Posts Tagged ‘palaeontology’

Dig for victory

Dig for victory

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives, Research

In a previous post I showed what I think being a palaeontologist is all about, especially the point that palaeontologists are different from oryctologists. The first ones study changes of biodiversity through time, the second ones extract fossils (but again, both are far from exclusive). Here is a short summary of  experience working at Upper Cretaceous excavation sites in the South of France (that’s around 80-65 million years old) namely in the Bellevue excavation site in Esperaza run by the Musée des Dinosaures. First step is to find a place to dig. Why along the road? It doesn’t have to be but [&hellip

What is(n’t) palaeontology like?

What is(n’t) palaeontology like?

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

After rereading Sive’s excellent blog post on what is a zoologist or at least what is it like to study it, I remember having a slightly similar difficulty in explaining my background in palaeontology. Reactions range from: “Oh… Palaeontology? That’s like the origins of humans and stuff?” or “So you go on excavations and find ancient Roman pottery?” to “Bheuuh, want another beer?”. What frustrated me is that none of these reactions are correct but neither are they totally incorrect (especially the last one!). Palaeontology is not archaeology Most people that have only a vague idea of what [&hellip

Gould Mine

Gould Mine

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

The career of Stephen Jay Gould eludes easy definition because of his prolific output in so many areas. Michael Shermer characterises him as a historian of science and scientific historian, popular scientist and scientific populariser. The popular science writings of Stephen Jay Gould (20 of his 22 books and hundreds of articles) are responsible for making me want to study macroevolution. He said of his popular essays that they were intended “for professionals and lay readers alike”. We have already covered some aspects of science communication, like how to do it and which kind of scientists should engage in it. Gould wrote 479 [&hellip

How Good is the Fossil Record?

How Good is the Fossil Record?

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

One of the projects I’ve been working on recently has concerned diversity in the fossil record. In broad terms I’m looking at how diversity has changed over the last 540 million years, a period known as the Phanerozoic which starts at the Cambrian explosion and continues to this day. I want to try and understand what causes the periodic increases and decreases in diversity. I’m not a palaeontologist, so this work has involved a massive learning curve in order to understand how we know what we know about the fossil record. What I’ve learned has led me [&hellip

The Placental mammal saga; special summer double episode

The Placental mammal saga; special summer double episode

By EcoEvo@TCD | Reviews

As I wrote in a previous post last winter, O’Leary et al. added their oar into the Placental Mammal origins debate. For anyone who missed that episode, they argued, with the backing of masses of morphological data, that placental mammal orders appeared right after the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs (also known as the explosive model). This was in opposition to two other views based on DNA data which argue that placentals appeared way before (long-fuse model) or slightly before (short-fuse model) the Mexican dinosaurs had to deal with some meteorite… Again, have a look at this previous [&hellip

Dinosaurs are useless if they don't go in trees!

Dinosaurs are useless if they don’t go in trees!

By EcoEvo@TCD | Perspectives

I’d like to ask the question many paleontologists have to face when they (foolishly) venture out of their museum storage: “So you’re studying fossils right? But what will that bring to the people? A cure for AIDS?”. There are many possible answers from a punch in the face to more mature responses. But I was recently asking myself the question from a biologist’s point of view: “What can biologists really do with the fossil record?”. Well obviously, we can use it to recreate and understand the history of our planet (like in Nature last week) or to [&hellip

Chronicle of a death foreseen

Chronicle of a death foreseen

By EcoEvo@TCD | Reviews

Why did Neanderthals go extinct while humans prospered? There are volumes full of speculations into the decline and fall of our burly cousin who last walked the Earth 30,000 years ago. Climate change may have reduced the large herbivores on which they depended for food. Humans may have inadvertently spread lethal diseases to them when we first came into contact. Perhaps the most sinister hypothesis is that we extirpated them in an ancient act of genocide (/speciescide?). Researchers at Oxford now argue that Neanderthal orbit size gives us an insight into the reason for their downfall. They [&hellip

You're grounded!

You’re grounded!

By EcoEvo@TCD | Reviews

Pterosaurs are the largest animals to have ever flown. Some species had wingspans exceeding 10 metres dwarfing the largest avian challenger. It must have been quite a sight to see one of these things blocking out the Mesozoic sun. But there have been niggling doubts about the ability of the larger representatives to fly. Will we have to re-evaluate our mental image of the Mesozoic and ground our pterosaurs? Flight is no easy thing for an animal. It makes all sorts of demands on the physiology, morphology and ecology of the creature trying to take to the air for [&hellip