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.

Mears, E., Rossi, V., MacDonald, E., Coleman, G., Davies, T., Arias-Riesgo, C., Hildebrandt, C., Thiel, H., Duffin, C.J., Whiteside, D.I., Benton, M.J., 2016. The Rhaetian (Late Triassic) vertebrates of Hampstead Farm Quarry, Gloucestershire, UK. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, published online 14/6/2016. DOI: 10.1016/j.pgeola.2016.05.003. CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE PDF!

New Paper in Current Biology

McNamara, M.E., Orr, P.J., Kearns, S.L., Alcalá, L., Anadón, P., Peñalver, E., 2016. Reconstructing carotenoid-based and structural coloration in fossil skin. Current Biology, published online 31/3/2016. DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2016.02.038. CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE PDF!

snake_colour_reconstruction_credit_jim_robbins

Repro Free Provision 310316 The colours of the skin of a 10 million year old Spanish snake have been discovered from its colourless fossil remains by scientists at University College Cork (UCC). Picture shows UCC paleobiologist Dr Maria McNamara, with Bertie the boa constrictor who has the same colouring as the 10 million year old snake. Research by Dr Maria McNamara, UCC and her team have found that some fossils can retain evidence of skin colour from multiple pigments and structural colours depending on the conditions in which they fossilized which will aid research into the evolution and function of color in animals. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See media links related to the research here:

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/irish-scientist-recreates-fossil-in-full-colour-for-the-first-time-1.2593987

https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/discover/skin-colour-of-10-million-year-old-snake-discovered-by-ucc-research-team-727658.html

https://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/ucc-scientists-reveal-fossilised-snakes-colour-390435.html

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/03/10-million-year-old-snake-full-color

http://www.ucd.ie/newsandopinion/news/2016/april/01/colourofancientsnakediscovered/

https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/irish-scientists-fossil-study-to-reveal-colours-of-dinosaurs-34589612.html

https://www.nature.com/articles/532009e

https://phys.org/news/2016-03-fossilized-snake-true.html

https://www.siliconrepublic.com/innovation/snake-colour-discovery-ucc

Visit to Áras an Uachtaráin

maria-and-president-michael-d-higgins

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:

Godefroit, P., Sinitsa, S.M., Dhouailly, D., Bolotsky, Y.L., Sizov, A.V., McNamara, M.E., Benton, M.J., Spagna, P., 2014. Response to Comment on ‘A Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur from Siberia with both feathers and scales’. Science, 346, 434-435. DOI: 10.1126/science.1260146. CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE PDF!

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.

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