EGU Blogs

Ecology

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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It’s a ruminant snout, deer

It’s a ruminant snout, deer

So the last couple of posts have been a bit of an eclectic mix of open access-y stuff and some of the research I’ve been doing on crocodiles as part of my PhD. This one is gonna be a bit of a change, about research that I recently published following my masters project a couple of years back. Weirdly, this was on the snouts of ruminants, and what they can tell us about their ecology.

The whole idea behind the project was to test previous research – to what degree can we use the different snout shapes exhibited by ruminant species to infer their ecology, based on feeding style. Traditionally, ruminants are classified into two groups – browsers and grazers – with the former being ascribed ‘pointed’ snout shapes, and the latter a more ‘blunt’ shape, for a more random cropping process when eating. We wanted to see what degree this was accurate.

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Macroecology – scaling the time barrier

If there was ever an overdue discussion in palaeontology, it was how we reconcile the differences in time scales when looking at different periods in our history. This is becoming increasingly more important as scientific research is being asked to have demonstrably greater ‘impact’ in terms of some social, economic, or environmental relevance, and for palaeobiologists and palaeoecologists, this means having some sort of notable effect on our changing world.

The day kicked off with Andy Purvis summarising what we actually mean by macroecology – I mean, it’s an impressive sounding term, but what is it scientifically? It’s actually varied quite a bit in time, with new tools and datasets meaning that our analyses have diversified and become more intricate, with the ability to answer and ask new questions about how species and populations diversify and change through time, especially with respect to the environment.

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Where did all the mammoths go?

Let’s go meta. Recently, ecologist extraordinaire Dr. Jacquelyn Gill (or is it Professor cos of that weird American system?) wrote a wonderful review article on the extinctions that affected many large mammal species during the last 50-10,000 years. This period is known as the Quaternary, and was a time when ice ages were running rife between warmer periods, and herds of enigmatic mammals roamed the steppes. It’s also a time when many wonderful animals, such as mammoths, disappeared from our planet forever, apart from rare fuzzy sightings from drunk Russians that later turn out to be a bear, or nothing. The result is that although we have a spectacular range of mammals decorating our landscapes today, this is but a shadow of mammals’ true splendour back just a few thousand years.

Legit scientific claims (source)

Legit scientific claims (source)

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