Most downloaded biology preprints, all time
in category paleontology
186 results found. For more information, click each entry to expand.
1,186 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Trabecular architecture (i.e., the main orientation of the bone trabeculae, their relative number, mean thickness, spacing, etc.) has been shown experimentally to adapt with extreme accuracy and sensitivity to the loadings applied to the bone during life. However, the potential of trabecular parameters used as a proxy for the mechanical environment of an organism's organ to help reconstruct the lifestyle of extinct taxa has only recently started to be exploited. Furthermore, these parameters are rarely combined to the long-used mid-diaphyseal parameters to inform such reconstructions. Here we investigate xenarthrans, for which functional and ecological reconstructions of extinct forms are particularly important in order to inform our macroevolutionary understanding of their main constitutive clades, i.e., the Tardigrada (sloths), Vermilingua (anteaters), and Cingulata (armadillos and extinct close relatives). The lifestyles of modern xenarthrans can be classified as fully terrestrial and highly fossorial (armadillos), arboreal (partly to fully) and hook-and-pull digging (anteaters), or suspensory (fully arboreal) and non-fossorial (sloths). The degree of arboreality and fossoriality of some extinct forms, "ground sloths" in particular, is highly debated. We used high-resolution computed tomography to compare the epiphyseal 3D architecture and mid-diaphyseal structure of the forelimb bones of extant and extinct xenarthrans. The comparative approach employed aims at inferring the most probable lifestyle of extinct taxa, using a phylogenetically informed discriminant analysis. Several challenges were identified, and no extinct sloths were here ascribed to one of the extant xenarthran lifestyles. Differing from that of the larger "ground sloths", the bone structure of the small-sized Hapalops (Miocene of Argentina), however, was found as significantly more similar to that of extant sloths, even when accounting for the phylogenetic signal.
1,185 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Pseudoplanktonic crinoid megaraft colonies are an enigma of the Jurassic. They are among the largest in-situ invertebrate accumulations ever to exist in the Phanerozoic fossil record. These megaraft colonies and are thought to have developed as floating filter-feeding communities due to an exceptionally rich relatively predator free oceanic niche, high in the water column enabling them to reach high densities on these log rafts. However, this pseudoplanktonic hypothesis has never actually been quantitatively tested and some researchers have cast doubt that this mode of life was even possible. The ecological structure of the crinoid colony is resolved using spatial point process techniques and its longevity using moisture diffusion models. Using spatial analysis we found that the crinoids would have trailed preferentially positioned at the back of migrating structures in the regions of least resistance, consistent with a floating, not benthic ecology. Additionally, we found using a series of moisture diffusion models at different log densities and sizes that ecosystem collapse did not take place solely due to colonies becoming overladen as previously assumed. We have found that these crinoid colonies studied could have existed for greater than 10 years, even up to 20 years exceeding the life expectancy of modern documented megaraft systems with implications for the role of modern raft communities in the biotic colonisation of oceanic islands and intercontinental dispersal of marine and terrestrial species. Significance statement Transoceanic rafting is the principle mechanism for the biotic colonisation of oceanic island ecosystems. However, no historic records exist of how long such biotic systems lasted. Here, we use a deep-time example from the Early Jurassic to test the viability of these pseudoplanktonic systems, resolving for the first time whether these systems were truly free floating planktonic and viable for long enough to allow its inhabitants to grow to maturity. Using spatial methods we show that these colonies have a comparable structure to modern marine pesudoplankton on maritime structures, whilst the application of methods normally used in commercial logging is used to demonstrate the viability of the system which was capable of lasting up to 20 years.
1,165 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Claws are involved in a number of behaviours including locomotion and prey capture, and as a result animals evolve claw morphologies that enable these functions. Past authors have found geometry of the keratinous sheath of the claw to correlate with mode of life for extant birds and squamates; this relationship has frequently been cited to infer lifestyles for Mesozoic theropods including Archaeopteryx. However, claw sheaths rarely fossilize and are prone to deformation; past inferences are thus compromised. As the ungual phalanx within the claw is relatively resistant to deformation and more commonly preserved in the fossil record, geometry of this bone would provide a more useful metric for paleontological analysis. In this study, ungual bones of 108 birds and 5 squamates were imaged using X-ray techniques and a relationship was found between curvatures of the ungual bone within the claw of pedal digit III and four modes of life; ground-dwelling, perching, predatory, and scansorial; using linear discriminant analysis with Kappa equal to 0.69. Our model predicts arboreal lifestyles for certain key taxa Archaeopteryx and Microraptor and a predatory ecology for Confuciusornis. These findings demonstrate the utility of our model in answering questions of palaeoecology, the theropod-bird transition, and the evolution of avian flight.
