Geoscience Open Day

The School of BEES is hosting a free half-day workshop on careers in geoscience targeted at second-level students from TY to 6th year in UCC on Saturday 23rd February – please see brochure below (or download here).

Schools / Guidance Councellors: feel free to bring this event to the attention of students in your careers guidance classes, and also to the science and geography classes in your school.

Please get in touch if you have any questions via return email to: maria.mcnamara@ucc.ie.

 

NEW PAPER: Feathers in pterosaurs push back the origin of feathers by 70 million years

Scientists from University College Cork have discovered that pterosaurs had four kinds of feathers, shifting the origin of feathers back by 70 million years.

The new study, led by researchers from Nanjing University and UCC’s Dr Maria McNamara, shows that pterosaurs, which were flying reptiles that lived side by side with dinosaurs from 230 to 66 million years ago, had at least four types of feathers – simple filaments (‘hairs’), bundles of filaments, filaments with a tuft halfway down, and down feathers. 

It had long been known that pterosaurs had a furry covering, but these ‘pycnofibres’ were thought to be fundamentally different to feathers of dinosaurs and birds. In fact, the new study shows that the pycnofibres are indeed feathers, and are similar to the feathers of dinosaurs, including the ancestors of birds.  

Dr McNamara said “Some critics have suggested that there is only one simple hair-like type of pycnofibre, but our studies show different structures that we also see in dinosaurs – real feathers. We focused on areas where the feathers did not overlap and where we could see their structure more clearly. They even show fine details of pigment granules, which may have given the fluffy feathers a ginger colour.” 

The hunt for feathers in fossils is heating up and deciphering their functions in such early animals forms a critical part of the puzzle. It could rewrite our understanding of a major revolution in life on Earth during the Triassic, and our understanding of the genomic regulation of feathers, scales, and hairs in the skin. 

Zixiao Yang and Baoyu Jiang, of Nanjing University in China, studied the rocks from the Daohugou fossil localities and the pterosaurs. Mr Yang said “I was able to explore every corner of the specimens using high-powered microscopes, and we found many examples of all four feathers.” 

UCD’s Prof. Patrick Orr and Prof. Mike Benton from the University of Bristol were also involved in the study. “We ran some evolutionary analyses, and they showed clearly that the pterosaur pycnofibres are feathers, just like those seen in modern birds and across various dinosaur groups,’ said Prof. Benton. “Because the structures in the pterosaurs have the same anatomy as the feathers of birds and dinosaurs, they must share an evolutionary origin about 250 million years ago, long before the origin of birds.” 

Birds have two types of advanced feathers used in flight and for body smoothing, the contour feathers with a hollow quill and barbs down both sides. These are found only in birds and the theropod dinosaurs close to bird origins. However, the other feather types of modern birds include monofilaments and down feathers, and these are seen much more widely across dinosaurs and pterosaurs.  

Dr McNamara said “This discovery has amazing implications for our understanding of the origin of feathers, but also for a major time of revolution of life on land. When feathers arose, about 250 million years ago, life was recovering from the devastating end-Permian mass extinction.“ Independent evidence shows that land vertebrates, including the ancestors of mammals and dinosaurs, were beginning to walk upright, had acquired different degrees of warm-bloodedness, and were generally living life at a faster pace. The mammal ancestors by then had hair, so likely the pterosaurs, dinosaurs and relatives had also acquired feathers to help insulate them.” 

The study is published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution: Yang, Z.X., Jiang, B.Y., McNamara, M.E., Kearns, S.L., Pittman, M., Kaye, T.G., Orr, P.J., Xu, X., Benton, M.J. 2018. Pterosaur integumentary structures with complex feather-like branching. Nature Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0728-7.

See below for some news items on the study:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-6504273/Ancient-flying-reptiles-four-kinds-feathers-dinosaurs.html

http://www.redfm.ie/news/cork/origin-of-feathers-is-millions-of-years-older-than-we-thought/

https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/748207/Pterosaur-feather-research-science-university-college-cork

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/study-of-flying-reptile-sheds-light-on-origin-of-feathers-1.3733837

https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/not-just-splitting-hairs-ucc-study-pushes-origin-of-feathers-back-70m-years-892423.html (this was also on page 5 of the physical newspaper!:)

https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/pterosaurs-sported-feathers–claim-scientists-65220

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/17/science/pterosaur-feathers-fur.html

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181217125908.htm

https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/not-just-splitting-hairs-ucc-study-pushes-origin-of-feathers-back-70m-years-892423.html

https://www.livescience.com/64324-pterosaurs-had-feathers.html

https://www.slashgear.com/pterodactyl-feathers-flying-dinosaur-discovery-pterosaurs-17558253/

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0767-0

Prizes for two UCC Palaeogroup members!

PhD student Valentina Rossi and postdoc Dr Thomas Clements were both Highly Commended for their talks at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Palaeontological Association in Bristol over the weekend, receiving two runners-up places for the President’s Prize. A great achievement – well done to both!

(L-R) Dr Luke McDonald, Valentina Rossi, Dr Chris Rogers and Dr Thomas Clements.

New papers in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology and Journal of the Royal Society Interface

NEW! Odin, G.P., McNamara, M.E., Arwin, H., Järrendahl, K., 2018. Experimental degradation of helicoidal photonic nanostructures in scarab beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae): implications for the identification of circularly polarizing cuticle in the fossil record. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 15, . DOI: .

NEW! Yang, Z., Wang, S., Tian, Q., Wang, B., Hethke, M., McNamara, M.E., Benton, M.J., Xu, X., Jiang, B., 2018. Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction and biostratinomic analysis of the Jurassic Yanliao Lagerstätte in northeastern China. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, xx, xx. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2018.09.030.

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