EGU Blogs


Co-evolution, the greatest show on Earth?

One of the great questions that Palaeontology poses is how did life and the Earth co-evolve together? This is especially so in the case of early life during the Phanerozoic period (540 million years ago until now), when complex multi-cellular life took off and ultimately came to dominate the planet. When one considers the vast number of potential factors involved in this, it can be pretty overwhelming. To start off with, you have organisms themselves which adapt through altering their physical appearance and functionality. Driving this, you have the environment and the ecosystems in which organisms dwell. How many parameters can you think off that may have some effect, any effect, on the life of an organism or population of organisms, that could have some impact on evolutionary trajectory? There’s a lot, right? Some of the major environmental factors include oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations, nitrogen, temperature, humidity. You can find variations of almost any environmental variable nowadays, and correspond it to variability in the local biota. But what about during the Phanerozoic? How much can we still see left preserving this great orchestra of ever-changing life and planet?

The complex spiral of life on Earth. But what about the fine points of co-evolutionary history? Source: Astrobioblog (click for larger image)

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New Palaeontology podcast series

Palaeocast is a little side project I co-run with Dave Marshall and Joe Keating. It’s a new podcast series focusing on Palaeontology (shocking), and about getting the science directly from the scientists. We recognise that science is a process, not a series of facts, and wish to convey this process; the methods, the ups and downs, the snake bites, the everything, and really open up the world of Palaeontology.

Our logo – cool eh!

We’ve got 4 episodes currently up, and more on the way!

Episode 1: The earliest fossils and the hunt for extra-terrestrial life, with Dr. Leila Battison (NASA)

Episode 2: The giant trilobite, Isotelus rex, with Dave Rudkin (ROM, Canada)

Episode 3: Amber, and parasitism in the fossil record, with Dr George Poinar (OSU, USA)

Episode 4:The fossil forests of ancient gilboa, with William Stein (NYSM, USA)

Please do check them out, and give feedback! If you have any suggestions for future episodes, drop a comment here, and we’ll see what we can do.

A declaration of fossiliferous intent

Welcome! The EGU have been kind enough to absorb my old blog (link) into their wonderful new blogonetwork here. I’ll be providing the fossily/palaeoy joy, along with two others who will be discussing… Well, why don’t you head over and see! Geosphere is Matt Herod’s page, where he’ll be discussing mainstream geology (I think), and Geology for Global Development by Joel Gill – kind of speaks for itself with that title!

Followers of my old blog will be aware of my style (although more it’s just the result of the angle my face smashes into the keyboard). I like shredding into science, and getting stuck into the details, as well as trying to tell a story along side. Hopefully, this will become apparent in future posts. In fact, probably the best description of my blogging style comes from Oliver Knevitt, a conodont overlord at Leicester University (UK):

“Jon eats and he tweets and he never sleeps; he slogs and he blogs and he never stops. He calls out whackjobs and bitchslaps dodgy scientists; he rhapsodizes about dinosaurs, and he ridicules science policy. All in all, he a one man paleontology machine. So you should totally check out his blog.” (source)

I’ll take that. Hopefully, this gives you some sort of idea about what to expect here. Lots of dinosaurs, other Palaeo ponderings, and occasional drifts into the murky world of geoscience policy. The idea behind all of this is to initiate discussion. It’s the unheard voices that can often be the most [beneficially] provocative, and it’s the dialogue behind concepts and ideas that can be a core driver behind the advancement and increased rigor of science. So please comment away to your hearts delight here: question, query, prod, provoke.

Strangely, today I also start my PhD. Whoop. I’ll be investigating the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary to see if there’s a ‘hidden’ mass extinction in terrestrial vertebrates, as well as looking in detail at some groups such as atoposaurid crocodylomorphs. This is to feed into a much larger ongoing project to reconstruct the patterns and processes of vertebrate biodiversity from their origins on land to now. Neat eh!

Mass extinctions might be scientific concepts, but we might also be thinking about them a little too deeply..

With this in mind, I figured I’d try and sort of live-blog das PhD, from day 1 to day 1000, or however long it’s going to take. The idea is to open up the PhD process, by going into what exactly a vertebrate palaeontologist does nowadays, as well as occasionally the more general aspects of PhD life. This means going into the details of the processes, not just ‘I drawed you a graph’, but ‘here’s how you can replicate this analysis 100% if you wanted, and here’s why it’s awesome/I’m doing it’. I’m still expecting this PhD to be an awesome ride, as opposed to some of the more negative stories floating around the interwebz recently, and hopefully will be able to convey this and show that doing a PhD is something pretty damn awesome. Of course, it could be *expletive deleted*, and you might just read weekly posts of “added some data, computer died, beat up undergrad, ate soup made from cold water and ketchup”, and the like, but hopefully it’ll be a bit more of a dynamic insight than these delights.

I leave you with this warning in the mean time

The rationale behind this is simple: If I’m doing something I love, why wouldn’t I want to write about it, and if it’s something I think is awesome, why wouldn’t I wouldn’t to tell everyone else about it?? I wouldn’t be doing a PhD otherwise. It’s also a neat way of keeping a record of the experience.

Some of you are probably thinking, ‘but if you open up your PhD, won’t you just get scooped on the idea you’re investigating?’ This thought has crossed my mind, but frankly, I’m not going to be doing anything that isn’t theoretically beyond anyone else’s reach anyway, as the data is all openly available, as is much of the software I’ll be using too. Naturally, I might have to keep some of the conclusions slightly secret, until I publish them in an open access journal anyway. Every publication I’m first author on in future is going to be fully available, as far as it’s possible for me to make in terms of content and data. Taxes paid by you all are allowing me to conduct this research, so I’ll be damned if a single aspect of it will be paid for again.

I’ll post weekly updates on here, and using Twitter under the #OpenPhD hash tag, when the time comes. What I hope this will achieve is some sort of dialogue were people can see not just the end result of research, but query the processes, and gain some understanding of the scientific process at the same time. And of course, opening up the discussion means that I might be able to crowd-source some valuable points of view from you great peeps! Of course, along side this will be as much Palaeo I have time to write about. Hopefully this will be once a week, but if for some reason I can’t keep up, and fossils are like crack cocaine to you, then I recommend checking out Palaeocast for some awesome Palaeo-podcasts in a project I co-run. Let thy science be done!