To better predict the ecological and evolutionary effects of the emerging biodiversity crisis in the modern oceans, we compared the association between extinction threat and ecological traits in modern marine animals to associations observed during past extinction events using a database of 2497 marine vertebrate and mollusc genera. We find that extinction threat in the modern oceans is strongly associated with large body size, whereas past extinction events were either nonselective or preferentially removed smaller-bodied taxa. Pelagic (coastal and middle dwelling ocenic fish) animals were victimized more than benthic (bottom dwelling) animals during previous mass extinctions but are not preferentially threatened in the modern ocean. The differential importance of large-bodied animals to ecosystem function portends greater future ecological disruption than that caused by similar levels of taxonomic loss in past mass extinction events.
Trophy Hunting Sustains, Prospers, and Preserves Wildlife Habitats and Residents- The Story Revealed
To the untrained eye, most fossils don’t appear to be bursting with color. The first scientific analysis of fossil color was published only a decade ago, and until recently, determining the color palette of the prehistoric world seemed an insurmountable task.
Maria McNamara, a paleontologist at University College Cork in Ireland, is trying to piece together the fossil evidence to paint a colorful picture of the past. When people think of paleontology, they often think of hard teeth and bone, but the softer parts of animals, like skin, muscle tissue and internal organs, can be preserved in the fossil record, too. It's much rarer, of course, because the squishy stuff usually rots away, but soft tissues are exactly the kind of specimens McNamara is looking for. She studies tissues from insects and vertebrates in order to envision what these critters looked like and how they interacted with their environments—what their predators were, where they lived, what their mating habits may have been and more.
McNamara will be discussing her work to find the color remnants in fossils at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History’s "Life’s Greatest Hits: Key Events in Evolution" symposium on Friday, March 29, in Washington DC. Ahead of her talk, Smithsonian.com spoke to McNamara to learn more about the colors of the ancient world.
Read more: SMITHSONIAN.COM
Paleontologists have just uncovered the remarkably pristine cranium of an ancient bird along with three partial skulls. These remains combine modern and primitive features in surprising ways to capture a fascinating moment in avian evolution.
The Ichthyornis fossils starkly contrast the skeletons of current birds. Modern birds have less musculature in their jaw and larger braincases than their predecessors. Whereas today’s birds have lightweight, toothless snouts, the fossils have large, toothed upper jaws—more comparable to those of dinosaurs. The Ichthyornis specimens even have openings in the top of their skulls, just like in T. rex fossils, to allow for large muscles.
Beelzebufo ampinga, so named for the ancient deity often called the "Lord of the Flies," was a devilish frog indeed. The species, which lived on the island of Madagascar around 70 million years ago, was likely the biggest frog that ever hopped about the Earth (National Geographic describes it, delightfully, as "beach-ball-size"). And according to new research on its modern cousins published in Scientific Reports, Beelzebufo ampinga may have had jaws powerful enough to obliterate small dinosaurs.
Paleontologists in Argentina have uncovered a dinosaur unlike anything ever seen before. Alive some 140 million years ago, these majestic herbivores featured long, forward-pointing spikes running along their necks and backs. These spikes may have served a defensive role, but their exact purpose now presents a fascinating new mystery.
NATURE.COM Bajadasaurus pronuspinax
One fish, two fish, crayfish—new fish?
Though it might sound like the plotline of a Dr. Seuss book, that’s what actually happened to the threespine stickleback fishes of Canada’s Enos Lake. For thousands of years, two distinct species of these spiny silver sea creatures—known as the benthic sticklebacks and the limnetic sticklebacks, both descended from a single species—lived in peaceful coexistence. The former stayed near the floor, where they fed on bottom-dwellers; the latter swam up near the sun, eating insects at the surface. Their habitats and behaviors were so different that they rarely met, and never interbred. And all was well.
But then something strange happened: The two species of fish once again became one. How?