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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Where did all the mammoths go?

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=1037

Let’s go meta. Recently, ecologist extraordinaire Dr. Jacquelyn Gill (or is it Professor cos of that weird American system?) wrote a wonderful review article on the extinctions that affected many large mammal species during the last 50-10,000 years. This period is known as the Quaternary, and was a time when ice ages were running rife between warmer periods, and herds of enigmatic mammals roamed the steppes. It’s also a time when many wonderful animals, such as mammoths, disappeared from our planet forever, apart from rare fuzzy sightings from drunk Russians that later turn out to be a bear, or nothing. The result is that although we have a spectacular range of mammals decorating our landscapes today, this is but a shadow of mammals’ true splendour back just a few thousand years.

Legit scientific claims (source)

Legit scientific claims (source)

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Can fossil mammals help us with our conservation efforts?

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=466

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.

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Did dinosaurs lactate..?

The fossil record is brutally frustrating; it mostly preserves only vestiges of deaths long past as body fossils, with occasional glimpses of life being gleaned from their surroundings and any trace fossils, or activity fossils that we might find. One question palaeontologists have long been seeking the answer for is how good were dinosaurs as parents? Modern birds are descended from dinosaurs, and are pretty awesome parents in their nesting, brooding, and raising of their chicks from birth until they can quite literally fly the nest. But birds are the only extant group of dinosaurs out of three major lineages.

Partial skeleton of an oviraptorid dinosaur brooding over a nest of eggs. Source.

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Another Page Written in the History of Tetrapod Biodiversity

The story of vertebrate evolution over the last 250 million years is one of the most remarkable, and most complex to unravel, stories of all time. Throughout the ages, extraordinary species and groups have come and gone, and we are left now with only a fingerprint of times long forgotten. Recreating and detecting macroevolutionary patterns within and between vertebrate groups using the fossil record involves an excruciating amount of work, due to the massive amount of data required to be sampled, and the potential number of parameters that could influence biological trends.

Continuing work from his MSc thesis, Roland Sookias (and Roger Benson and Richard Butler) continues to make a name for himself by rigorously analysing the terrestrial tetrapod record within the late Palaeozoic and early Mesozoic. His latest paper [free to access!] extends the analysis of his first (looking at the interaction of intrinsic traits (i.e., body mass) within and between clades of tetrapods around the time that dinosaurs began their ascent) by looking at the impact of extrinsic (i.e., environmental) parameters on body size.

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