Back in the Late Cretaceous, the USA was divided. Not politically, but by a vast continental sea called the Western Interior Seaway, splitting the continent into two separate landmasses. The western one of these, known as Laramidia, played host to some of the popular dinosaurs like Parasaurolophus, or ‘Elvis’ in Pete Postlethwaite dialect, and the ceratopsian Chasmosaurus. One of the cool things about Laramidia though, is that you had a whopping great amount of these megaherbivorous dinosaurs, or omnomnomosaurs, living together in the same time and place. How could one area contain such a vast number and range of dinosaurs?
Seed dispersal by animals is incredibly important for plants to help them occupy new areas of land and reproduce. Usually, this happens using bugs, birds, or intrepid kittens, but probably the last animal on this planet you’d expect to disperse seeds is crocodiles – you know, those big beasties that take down bison for a snack. Well, turns out, they do, and it’s a process known as saurochory.
Not only that, but these king archosaurs, the vintage cousins of dinosaurs, the ones who you never smile at, eat fruit to get at seeds. A new study reviewed the diets of modern crocodiles, and showed that 13 of 18 species ate fruit of some sort (frugivory), along with a wide variety of plants.
What comes to mind when you think of dinosaur interaction? Large carnivores chomping on unsuspecting little ornithopods? Ceratopsians jousting for their next mate? Large hadrosaurs tenderly mothering their cute newborns? There are many possible images of community-level dinosaur interactions, and there is a host of evidence out there that take dinosaurs beyond the bones and breathe new life into how they lived.
Feathered dinosaurs might not still be the new boys in town in the fossil world, but there’s still a tonne of cool research being done on them. One of the main fields is trying to figure out if different species were capable of powered flight, like in most modern birds. The recent finding of Aurornis xui appears to have confined the ability to fly just to a single feathered lineage, the one leading to modern birds, but how do we figure out whether they could fly or not?
Reconstruction of Aurornis xui. Credit: Masato Hattori (source)
In terrestrial environments, predator body size is largely correlated with prey body size. The opposite is found for many predators in the marine environment – baleen whales in particular comprise some of the world’s largest mammals and yet they feed on something far smaller (plankton). The leopard seal is unusual in that it feeds both at the top and at the bottom of the food chain, consuming large prey, such as penguins and other seals, and small prey, such as krill, an abundant basal component of the Antarctic food web. While leopard seals are well known as raptorial predators with a ‘grip and tear’ feeding styles, a large portion of their diet (krill) is too small to be eaten in this way. For this, they use filter feeding to separate the krill from seawater.
How can the dead help the living? This is a question a lot of fossil-fanatics have bent a lot of time towards over recent years, partially due to a desire to make palaeontology ‘relevant’ as a modern science, and secondly to help guide our efforts in conservation biology. A new series, edited by my supervisor Dr. Phil Mannion and others, focusses on the way we interpret palaeobiodiversity, biodiversity in the fossil record, for different groups and the issues and solutions facing the field. The final article in the volume struck me in particular.
How can fossils help us to protect these now and in the future? Source.