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Last update: 2013-05-14

Episode 17: Ammonoid evolution and ecology

2013-05-14
Length: 1s

Ammonoids are a diverse group of cephalopods, a group of molluscs that include squid, octopuses, cuttlefish and nautiloids. They lived for over 300 million years (from the Early Devonian – the end Cretaceous) and survived multiple mass extinctions. They finally succumbed to the mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous, the same event that killed the Dinosaurs. Ammonoid fossils are found abundantly around the world and offer palaeontologists a exceptional opportunity to study the evolution, life history and ecology of these fascinating invertebrates. Today we will be talking to Dr Kenneth De Baets from the Palaeontology Section, GeoZentrum Nordbayern about what we can learn about ammonoid ecology from the study of their fossils, and what this tells us about the evolution of living cephalopods.

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Episode 16: Multicellularity in cyanobacteria

2013-05-01
Length: 23s

One of the most significant events in Earth’s history has been the oxygenation of its atmosphere 2.45–2.32 billion years ago. This accumulation of molecular oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere was so significant that it is now commonly known as the Great Oxidation Event (GOE). The long-reaching effects of the GOE were literally world-changing; the compositions of the atmosphere and hydrosphere were altered, and through various redox reactions (where atoms have their oxidation state changed), the nature of the continents and global climate changed too. However, and perhaps from an anthropocentric viewpoint, the most important effect would be upon the biosphere: the GOE paved the way for the evolution of aerobic (oxygen respiring) organisms, including our earliest ancestors.

It is possible to track the GOE through geochemical traces left in the rock record. However, one thing we're still uncertain about is whether or not this event represents either a sharp increase in oxygen production or a reduction in oxygen sinks - the jury is still out on that one. With this level of ambiguity over the dynamics of the GOE, it may be a little surprising to know that there has been a long-standing consensus on how the oxygen was actually produced: photosynthetic organisms called cyanobacteria (blue-green algae, so named after the pigment they produce).

In this episode we discuss with Dr. Bettina Schirrmeister (University of Bristol) about the evolution of cyanobacteria and the role they played in the GOE.

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Episode 15: Micropalaeontology

2013-04-15
Length: 49s

Perhaps one of the most overlooked areas of palaeontology, within the public eye, is micropalaeontology. Micropalaeontology is an umbrella discipline, covering a diverse range of organisms, with representatives from many of the highest level biological groupings. Although small in size, microfossils prove invaluable for research into palaeoclimatology and are also one of the most commercially applicable groups of fossils.

In this interview we speak to Dr. Giles Miller, Senior Curator of Micropalaeontology at the Natural History Museum (NHM). As each individual group of microfossils could warrant an entire series, this episode serves as an introduction to micropalaeontology. We discuss what it is and some of its applications, all within the context of how the micropalaeontology collection at the NHM is used.

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Episode 14b: Trace fossils

2013-03-31
Length: 33s

Ichnology is the study of trace fossils (also termed ichnofossils). Opposed to body fossils, the physical remains of an organism, trace fossils are the fossilised interactions between an organism and the substrate/sediment and include such things as trackways, excrement, burrows, bite marks and borings. Both body fossils and trace fossils are important when studying an organism and especially so in determining palaeoecology (how an organism interacted with its immediate environment). Body fossils can only inform us of the anatomy of the dead organism and its physical constraints, from which we can infer modes of life. Trace fossils, on the other hand, record the activity of organisms in life; it can be possible to see evidence of how certain communities functioned, or how an organism interacted with its environment. However one drawback is that the producer of a trace fossil is not always known, or we can't be certain that any one organism produced a specific trace.

In the second part of this two-part episode, we speak to Prof. Anthony Martin from Emory Euniversity, USA, archosaur burrows, the feasibility of dinosaurs over-wintering on the South Pole and Paleo-Barbie.

