EGU Blogs


The greatest mass extinction in the history of life

In palaeontology, there are so many things more important than dinosaurs. For example, the study of large-scale patterns in the history of life on Earth, commonly known as macroevolution, is all about uncovering patterns of speciation and extinction. We are currently about to enter the sixth mass extinction within the last 542 million years of life on Earth, so figuring out exactly what happened during periods of elevated extinction and ecosystem catastrophe is pretty damn important if we want to offset as much damage as possible.

Recently, a suite of new papers have been published giving detailed insight into the environmental and biological patterns and processes throughout the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, an event 252 million years ago that saw the demise of greater than 90% of life on this planet (numbers vary depending on which measure you use). What I’d like to offer here are bitesize summaries of each, and show that there is much more important research out there in palaeontology than just ‘woo new dinosaur’.

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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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The Cambridge Science Festival

Last night, I was honoured to have spoken at the final evening lecture at the Cambridge Science Festival, along with Nick Crumpton, Anjali Goswami, Rob Asher, and Stephanie Pierce, about why palaeontology is important. Below is a rough transcript of some of what my talk was about. Unlike the others, I didn’t discuss my own research. Instead, by general gist was that although palaeontology is useful in addressing some of the greatest scientific questions of our time, like the evolution and history of life on Earth, the current narrow framing of science in terms of impact is being quite detrimental to creativity and exploratory science. As such, should palaeontology be more focused on its emotive qualities, and be used as a ‘hook’, or ‘gateway’ into the other fields of science?

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Is Torosaurus Triceratops? The debate rages on!

For some time now, there has been much debate about whether our beloved dinosaur, Triceratops, is a distinct species, or a younger version of a bigger ceratopsian, Torosaurus – the great Toroceratops’ debate. Proponents of both sides of the argument have made detailed quantitative and qualitative points, and there doesn’t really seem to have been any resolution. Check out the video below for a great discussion of the issues, or this link or this link.

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