1,146 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The evolutionary history of the South American anteaters, Vermilingua, is incompletely known as consequence of the fragmentary and geographically biased nature of the fossil record of this group. Neotamandua borealis is the only recorded extinct species from northern South America, specifically from the Middle Miocene of La Venta area, southwestern Colombia. A new genus and species of myrmecophagid for La Venta, Gen. et sp. nov., is here described based on a new partial skull. Additionally, given that the co-occurrent species of Gen. et sp. nov., N. borealis , was originally referred to as Neotamandua , the taxonomic status of this genus is revised. The morphological and taxonomic analyses of these taxa indicate that Gen. et sp. nov. may be related to Tamandua and that the justification of the generic assignments of the species referred to as Neotamandua is weak or insufficient. Two species previously referred to as Neotamandua ( N. magna and N. ? australis ) were designated as species inquirendae and new diagnostic information for the redefined genus and its type species, N. conspicua , is provided. Together, these results suggest that the diversification of Myrmecophagidae was taxonomically and biogeographically more complex than what has been proposed so far. Considering the new evidence, it is proposed a synthetic model on the diversification of these xenartrans during the late Cenozoic based on the probable relationships between their intrinsic ecological constraints and some major abiotic changes in the Americas.
1,116 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Abscesses and other periapical lesions are found in abundance in recent archeological samples, yet are scarce in the fossil hominin record. Periapical voids commonly develop after exposure of a tooth's pulp chamber and are commonly associated with heavy crown wear, trauma or caries. In this study, all available maxilla and mandible fragments from the South African fossil hominin collections were studied, including specimens assigned to Homo naledi, Paranthropus robustus, Australopithicus africanus, A. sediba and early Homo. Only one specimen displayed voids consistent with periapical lesions, and a differential diagnosis of these voids was undertaken. The specimen, SK 847, is described as early Homo and has been dated to 2.3-1.65MA. There is one definite abscess, and likely at least two more with postmortem damage, all on the anterior aspect of the maxilla and associated with the incisors. The abscesses originate from the apices of the incisor roots and are therefore unlikely to represent a systemic disease such as multiple myeloma. They best fit the description of an abscess rather than a cyst or granuloma, with one showing a rounded thickened rim around the lesion. The abscesses highlight that this individual used their anterior dentition extensively, to the point that the pulp chambers were exposed on multiple teeth. This is one of the earliest hominin examples of a dental abscess and shows that this individual was able to cope with several concurrent abscesses, clearly surviving for an extended period. Therefore, this finding adds additional information to the history of dental pathology in our genus.
1,097 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
A pterosaur ulnar specimen (NZMS CD 467) from the Mangahouanga Stream of New Zealand s North Island has been first described by Wiffen et al 1988. Assumed to belong to a Santanadactylus-like pterosaur, this taxon has not since been extensively described, with only a few tentative claims that it represents an azhdarchid. Here, I re-examine the specimen and compare it to other pterodactyloid taxa, noting peculiar features such as its plug-like (obdurate) ulnar end. Christened Parirau ataroa, this taxon is found to be a lonchodectid, which alongside the North American Navajodactylus boerei extends this clade into the world s youngest pterosaur faunas.
1,089 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
We modelled the resilience and transient dynamics of terrestrial paleocommunities from the Karoo Basin, South Africa, around the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. Using recently refined biostratigraphic data that suggest two pulses of extinction leading up to the Permian-Triassic boundary, we show that during times of low extinction, paleocommunities were no more stable than randomly assembled communities, but they became stable during the mass extinction. Modelled food webs before and after the mass extinction have lower resilience and less stable transient dynamics compared to random food webs lacking in functional structure but of equal species richness. They are, however, more stable than random food webs of equal richness but with randomized functional structure. In contrast, models become increasingly more resilient and have more stable transient dynamics, relative to the random models, as the mass extinction progressed. The increased stability of the community that resulted from the first pulse of extinction was driven by significant selective extinction against small-bodied amniotes, and significantly greater probabilities of survival of large-bodied amniotes. These results point to a positive relationship between evolved patterns of functional diversity and emergent community dynamics, with observed patterns being more stable than alternative possibilities.
1,044 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The hypothesis of the Great Evolutionary Faunas is a foundational concept of macroevolutionary research postulating that three global mega-assemblages have dominated Phanerozoic oceans following abrupt biotic transitions. Empirical estimates of this large-scale pattern depend on several methodological decisions and are based on approaches unable to capture multiscale dynamics of the underlying Earth-Life System. Combining a multilayer network representation of fossil data with a multilevel clustering that eliminates the subjectivity inherent to distance-based approaches, we demonstrate that Phanerozoic oceans sequentially harbored four global benthic mega-assemblages. Shifts in dominance patterns among these global marine mega-assemblages are abrupt (end-Cambrian 494 Ma; end-Permian 252 Ma) or protracted (mid-Cretaceous 129 Ma), and represent the three major biotic transitions in Earth's history. This finding suggests that the mid-Cretaceous radiation of the so-called Modern evolutionary Fauna, concurrent with gradual ecological changes associated with the Mesozoic Marine Revolution, triggered a biotic transition comparably to the transition following the largest extinction event in the Phanerozoic. Overall, our study supports the notion that both long-term ecological changes and major geological events have played crucial roles in shaping mega-assemblages that dominated Phanerozoic oceans. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
1,032 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The 3.67-million-year-old StW 573 Australopithecus skeleton is important for the light it sheds on the paleobiology of South African species of that genus, including, as discussed here, how the possible pathology of the specimen informs our understanding of Australopithecus behavior. The StW 573 antebrachium exhibits bilateral asymmetry, with significantly more longitudinally curved left forearm bones than right. Arguing from a comparative perspective, we hypothesize that these curvatures resulted from a fall onto a hyperextended, outstretched hand. It is unlikely that the fall was from a significant height and might have occurred when the StW 573 individual was a juvenile. This type of plastic deformation of the forearm bones is well-documented in modern human clinical studies, especially among children between the ages of four and ten years who tumble from bicycles or suffer other common, relatively low-impact accidents. Left untreated, such injuries impinge normal supination and pronation of the hand, a condition that could have had significant behavioral impact on the StW 573 individual.
