Three-Billion-Year-Old Plankton Found in Australia

9 06 2013

The Farrel Quartzite formation in Western Australia has yielded a group of both spheroid and spindle-like microfossils believed to be planktonic organisms.

At 3 billion years old, they are some of the oldest fossils ever found.  According to a study in the June issue of the journal Geology, the fossils seem to be similar to ones found in Strelley Pool Formation also in Australia and the Onverwacht Group of South Africa, both of which are approximately 3.4 billion years old.

A team of American and Japanese scientists have identified the fossils as being of biogenic origins (i.e., having once been alive or created as the result of living processes) based on analysis of their stable carbon isotopes.  The results also show that the structures found are actual fossils and not “pseudofossils”, created when the environment physically reprocesses organic material already existing in the sediment.

In addition, the information provided by the analysis of the fossils indicates that they were likely autotropic, which means that they made their own food (e.g., many plants currently living make their own food through photosynthesis).

The report points out that if this interpretation of the fossils is correct, then they represent the remains of a “cosmopolitan” biological community “that lasted several hundred million years, starting in the Paleoarchean”.  The Paleoarchean was a geologic era that lasted from about 3.6 to about 3.2 billion years ago.

The original article can be found here:
http://geology.gsapubs.org/content/41/6/651.abstract

An excellent summary article (along with a photo of one of the fossils) can be found at Sci-News.com here:
http://www.sci-news.com/paleontology/article01136-plankton-microfossils-australia.html





Tyrannosaur a Whole Genus of Critters

28 03 2010
 
 
 
 
This image is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.  It is by stu_spivack, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

At 12 feet long, this juvenile T. rex, known as Jane, which is on exhibit at Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, IL, USA, is just slightly larger than the new Tyrannosaur recently discovered in Australia.

Tyrannosaurs are more than just the single species Tyrannosaurus rex, though that’s the one most people think about.  Tyrannosaurus is a genus, the next taxonomic order above a species, and consists of more than 30 species of dinosaur.  These species fall into the group of dinosaurs known as theropods, and lived during the late Jurassic and throughout the Cretaceous periods.  Tyrannosaurus rex is the most famous member of the genus, and the biggest physically.  It is also one of the latest, living during the last three- to four-million years of the Cretaceous, right up to the end of the age of dinosaurs.

 The number of Tyrannosaur fossils discovered to date has been so great (e.g., more than 30 skeletons of T. Rex, alone), that it has allowed scientists to study them as much or more than any other type of dinosaur.

Tyrannosaurs were bipedal carnivores, having long, heavy tails, relatively tiny (though very strong) front arms, and massive skulls.  While other theropod dinosaurs equaled or exceeded T. rex in size, it was the largest known tyrannosaurid and one of the largest known land predators of its day, measuring up to 12.8 meters (42 ft.) in length, 4 meters (13 ft.) tall at the hips, and weighing as much as 6.8 metric tons.

While definitely a carnivore, scientists have long debated whether T. rex was an apex predator or a scavenger.  The debate is one of the longest running arguments in all of paleontology.

The genus was widespread through the northern hemisphere, but until very recently was unknown from the southern one.  In March, 2010, scientists from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, reported the discovery of a tyrannosaurid hip bone from Dinosaur Cove in southern Victoria, Australia.  This appears to be a smaller animal than T. rex, and likely a new species.

Researchers estimate that the animal was approximately three meters long and weighed about 80 kg.  As such, it would have been similar to, though slightly larger than a human.  It lived about 110 million years ago.

The following are a few of the Tyrannosaurus species that have been identified, who described them, and when they were described:

  • Tyrannosaurus amplus (Marsh, 1892)
  • Tyrannosaurus bataar (Maleev, 1955)
  • Tyrannosaurus lanpingensis (Yeh, 1975)
  • Tyrannosaurus luanchuanensis (Dong, 1979)
  • Tyrannosaurus rex (Osborn, 1905)
  • Tyrannosaurus turpanensis (Zhai, Zheng, and Tong, 1978)