New study sheds light on life in ancient tropical seas

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A new study sheds new light on the creatures that inhabited the tropical seas surrounding the UK at the start of the age of the dinosaurs.

Some 210 million years ago, the UK consisted of many islands, surrounded by warm seas. Europe at the time lay farther south, at latitudes equivalent to North Africa today. Much of Europe was hot desert, and at this point was flooded by a great sea – the Rhaetian Transgression.

The study was led by Valentina Rossi, who is a PhD student with Maria McNamara in the School of BEES, but conducted the research while an intern with Mike Benton at the University of Bristol. The study, published in Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association (10.1016/j.pgeola.2016.05.003), is the most extensive ever published on the Rhaetian rocks and is based on more than 26,000 identified fossils of sharks, bony fishes, marine reptiles, and other creatures.

Valentina, who worked on the reptile remains, said “We found teeth and bones of ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, the classic great sea dragons of the Triassic and Jurassic.”

The new work has illuminates changes in marine ecosystems during a remarkable rise in sea level. The fossils even include dozens of examples of coprolites – fossil dung – some of which contain bones and scales of fish and reptiles – clear evidence of who was eating whom in those ancient seas.

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!

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