity of research being conducted by a global team of awesome researchers. It’s not all just dinosaurs you know! Results will not be discussed in any detail for obvious reasons.

The first symposium I attended was on the “Coevolution of the Earth and life: the role of the physical environment in species’ evolution.”

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Were dinosaurs the masters of social integration?

Back in the Late Cretaceous, the USA was divided. Not politically, but by a vast continental sea called the Western Interior Seaway, splitting the continent into two separate landmasses. The western one of these, known as Laramidia, played host to some of the popular dinosaurs like Parasaurolophus, or ‘Elvis’ in Pete Postlethwaite dialect, and the ceratopsian Chasmosaurus. One of the cool things about Laramidia though, is that you had a whopping great amount of these megaherbivorous dinosaurs, or omnomnomosaurs, living together in the same time and place. How could one area contain such a vast number and range of dinosaurs?

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Partially sane; roads – many; and time

So I hit the 9 month barrier for my PhD the other day. Where ze hell did all that time go??

Well, you can actually see if you want – I’ve uploaded the 9 month report to Figshare, excluding the preliminary results (which are beginning to look cool btw). You can find it here, where it’s already had almost 200 hits. Figshare is so awesome it hurts.

Summary points:

  • The primary task is to assess biodiversity patterns over the Jurassic/Cretaceous interval
  • Primary data collection for this is now complete, and some preliminary stats run on it to account for imperfections in the fossil record
  • There is a hell of a lot to do

I’m actually in Munich at the moment, working on alternative route to assessing this first point. I’m using a method called ‘phylogenetic diversity’, which essentially maps evolutionary trees onto time (stratigraphy), and you can interpolate where you know species should be but haven’t been found, based on their evolutionary relationships and artificially inflate diversity through time. I’m doing this for about 500 species atm, so it’s taking a lot of time, but looking pretty awesome atm – stay tuned! 🙂

Oh, the title? Not a clue – I’ve only had one coffee. PhD research is tough – you work long hours, do difficult work, and get paid a pittance, so times it can be a bit much, but it’s totally worth it; there are many paths the research could take; and thyme, never enough thyme..

Anyway, have a flick through and let me know what you think! If you think there’s something I’m missing, or an avenue in particular you’d like me to explore, drop a comment here (this is funded by UK taxpayers’ cashmoney after all) 🙂

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