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6 news posts in Paleontology

Earth science

17 Jan 2023

Rare fossilized feathers reveal secrets of paleontology hotspot during Cretaceous period

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Fossil STM 15-36, photographed by Xuwei Yin at the Shangdong Tianyu Museum of Natural History. Photograph courtesy of the authors. Rare preserved soft tissue – feathers from early Cretaceous birds at Jehol Biota – sheds new light on the world in which they died, millions of years ago. The site of Jehol Biota in China is famous for stunning fossils which preserve soft tissue – skin, organs, feathers, and fur. These fossils offer rare insights into the evolution of characteristics like flight, but they need careful interpretation to understand what the soft tissue looked and behaved like in life, and how decomposition may have affected it. A study published in Frontiers in Earth Science analyzed five fossils of an early Cretaceous bird, Sapeornis chaoyangensis, in order to study how the environment they were buried in changed the preservation of their soft tissue. “Jehol Biota provides the most informative source for understanding Mesozoic ecology,” said corresponding author Dr Yan Zhao, based at the Institute of Geology and Paleontology, Linyi University. “Better understanding of the diverse taphonomy of Jehol terrestrial vertebrates can help us finally understand more about the past and future of biological evolution.” […]

Earth science

16 Aug 2021

Secret to speediness of ancient bipedal reptile has been revealed

By Clarissa Wright, Frontiers science writer Close-up of a reptile eye, but not the ancient Eudibamus cursoris. Image Aedka Studio/ The Early Permian marked a time of major seasonal changes on the planet, as reptiles rapidly diversified. A key innovation is seen in bolosaurids with the ability to run at high speeds on two legs. Scientists from California State University and Carnegie Museum of Natural History in the US and University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada, collaborated in a study recently published to Frontiers presenting the first comprehensive description of the earliest known bipedal reptile from the Early Permian – a type of bolosaurid called Eudibamus cursoris. For the first time, its unique style of locomotion that achieved high running speeds on two legs has been revealed. The Permian period (between 298.9m and 252.2m years ago) was the last period of the Paleozoic Era. The Earth was warming out of an ice age, while weather intensified. Remnants of carboniferous rainforests disappeared, replaced by open desert. Facing these environmental changes, reptiles rapidly diversified and showed remarkable innovations during the Permian. Bolosaurids are the oldest family belonging to the ancient group of extinct reptiles known as Parareptilla (or parareptiles), and are considered a […]

Jingmai O'Connor crossing her arms and leaning on a table while looking at fossilized remains of a bird.

Earth science

22 Feb 2021

Jingmai O’Connor: ‘I think people imagine we spend far more time digging up fossils than we actually do’

By Colm Gorey, Frontiers science writer/Jingmai O’Connor Jingmai O’Connor, associate curator of fossil reptiles at Chicago’s Field Museum. Image: Jesse Goldberg Jingmai O’Connor, associate curator of fossil reptiles at Chicago’s Field Museum, discusses a recent ‘bizarre’ ancient digestive discovery and the issue of diversity in paleontology. In a recently published study to Frontiers in Earth Science, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Field Museum in the US published findings on the discovery of quartz crystals in the stomach of a fossilized bird that lived alongside the dinosaurs. According to Jingmai O’Connor, the associate curator of fossil reptiles at Chicago’s Field Museum who contributed to the paper, it appeared to be “some kind of bizarre form of soft tissue preservation that we’ve never seen before”. She added: “Figuring out what’s in this bird’s stomach can help us understand what it ate and what role it played in its ecosystem.” O’Connor is an American paleontologist whose research focuses on the dinosaur-bird transition and the Mesozoic evolution of birds and other flying dinosaurs. Her research includes studies of exceptional soft tissues, such as lung and ovary traces preserved in specimens from Jehel Biota between 130 million and 130 million years ago. […]

<p>Mammoth in a snowstorm. Credit: Carl Buell</p>

Life sciences

22 Apr 2016

DNA proves mammoths mated beyond species boundaries

By Tania FitzGeorge-Balfour, Frontiers science writer Several species of mammoth are thought to have roamed across the North American continent. A new study in the open-access journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, provides DNA evidence to show that these mammoths, which should only mate within their species boundaries, were in fact likely to be interbreeding. A species can be defined as a group of similar animals that can successfully breed and produce fertile offspring. By using differences in the size and shape of their fossilized teeth, a number of North American mammoth species have been identified. But, some scientists are not confident this method of species categorization tells the whole story. “Species boundaries can be very blurry. We might find differences in features of the teeth or skeleton that closely correspond to what we think are real species boundaries. But other features may not correspond to those boundaries, suggesting that what we formerly regarded as separate species are in fact not at all,” explains Hendrik Poinar, a Professor at McMaster University in Canada, who co-led the new study with his former graduate student Jake Enk and collaborator Ross MacPhee, a Professor at the American Museum of Natural History. Professor Poinar […]