My interview with Imperial College on the rise and fall of ancient dinosaur-eating crocodiles

While back in London recently for my PhD viva, the opportunity came up to speak with the Communications Office at Imperial College about some of my research. Naturally I pounced at the chance to discuss my research and broadcast it to a wider audience. The short audio for the interview is now online here, and we discuss everything from the impact of changing climates on biodiversity to giant, dinosaur-devouring crocodiles! Enjoy 🙂

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Dr Jon Tennant studied these creatures as part of his PhD in theDepartment of Earth Science and Engineering. He was exploring the biodiversity and the extinction of some tetrapods, which is a classification for all creatures with four limbs.

Dr Tennant, who is also a science communicator and children’s author, looked at some of the most fearsome tetrapods of them all – crocodilians. These creatures, which alligators and crocodiles are modern ancestors of, lived on Earth over one hundred million years ago in the deserts, coasts, oceans and even the artic regions of our planet. Some, like the Sarchosuchus, were the size of double-decker buses, and going by the fossil evidence, fed on dinosaurs, who were rival ‘apex’ predators.

Dr Tennant discovered in his research that changes in sea level, brought on by fluctuations in the climate and continent movements, changed the world of tetrapods like the Sarchosuchus forever. Now, he is embarking on a six-month exploration of the planet, including some of the regions where modern crocodilians live. Colin Smith caught up with Dr Tennant to talk about his favourite ancient crocodilians and how changes in early Earth impacted on their biodiversity. 

Full podcast here and you can download the mp3 file here.

Ecological reshuffle following a crocodyliform extinction

Chaaaaange places! Sometimes, when extinction hits it’s not quite the dramatic ‘great dying’ we might think of where animals choke their final breaths out in the desolate, lifeless wastelands. Sometimes, it’s more like the Mad Hatter’s tea party from Alice in Wonderland: chaotic, messy, no major character dies, but you can be sure that something pretty weird and dramatic has just happened.

Well, I think this is what happened around 145 million years ago at the Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary. In a recent paper, we analysed the diversity and extinction patterns of crocodyliforms – the group that includes modern crocodiles and their super cool ancestors – and found that they got hit pretty hard by an extinction event around this time.

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Why I think the Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary is super important

Mass extinctions are insanely catastrophic, but important, events that punctuate the history of life on Earth. The Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary, around 145 million years ago, was originally thought of to represent a mass extinction, but has subsequently been ‘down-graded’ to a minor extinction event based on new discoveries.

However, compared to other important stratigraphic boundaries, like the end-Triassic or the end-Cretaceous, both time periods representing mass extinction events, the Jurassic/Cretaceous (J/K) boundary actually remains really poorly understood. This is both in terms of what was going on with different animal groups at the time, and what environmental changes were occurring alongside this.

Well, I have a new research paper out now that synthesises more than 600 research articles, bringing them together to try and build a single picture of what was going on around this time! It’s free to read here, and is essentially the literature review from my thesis, or as I like to think of it, the justification for my existence as a researcher!

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Citizen science in ecology and evolution? Sounds apps-olutely fantastic.. *tumbleweed*

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=1036

There’s a lot of talk these days about science communication. Some people spend their lives debating the differences between outreach, public engagement, and science communication, and how they all mean different things. As a scientist, and I’m quite sure I can speak on behalf of the entire community, we don’t give a toss what you call the model – let us interact with people. And by interact, we mean get reciprocal. This is true science communication or whatever fancy name you want to call it, and it’s where people give something back and get physical with the science. Great platforms for this include discussion sessions, café scientifiques, science festivals, and of course, citizen science.

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