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New species discovery sheds light on herbivore evolution

Main Point:

Fossil extends knowledge on caseid eating habits and time period.

Published in:

PLOS ONE

Study Further:

A new fossil may provide evidence that large caseid herbivores, the largest known terrestrial vertebrates of their time, evolved from small non-herbivorous members of that group, according to a study published April 16, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Robert Reisz from University of Toronto and Jörg Fröbisch of the Museum für Naturkunde.

The origin and early evolution of vertebrates living on land led to major changes in the structure of terrestrial ecosystems. The first appearance of herbivores played a pivotal role in this transformation, and a newly discovered species, Eocasea martini, from Kansas, USA may provide information about early caseids. In this study, researchers describe and discuss the evolutionary and paleoecological implications of this new taxon.

The oldest caseid recorded, E. martini was from the Late Carboniferous, about 305-300 million years ago. The characteristics of the fossil indicate that it was likely a small carnivore. Caseids are characteristically herbivores, so this fossil may provide evidence that large caseid herbivores evolved from small carnivorous members of that group. This pattern is mirrored by three other groups, documenting multiple, independent, but temporally staggered, origins of herbivory and a possible increase in body size among early terrestrial tetrapods, leading to patterns consistent with modern terrestrial ecosystems.

“The evolution of herbivory was revolutionary to life on land because it meant terrestrial vertebrates could directly access the vast resources provided by terrestrial plants,” says paleontologist Robert Reisz, Department of Biology. “These herbivores in turn became a major food resource for large land predators.”

Reference:

Reisz RR, Fröbisch J (2014) The Oldest Caseid Synapsid from the Late Pennsylvanian of Kansas, and the Evolution of Herbivory in Terrestrial Vertebrates. PLoS ONE 9(4): e94518. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094518, http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0094518

Financial Disclosure:

Funding provided by a Discovery Grant from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (Canada) and an Alexander von Humboldt Visiting Fellowship (Germany) to RRR Sofja Kovalevskaja Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation donated by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Germany) to JF. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interest Statement:

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Contact:

Robert Reisz, robert.reisz@utoronto.ca, ph: 905-828-3981; Nicolle Wahl (press officer), nicolle.wahl@utoronto.ca, 905-569-4656

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by saypeople - April 17, 2014 at 2:00 am

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Extinct carnivorous marsupial may have hunted prey larger than itself

Main Point:

Skull reconstruction of marsupial suggests ability to hunt large prey, relative to its body mass.

Published in:

PLOS One

Study Further:

The reconstruction of an extinct meat-eating marsupial’s skull, Nimbacinus dicksoni, suggests that it may have had the ability to hunt vertebrate prey exceeding its own body size, according to results published April 9, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Marie Attard from the University of New England together with colleagues from the University of New South Wales.

Nimbacinus dicksoni is a member of an extinct family of Australian and New Guinean marsupial carnivores, Thylacinidae. Aside from one recently extinct species, the majority of information known about species in this family stems from recovered skull fragments, which limits species ecology and diversity analysis. Scientists recovered a ~16-11.6 million year old preserved skull of N. dicksoni from the Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil Site in northwestern Queensland, Australia, and used it to determine if N. dicksoni was more likely to hunt small or large prey. They applied virtual 3D reconstruction techniques and computer modelling to reconstruct the skull of Nimbacinus, digitally ‘crash-testing’ and comparing it to models of large living marsupial carnivores (Tasmanian devil, spotted-tailed quoll and northern quoll), and to the recently extinct Tasmanian tiger, N. dicksoni’s close relative.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by saypeople - April 10, 2014 at 2:00 am

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Leafcutter Bee Fossils Reveal Ice Age Environment at La Brea Tar Pits

Main Point:

Bee fossils aid understanding of climate of Southern California during Late Pleistocene.

Published in:

PLOS One

Study Further:

Fossilized leafcutter bee nest cells reveal new insights into the local habitat and prevailing climate at the La Brea Tar Pits toward the end of the last Ice Age, according to a recent study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on April 9, 2014 by Anna R. Holden of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) and colleagues.

One of the world’s richest and most important Ice Age fossil localities, the La Brea Tar Pits are well known for their collection of saber-toothed cats and mammoths. The site also contains an equally vast insect collection. Scientists examined the physical features of the bees, the nest cell architecture, and used environmental niche modeling to best match the ancient Ice Age specimens to Megachile gentilis. The study used micro CT scans to reconstruct images of the nest cells and bees.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by saypeople - at 2:00 am

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“RoboClam” hits new depths as robotic digger

Main Point:

A digging robot inspired by the unique mechanisms employed by the Atlantic razor clam has been created by a group of researchers in the US.

Published in:

Bioinspiration & Biomimetics

Study Further:

The robot, dubbed RoboClam, is able to dig with extreme efficiency by transforming the surrounding soil from a solid into a liquid, and could have a variety of applications from anchoring underwater robots to subsea cable installation and mine neutralization.

The first results of its performance have been published today, 9 April, in IOP Publishing’s journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics. A video of RoboClam in action can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bztw9PUiRss.

The Atlantic razor clam, Ensis directus, is a large species of mollusc found on the North American coast which has a remarkable ability to burrow quickly and deeply into wet sand, easily out-performing any human digger.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by saypeople - April 9, 2014 at 5:01 am

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Large carnivores with large geographic ranges better-studied

Main Point:

Carnivore size and range, but not conservation status matters to researchers.

Published in:

PLOS ONE

Study Further:

Scientists tend to study larger carnivores with larger geographic ranges than those with greater adaptability and broader diets, according to results published April 2, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Zoe Brooke and colleagues from Zoological Society of London.

Scientists need to evaluate research efforts and their effectiveness in order to meet the conservation needs of a wider range of species which may be threatened due to habitat loss, exploitation, and climate change. The characteristics of the species themselves may influence how much we study them, possibly creating a bias in our understanding of this diverse group of animals. In an effort to better identify patterns and causes in carnivore research, the authors combined bibliometric information they obtained from ~16,500 published papers on the Order Carnivora-a well-known group of 286 species-with information on the species’ life history and ecological traits.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by saypeople - April 3, 2014 at 2:00 am

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