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Episode 14a: Trace fossils

2013-03-15
Length: 42s

Ichnology is the study of trace fossils (also termed ichnofossils). Opposed to body fossils, the physical remains of an organism, trace fossils are the fossilised interactions between an organism and the substrate/sediment and include such things as trackways, excrement, burrows, bite marks and borings. Both body fossils and trace fossils are important when studying an organism and especially so in determining palaeoecology (how an organism interacted with its immediate environment). Body fossils can only inform us of the anatomy of the dead organism and its physical constraints, from which we can infer modes of life. Trace fossils, on the other hand, record the activity of organisms in life; it can be possible to see evidence of how certain communities functioned, or how an organism interacted with its environment. However one draw back is that the producer of a trace fossil is not always known, or we can't be certain that any one organism produced a specific trace.

In this first of a two-part episode, we speak to Prof. Anthony Martin from Emory Euniversity, USA, all about trace fossils, why they are important and how they can be used.

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Episode 13: Best Western Denver Southwest

2013-03-01
Length: 49s

Every palaeontologist needs to put their feet up once in a while, and what better place to do so that the Best Western Denver Southwest? This hotel is located just a stone's-throw away from Dinosaur Ridge, one of the world's most famous fossil sites. It was here that many of the house-hold dinosaur names such as Apatosaurus (formerly Brontosaurus) and Stegosaurus were first discovered during the 'Bone Wars' between Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh in the late 19th century. The hotel is currently being re-branded, by science-advocate owners Greg and Meredith Tally, as a celebration of the rich paleontological history of the local area, both recent and ancient. Museum displays, fossil replicas and even a swimming pool shaped like the Western Interior Seaway are all planned, not only to excite the inner-child in each of us, but also to educate. We managed to catch up with Greg and Meredith, on a break from the construction, to talk all about their designs and the inspiration behind their re-branding, a story that strangely begins with Physicist Nicolai Tesla and a cartoon on theoatmeal.com.

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Episode 12: Paleozoic problematica

2013-02-15
Length: 58s

Fossils, at the best of times, are difficult to interpret. Palaeontologists attempt to reconstruct organisms from what little remains are left. This can be relatively simple for groups that we are familiar with today; you can easily make comparisons between a fossil lobster and a living one. But how do you interpret a fossil that has no modern counterpart and is not clearly related to any other organism?  We speak to Dr Jakob Vinther of the University of Bristol about his experience of interpreting some of the oldest and most cryptic specimens in the fossil record.  We look at molluscs, worms, worm-like molluscs and mollusc-like worms.

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Episode 11: Sexual selection in the fossil record

2013-01-31
Length: 47s

Sexual selection is responsible for much of the astounding diversity in morphology and behaviour that we can see in animals and plants today, but how can we reliably recognise it in the fossil record? We speak to Dr. Rob Knell of Queen Mary University of London.

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Episode 10: Carboniferous Arthropods

2013-01-15
Length: 1s

The first animals came onto land sometime before 425 Ma. These early colonizers were members of a group called the arthropods - probably early relatives of the millipedes first. However, early land animals - especially those from the Palaeozoic era (542 - 252 Ma) - are relatively rarely preserved as fossils. The Carboniferous period (350-299 Ma) is an exception to this rule. During the Late Carboniferous, there is a window in which land animals are found preserved within the iron carbonate mineral siderite. This kind of preservation allows palaeontologists to use 3D reconstruction techniques - such as high resolution CT scanning - to investigate this unique insight into early land-based ecosystems. We talk to Dr. Russell Garwood - an 1851 research fellow at the University of Manchester - about the Carboniferous, the land animals which were around at the time, and the techniques he uses to study these.

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Episode 9: The Palaeontological Association AGM

2013-01-01
Length: 51s

The 16th to the 18th December 2012 saw University College Dublin host  The Palaeontological Association (PalAss) 56th annual general meeting. Palaeocast were present at the conference for quite a few reasons: firstly, it's always good to try and keep on top of the latest research in the field and conferences are the places to be for hearing a lot of ideas, covering a diverse array of topics, in a short period of time; secondly, we wanted to promote ourselves to the delegate in the hope of securing further interviews for the coming year; and thirdly, we wanted to drum up support for our 'Palaeo101' initiative which should finally be taking off this year.

