Visit to Áras an Uachtaráin

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On 31st January Maria was invited to meet the President of Ireland, Dr Michael D. Higgins, and his wife Sabrina, at Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin at an event to celebrate the achievements of Irish women scientists. What a wonderful opportunity to form new links with other successful Irish scientists from diverse disciplines!

New Paper in Science

UCC School of BEES palaeontologist Dr Maria McNamara is involved in a paper published recently in the journal Science (10.1126/science.1259983). This paper follows on from the team’s discovery earlier this year of fossil feathers in a primitive dinosaur from Siberia (10.1126/science.1253351). This finding has proved controversial, with some other palaeontologists disputing whether the preserved features in the dinosaur are indeed feathers (10.1126/science.1259983).

McNamara’s current paper is an official response to these concerns and presents additional new data that the fossil features are feathers, confirming the team’s original interpretations of feather preservation and evolution.

New exhibition in Cork: ‘The evolution of behaviour: perspectives from the past and present’

The famous biologist Charles Darwin was fascinated by how evolution shapes animal behaviour and many of his ideas continue to influence our understanding of the field today. A new exhibition at the Boole Library in UCC ‘The evolution of behaviour: perspectives from the past and present’ runs until the end of December 2014 and showcases cutting edge research in the field of evolutionary biology by Dr Maria McNamara and her colleague Dr John Quinn at the School of BEESThe exhibition highlights spectacular fossil finds from around the world that have yielded rare glimpses of how animal behaviour has evolved through deep time. The exhibition also shows how detailed study of living bird populations over multiple generations in a modern Irish landscape reveals fascinating insights into the evolutionary significance of individual differences in behaviour. The exhibition features striking images, installations, interactive digital elements and specimens.

Science and art – launch of the ‘Fieldworks’ exhibit at UCC’s Glucksman Gallery

Last Thursday saw the launch of the ‘Fieldworks’ exhibit on habitats at the Glucksman Gallery, UCC. The launch kicked off with a panel discussion with two of the artists whose work features in the exhibition, Wesley Meuris and Sonia Shiel, plus palaeontologist Maria McNamara. The panel fielded diverse questions from the audience and from Chris Clarke, the exhibit’s curator, on why they became involved in the exhibition, their perspectives on animals in science and art, why they chose their career paths, (for the artists) what were their motives for creating specific pieces, and (for Maria) how scientists retain objectivity in their research. This was followed by refreshments and the opportunity to tour the exhibit – good times had by all!

Science and art – new exhibition ‘Fieldworks’ at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery at UCC

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This new exhibition, which sits right at the interface of the arts and natural sciences, was developed with the help of Dr Maria McNamara and colleagues at the UCC School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences. The environments inhabited by various species of animals are essential to understanding their lives, routines and habits. Their study and observation requires us to experience animals in the wild or through a careful re-creation of their natural habitats. Including works by Irish and international artists, Fieldworks explores the places inhabited by animals, from the undisturbed natural setting to urban locales to artificial or scientific displays. The exhibition incorporates a display of animal specimens, research materials and study materials used by scientists and an extensive programme of lectures, workshops, tours, courses and events. Fieldworks is curated by Chris Clarke and runs from the 1st August 2014 to the 2nd November 2014; entry is free.

New fossils suggest all dinosaurs had feathers

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Published in Science today 25/7/14 – NEW – see video

The first ever example of a primitive plant-eating dinosaur with scales and complex feathers.

Previously only advanced flesh-eating dinosaurs were known to have had feathers so this new find indicates that all dinosaurs could have been feathered.

The new dinosaur, named Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, comes from the Kulinda fossil site in eastern Siberia, and is described in a paper published in the international academic journal Science.

Kulindadromeus shows scales on its tail and shins, and short bristles on its head and back.  The most astonishing discovery, however, is that it also has complex, compound feathers on its arms and legs.

Lead author Dr Pascal Godefroit from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural History in Brussels said: “I was really amazed when I saw this.  We knew that some of the plant-eating ornithischian dinosaurs had simple bristles, and we couldn’t be sure whether these were the same kinds of structures as bird and theropod feathers.  Our new find clinches it: all dinosaurs had feathers, or at least the potential to sprout feathers.”

The feathers were studied by Dr Maria McNamara, University College Cork with colleagues in the UK and  France who specialise in the development of feathers and scales in modern reptiles and birds.

Dr McNamara of UCC said: “These feathers are really very well preserved.  We can see each filament and how they are joined together at the base, making a compound structure of six or seven filaments, each up to 15 mm long.”  Dr McNamara is a palaeontologist in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at UCC and her research focuses on how delicate soft tissues such as feathers and skin are preserved in fossils.

This discovery suggests that feather-like structures were likely widespread in dinosaurs, possibly even in the earliest members of the group. Feathers probably arose during the Triassic, more than 220 million years ago, for insulation and signalling, and were only later used for flight.  Smaller dinosaurs were probably covered in feathers, mostly with colourful patterns, and feathers may have been lost as dinosaurs grew up and became larger.

The Kulinda site was found in the summer 2010 by Sofia Sinitsa and her team from the Institute of Natural Resources, Ecology and Cryology SB RAS in Chita, Russia.  Over several summer digs, the Russian-Belgian team excavated many dinosaur fossils, as well as plant and insect fossils.

Discovery Science Festival 2013

Many thanks to all the dedicated and enthusiastic student members of the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at UCC who kindly volunteered their time to host the ‘Prehistoric Colours’ exhibit at the Discovery Science Festival at City Hall, Cork from the 16th to the 19th of November 2013. Approximately 3,000 members of the public – children, teachers and adults alike – visited the festival and had a chance to meet Microraptor and a whole host of other colourful fossils and insects ‘in the flesh’, as well as take part in a fossil hunt and play our fossilisation video game! Photos below.

Session on Konservat-Lagerstätten at the 2013 GSA Annual Meeting

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Considering attending the GSA Annual Meeting in Denver this year? Xiaoya Ma (Natural History Museum, London) and I are inviting contributions to our session #T243: ‘Konservat-Lagerstätten: morphology, ecology, and taphonomy of exceptionally preserved fossils”! This session will be a forum to present frontier research on Konservat-Lagerstätten and will encompass studies focussing on the morphology, ecology, evolution and taphonomy of exceptionally preserved fossils.

Our session will feature contributions from three invited speakers (Derek Briggs, Bob Gaines and Tom Harvey) and other high-profile palaeontologists in the field. Our session is sponsored by the Paleontological Society and the Palaeontological Association (UK) and we can offer financial assistance for early career researchers (PhD students and postdoctoral researchers) to present their work at our session.

Please contact us ([maria.mcnamara@ucc.ie / maria.mcnamara@bristol.ac.uk] or x.ma@nhm.ac.uk) to express your interest or if you have any questions. Online abstract submission is now open and the abstract deadline is 11:59 p.m., Pacific Time, 6 August 2013.

In The News

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Media reports and interviews on the colours of fossil feathers, structural colours in fossil insects, fossil frog death, and more.

Media articles on fossil feather colours: live science, Smithsonian magazine, nature news, Yale news, scienceblog, wired

Media articles on fossil insect colours: wired, scitechdaily, BBC, abc

Media articles on fossil bone marrow: National Geographic, livescience, New Scientist, BBC

Video interview: using experiments to understand fossil colours (courtesy Patrick Lynch at Yale University): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uA1gU-XQfEs

Radio interview on the Naked Scientist http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/content/interviews/interview/2234/

Podcast on Palaeocast http://www.palaeocast.com/episode-7-coulouration-in-fossils/

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