A start on brachiopods (September 18 & 20)

You’re going to like brachiopods. They are considerably more complex than the cnidarians, are diverse in both habits and forms, and are the most common fossils in your field collections (for which you should definitely bookmark this Dry Dredger’s webpage on Cincinnatian brachiopods). I suggest starting your web reading with the Wikipedia page on brachiopods, followed by the brachiopod image page on the Paleontology Portal. (This last one is cool because you can select images from different geological periods.) You can also find an enormous number of brachiopod images and links on BrachNet, based in France. The Tree of Life website has a good section on the taxonomy and evolution of brachiopods. Here is a short video of living terebratulid brachiopods on the floor of Monterey Bay, California, and another of brachiopod larvae in Panama. For real excitement, experience a day in the life of a brachiopod.

Brachiopod embryos are playing a role in our hypotheses about the origin of eyes. This is a good New York Times story, but it is tragically headlined: “In a Marine Worm’s Eyes, the Theory of Evolution”. Worm!! I do, though, like the description of one stage of the embryos called “swimming eyeballs”.

Here is a pdf version of the first 2017 Invertebrate Paleontology test you can use to prepare for the Big Event on Thursday, September 20. Remember that each class is different — there will be some items on this sample test that you did not have in your class.

Rhynchonellid brachiopods from the Ordovician of Indiana.

Geology in the News –

Dr. Rick Lehtinen recently named a new frog species after our treasured College of Wooster. This is an honor for Wooster and an accomplishment for Dr. Lehtinen. Guibemantis woosteri is a cute little guy who lives in Madagascar.

Here’s a beautiful map showing streams and rivers of the United States. The watersheds are in separate colors.

Wish we could spend more time with the Kingdom Fungi. Here’s a nice modern summary of their diversity and utility.

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Phylum Cnidaria: Jellyfish, Corals and Other Stingers (September 11 & 13)

The Wikipedia page on cnidarians is an excellent place to visit first for our gelatinous friends. For systematics and descriptions, you can’t beat the Tree of Life page on Phylum Cnidaria. Check out my favorite hydrozoan, the delightfully-named Velella velella. (I saw these gorgeous animals during my visit to Sicily several years ago.) Here is a great jellyfish video from the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. Jellyfish have become an enormous ecological problem because of warming seas and changing fish populations. Time Magazine has a good article about the “stinging season” with links to further stories. The Miami New Times has an article on Ten Things You Need to Know About Jellyfish. (Note that urine is not a particularly helpful treatment for a jellyfish sting!) Avoid fire coral, whcih should be obvious from its name. The BBC has a magazine article describing the strangeness of cnidarians, and why they may hold compounds and genes to improve our health. Finally, Wooster Geologist Macy Conrad poses in this post with a dead jellyfish on a French beach two summers ago.

In the coming weeks we will identify the fossils we gathered on our field trip, apply to them several paleontological techniques such as cleaning, cutting, polishing and photography, and then put together a grand paleoecological analysis. We will be greatly assisted by two fantastic websites, one by Alycia Stigall at Ohio University called The Digital Atlas of Ordovician Life, and the other by Steve Holland at the University of Georgia titled The Stratigraphy and Fossils of the Upper Ordovician near Cincinnati, Ohio.

Here is a pdf version of the first 2017 Invertebrate Paleontology test you can use to prepare for the Big Event on Thursday, September 20. Remember that each class is different — there will be some items on this sample test that you did not have in your class.

An auloporid coral from the Middle Devonian of northwestern Ohio.

Geology in the News –

How would you categorize the feeding mode exhibited by this gorgeous nudibranch?

Here is a brand new study on the evolutionary origins of animal diversity. “Our results show that fundamental evolutionary change was not limited to an early burst of evolutionary experimentation. Animal designs have continued to evolve to the present day—not gradually as Darwin predicted—but in fits and starts, episodically through their evolutionary history.”

New coral reefs have been found in deep water off the coast of South Carolina. Note these are in dark waters, unlike the far more common shallow-water coral reefs. These discoveries are important for our calculations of the oceanic carbon budget, among other things.

New evidence suggests that climate changes may have led to the disappearance of our Neandertal cousins about 40,000 years ago. There’s a lesson here!

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Phylum Porifera: The Simplest of the Animals (Sponges) (September 4 & 6)

The Wikipedia page on sponges is information-rich and accurate on our porous sponge friends. If you really want to get serious about sponges, visit the dull webpage of the International Association for the Study of Fossil Cnidaria and Porifera. There are a few nice images of fossil sponges on the Natural History Museum (London) website. Berkeley probably has the most comprehensive webpages on sponge ecology and evolution. The oldest known fossil sponge is a recently discovered specimen from the Ediacaran of China. It is super tiny.

Here’s a sad story on the last of the Greek sponge fishermen. Pollution, climate change and over-fishing have done in an industry thousands of years old.

Want to cheer up with a few movies of sponges? Of course you do! Watch a sponge feed, for example. The plots are a little thin, but the scenery is magnificent. And everyone must see the sponge final countdown. Oh yes, you must! Twenty-eight million viewers can’t be wrong.

Stromatoporoid in side view showing pillars and laminae. Columbus Limestone (Devonian of Ohio).