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Episode 8: Mesozoic Vertebrate Ecology

2012-12-14
Length: 56s

The Mesozoic Era saw the spectacular rise and fall of many groups, particularly in terrestrial vertebrates. These include birds, squamates, crocodiles, and pterosaurs, who wove a complex tapestry of evolution through the 185 million years of the Mesozoic, some even persisting until now. Dave Hone, now of Queen Mary in London, has extensively studied the ecology of many of these now-extinct organisms, especially theropod dinosaurs, to gain rare insights into how they would have lived millions of years ago. You can keep track of his research by following his blogs at the Guardian and Archosaur Musings webpages.

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Episode 7: Colouration in fossils

2012-11-15
Length: 33s

We can observe colour to be highly important for animals today. It can be used for many different purposes, including camouflage and signalling, and produced by many different methods. What is true of colouration today is also likely to have been so in the past, however the fossilisation process replaces tissues with minerals, so finding hints of colour in fossils is very unlikely. There are however certain colour producing structures that can survive the fossilisation process. We visit the University of Bristol to talk to Maria McNamara, a post-doctoral research assistant, to learn more about the preservation of colour in the fossil record.

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Episode 6: Early vertebrate evolution and extinction

2012-10-31
Length: 49s

Vertebrates are one of the most diverse and successful groups of animals on the planet.  Modern vertebrates come in an astounding array of sizes and shapes and can be found anywhere from the deepest oceans to the highest mountains.  Yet vertebrates did not attain such success from the outset; their rise to dominance was gradual. The early evolution of vertebrates was a dynamic and, at times, a turbulent interval which, through studying the fossil record, we are able to understand in increasing detail.  We talk to Dr Lauren Sallan, who is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan studying early vertebrate evolution, biodiversity and ecology.

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Episode 5: Mistaken Point

2012-10-15
Length: 1s

The biota of the Ediacaran period (635 - 541 ma) is of critical importance to our understanding of the origin of animals because it immediately precedes the Cambrian fauna, from which all subsequent animal life evolved. Localities of this age are justly famous for the exceptional quality of preservation of soft-bodied organisms. One of the best known and most important Ediacaran localities is at Mistaken Point, Newfoundland, Canada. We got to talk to Dr. Alex Liu, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge, about Mistaken Point, and the nature of its biota.

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Episode 4: The fossil forests of Gilboa

2012-10-01
Length: 49s

We interview Professor William Stein of Binghamton University about the world's first forets at Gilboa, NY, USA. We talk through the history of the research at this famous locality covering the destruction of the village of Gilboa and some of the 'paleontological difficulties' the researchers found themselves in.  We discuss the palaeobotany and palaeoecology of the forests and the effect the evolution of such communities had on the world.

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Episode 3: Amber and Parasitism

2012-09-15
Length: 48s

We got a chance to talk to Dr. George Poinar of Oregon State University about his work in amber. We discuss what it is and how it forms, but also talk about the organisms that are preserved within and the organisms within those organisms. From identifying genuine from fake amber, to parasite behaviour modification and palaeopathology, this episode has it all!

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Episode 1: Earliest fossils and the hunt for extraterrestrial life

2012-08-28
Length: 1s

You may be forgiven for having missed the news of NASA's Curiosity rover, or Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), having landed on Mars, given all the coverage the 2012 Olympics had been getting.

To try and even this up, we got in touch with Dr. Leila Battison, a palaeontologist from the University of Oxford, UK, who is currently working at NASA, researching the earliest life in the fossil record and the conditions it needed to survive. We discussed NASA's mission to Mars and explored what kind of things we could expect from any signs of life on another planet based on what we know about early life on Earth from the fossil record.

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Episode 2: Isotelus Rex

2012-08-28
Length: 38s

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Palaeocast

A free webseries exploring the fossil record and the evolution of life on Earth.

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