Palaeocast

The Ediacaran Period is host to the first large and complex multicellular organisms known in the fossil record. This 'Ediacaran Biota' has long eluded definitive placement on the tree of life, seemingly falling between even the most fundamental of its branches. At the core of this taxonomic issue are their unique body plans, not seen replicated in any other kingdom.

Amongst the researchers trying to unravel the mystery of these organisms is Dr Frances Dunn of the University of Oxford. Frankie has been researching the developmental biology of the Ediacaran Biota in the hope that we can learn more from how these forms grew, as opposed to what they eventually grew into.

Direct download: Ep104.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:14pm UTC

Terror birds, or phorusrhacids as they are known scientifically, are a group of large, flightless birds that lived during the Cenozoic, and truly lived up to their name. Known for their large, powerful skulls, and enormous beaks, these birds are unlike the flightless birds we have alive today. Despite their strange appearance and unique morphology, terror birds aren't well known in popular culture. What were they doing? How big did they get? What did they eat?

In this episode, we talk to a leading terror bird expert, Dr Federico "Dino" Degrange from the Centro de Investigaciones en Ciencias de la Tierra (CICTERRA) in Córdoba, Argentina to get answers to these questions. We discuss some of his recent research, and what we know (and don't know) about phorusrhacids today.

Direct download: Ep103.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:06am UTC

Between the weird and wonderful rangeomorphs of the Ediacaran Period and the world-famous palaeocommunities of the Burgess Shale, the 'Early Cambrian' is host to a 'waste basket' of fossils untied by their small size and shelly construction.

These small shelly fossils (SSFs) aren't just a single group of animals, but represent several different invertebrate phyla. Further compounding the difficulty of their identification, each SSF, termed a 'sclerite', is part of a larger composite skeleton known as a 'sclerotome'. Whilst some complete sclerotomes have been preserved, many SSFs still represent multiple jigsaws thrown together and the pictures lost.

Piecing the SSFs back together and building a picture of the Earliest Cambrian is Dr Marissa Betts of the University of New England, Australia. Her work on the SSFs have provided a new framework for the regional stratigraphy of Australia and in this interview, we discuss why this was necessary, how she went about it and finally, what we know about the animals themselves.

Direct download: Ep102b.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:11pm UTC

Between the weird and wonderful rangeomorphs of the Ediacaran Period and the world-famous palaeocommunities of the Burgess Shale, the 'Early Cambrian' is host to a 'waste basket' of fossils untied by their small size and shelly construction.

These small shelly fossils (SSFs) aren't just a single group of animals, but represent several different invertebrate phyla. Further compounding the difficulty of their identification, each SSF, termed a 'sclerite', is part of a larger composite skeleton known as a 'sclerotome'. Whilst some complete sclerotomes have been preserved, many SSFs still represent multiple jigsaws thrown together and the pictures lost.

Piecing the SSFs back together and building a picture of the Earliest Cambrian is Dr Marissa Betts of the University of New England, Australia. Her work on the SSFs have provided a new framework for the regional stratigraphy of Australia and in this interview, we discuss why this was necessary, how she went about it and finally, what we know about the animals themselves.

Direct download: Ep102a.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:07am UTC

Fossilisation of organic material was long thought to result in the complete loss of original content. However in the last 20 years, several high-profile publications reported the discovery of proteins, blood vessels, blood cells and even DNA. But for as long as these arguments have existed, so too has a counterargument as to the validity of the discoveries.

In this episode, we're joined by Dr Evan Saitta of the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, lead author of a recent paper seeking to discover and evaluate the preservation of putative original organic materials within dinosaur bones.

Direct download: Ep101.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:58pm UTC

One of palaeontology‘s great themes of questioning is the rise of novelty: how new structures and functions arise in specific lineages. In this episode we speak with Neil Shubin, Professor of Organismal Biology at the University of Chicago, who has been studying novelty in the context of the vertebrate transition from water to land.

Neil studies the fossil record of early tetrapods, the first vertebrates with limbs, to understand what changes underpinned this great transition. The other half his lab uses molecular techniques on living organisms to see how changes to the development of appendages (and their underlying genetic architecture) effected the shift from a fin to a limb.

In this interview, we hear about his fieldwork in the Arctic and Antarctic, how palaeontologists decide where to look for key fossils, why development matters, and about his deep involvement in science communication.

Direct download: Ep100.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:20pm UTC

Undoubtedly, Megalodon is the world’s most famous extinct shark is and in this episode, we hear everything we know about this taxon, its ecology and how it got to be so big. Its ultimate extinction is also considered, not in isolation, but placed in the wider context of the entire marine ecosystem.

Joining us is Dr Catalina Pimiento of  Swansea University.

Direct download: Ep99.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:37pm UTC

From 1:1 scale whales to microfossils scaled up to the size of a house, there are few model-building projects that 10 Tons are afraid to take on. At the helm of this business is Esben Horn and in this episode, he joins us to discuss the process of model building, from concept to museum display.

We also talk about some of the exhibitions 10 Tons have led themselves, including the successful ‘Rock Fossils on Tour‘ which showcases some of the different fossils named in honour of rock/metal musicians.

Direct download: Ep98.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00am UTC

Opsins are the photosensitive proteins in the eye, responsible for converting a photons of light into an electro-chemical signals. Different opsins react to different wavelengths of light, each corresponding to a different band of colour. In humans, the 'visible spectrum' of light (a very anthropocentric term) is covered by three opsins, receptive to red, green and blue wavelengths. Other animals have opsins that are capable of subdividing the 'visible spectrum' and responding to a large number of very specific wavelengths of interest. All in all, the ability to detect light and recognise colour is not the same throughout the animal kingdom.

In this episode, we are joined by Dr James Fleming of Keio University, Japan to discuss the evolution of opsins in the ecdysozoa (the group containing arthropods and a fair few worms). We talk about the fundamentals of light detection and how, using phylogenetics, we are able to tell which colours certain extinct animals were capable of detecting.

Direct download: Ep97.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:48pm UTC

Decapods are a group of crustaceans that include such well-known families as crabs, lobsters and shrimp. Whilst crustaceans are known from as early as the Cambrian, we don't see the first decapods until Devonian. Over the course of their evolutionary history, decapods have remained relatively conservative in their morphology with the exception of some interesting forms in the Mesozoic.

In this episode, Dr Carrie Schweitzer, Kent State University, gives us a run-down of the taxonomy and evolutionary history of the decapods and we explore the Middle Triassic Luoping Biota.

Direct download: Ep96.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:35pm UTC

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