Geology in the News –

The headline of this story is odd (“Dinosaur DNA clues unpicked by researchers at University of Kent“. What does “unpicked” mean?), but the story is interesting. It is an attempt to describe non-avian dinosaur diversity by estimating what their genome looked like. Birds (which are dinosaurs) are used for the calculations.

A cool new fossil turtle was recently found in China. It is not surprising that it lacks a shell; it is the preservation that is remarkable. It is 228 million years old. What geological time period is this?

Check out this frozen horse 30,000 years old! It is an extinct Lenskaya horse found in melting permafrost in Siberia. Check out the details preserved. I imagine DNA could be easily extracted from the carcass.

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Paleoecology; The Kingdom of the Single-Celled Eucaryotes (Protista) (August 28 & 30)

Since last week was short, we’ll begin this week with a discussion of taxonomic principles followed by a basic outline of paleoecology. Our goal is to define some basic terms for living environments and life modes. This framework will prove useful later when we begin to slot the organisms we study into their particular ancient ecosystems.

Now our main topic: Microfossils are gorgeous little creatures. Berkeley has a good summary of our main group, the Foraminifera. They also have a cool microfossil type collection to dip into for the wonderful images. Wikipedia also has a good page at our level introducing the Foraminifera. The Tree of Life page on diatoms is very good. The Micropaleontological Reference Center for the Ocean Drilling Program is a good example of a well-organized site designed to make paleontological data available to anyone who wants it. You’ll also want to visit the University College of London MIRACLE website (standing for “Microfossil Image Recovery And Circulation for Learning and Education — they worked hard for that acronym). This may be the best general microfossil site on the web for simple access to information and images. Here is a nice set of SEM images of foraminiferans from Isfjord, Spitsbergen, Norway — a place I visited in 2009. (Good memories!) By the end of the week you should be able to identify the informal groups to which these taxa belong. (See your Yellow Book.)

Here is a Foraminifera Identification Website found by Sarah McGrath. This will be useful in lab.

(Here is the pseudocoprolite story from last week’s lab.)

Triticites sp. (a fusulinid) from the Plattsmouth Chert, Red Oak, Iowa; Permian.

Geology in the News –

The Universe Is Disappearing, And There’s Nothing We Can Do To Stop It.” A dramatic headline that is certainly true. This is a good article in Forbes discussing modern ideas of cosmology. The future looks very cold and dark, but at least it is a long time from now!

These giant pterosaurs are so cool, and the actually flew. They looked something like giraffes with wings.

This is a nice profile of the research ship JOIDES Resolution, which travels the world hosting oceanographic and geological research. Some of our most important data about recent and past climate was generated onboard.

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History and Systematics (August 23)

Welcome! There is such wonderful paleontological material on the Web. Come here often! I’ll assume from the start that you all know the Geologic Time Scale, which will be critical to all that we do in this course. Here is our version of the Geological Time Scale. (Here is the latest professional version of the time chart. You don’t need to know all these names!) You will be referring throughout the semester to our course’s “Systematics” pages, sometimes called “the yellow book,” for the print-out you’ll receive in class. It is the same as this online pdf version.

Here are a few general links to paleontological resources to get us started. I will be using the University of California Museum of Paleontology (Berkeley) site often because it is very, very good. Here is their page on “learning from the fossil record“, with numerous educational and professional articles and links. The Paleontological Research Institution has an excellent site with introductory material (including “mystery fossils” to identify). It is oriented towards professionals and graduate students, but you can certainly have a go at it. Who knows — maybe a research paper topic is lurking in there? And I can’t let you go without links to my favorite organizations: The Paleontological Society and The Palaeontological Association. You certainly want to look at the projects of Wooster paleontologists over the past few years. You may also want to visit The Paleontology Portal which is “a central entryway to paleontology on the Web”. It is an excellent link to thousands of paleontological resources. (Check out their fossil gallery, which is organized by period.)

Virtual museums are the latest web rage. The Virtual Fossil Museum is one of the first of its kind. Eclectic, and I’m not sure who operates it, but it has many excellent photographs.

As far as this week’s material goes, the Web is often more misleading than helpful on the topic of fossil preservation. Many common terms (like mold and cast) are misused. The Wikipedia section on fossil preservation may be our best start.

The new Time Scavengers blog is an excellent resource for geology students, especially those interested in paleontology. University of Tennessee graduate students Jen Bauer and Adriane Lam have put together a fantastic collection of articles, teaching aids, and links just for students like you!

Our theme song!

Jurassic fossils in southern Israel (Matmor Formation, Makhtesh Gadol, near Dimona). Click for larger view.

Geology in the News —

Viruses, phytoplankton and clouds. How would have guessed they are connected? A common type of oceanic phytoplankton (coccolithophores) covers itself with tiny mineralized (calcite) plates. Some get infected by a virus, which causes them to shed the plates. Waves throw the plates into the atmosphere, where they provide the seeds for clouds. One theme of this course is that life and the physical Earth are complexly intertwined. Life is a geological process.

Our big toes were the last parts of our feet to evolve. A related question is always what’s up with our littlest toes. Are we losing them?

Here’s a podcast on taxonomic vandalism. Never thought I’d put those two words together. It is a growing problem.



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