1,007 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Objectives Dental caries is often perceived as a modern human disease. However, their presence is documented in many early human groups, various non-human primates and, increasingly, our hominin ancestors and relatives. In this study we describe an antemortem lesion on the root of a Paranthropus robustus third molar from Drimolen, South Africa, which likely represents another example of caries in fossil hominins. Materials and Methods The molar, DNH 40, is dated to 2.0–1.5 Ma and displays a lesion on the mesial root surface, extending from the cementoenamel junction 3 mm down toward the apex. The position and severity of the lesion was macroscopically recorded and micro-CT scanned to determine the extent of dentine involvement. Results A differential diagnosis indicates root caries, as the lesion is indistinguishable from clinical examples. Although necrotic in appearance, external tertiary dentine is evident on a micro CT scan. Gingival recession and/or continuous eruption of the tooth as a result of extensive occlusal wear would have occurred to facilitate caries formation. Therefore, the lesion is likely linked to relative old age of this individual. Discussion This new example increases the total number of carious lesions described in P. robustus teeth to 12, on occlusal, interproximal and, now, root surfaces. Beyond the consumption of caries-causing food(s), caries formation would have also required the presence of requisite intra-oral cariogenic bacteria in this individual and the species. Of interest, the presence of tertiary dentine on the outward surface suggests the DNH 40 lesion may have been arrested, i.e., no longer active, perhaps relating to a change in diet or oral microbiome just prior to the individual’s death.
1,003 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Caries frequencies in South African fossil hominins were observed and compared with other hominin samples. Species studied include Paranthropus robustus, Homo naledi, Australopithecus africanus, early Homo and A. sediba. Teeth were viewed macroscopically with Micro-CT scans used to confirm lesions. Position and severity of each lesion were also noted and described. For all South African fossil hominin specimens studied, 16 have carious lesions, six of which are described for the first time in this study. These are from a minimum of six individuals, and include four P. robustus, one H. naledi, and one early Homo individual. No carious lesions were found on deciduous teeth, or any teeth assigned to A. africanus. Most are located interproximal, and only posterior teeth are affected. Caries frequency typically ranges between 1-5% of teeth in non-agricultural human samples, and this pattern seemingly holds true for at least the past two million years in the hominin lineage. Non-agricultural populations significantly above or below this threshold generally have a specialized diet, supporting other dietary evidence that A. africanus likely consumed large amounts of tough, non-cariogenic vegetation. Given the common occurrence of caries in the other hominin species, cariogenic bacteria and foods were evidently common in their collective oral environment. Along with recent research highlighting additional examples of caries in H. neanderthalensis, early Homo and Pleistocene H. sapiens, caries is clearly an ancient disease that was much more common than once maintained throughout the course of human evolution.
978 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Objectives: Extinct hominins can provide key insights into the development of tool use, with the morphological characteristics of the thumb of particular interest due to its fundamental role in enhanced manipulation. This study quantifies the shape of the first metacarpals' body in the extant Homininae and some fossil hominins to provide insights about the possible anatomical correlates of manipulative capabilities. Materials and methods: The extant sample includes MC1s of modern humans (n=42), gorillas (n=27) and chimpanzees (n=30), whilst the fossil sample included Homo neanderthalensis , Homo naledi and Australopithecus sediba . 3D geometric morphometrics were used to characterize the overall shape of MC1's body. Results: Humans differ significantly from extant great apes when comparing overall shape. H. neanderthalensis mostly falls within the modern human range of variation although also showing a more robust morphology. H. naledi varies from modern human slightly, whereas A. sediba varies from humans to an even greater extent. When classified using a linear discriminant analysis, the three fossils are categorized within the Homo group. Discussion: The results are in general agreement with previous studies on the morphology of the MC1. This study found that the modern human MC1 is characterized by a distinct suite of traits, not present to the same extent in the great apes, that are consistent with an ability to use forceful precision grip. This morphology was also found to align very closely with that of H. neanderthalensis . H. naledi shows a number of human-like adaptations consistent with an ability to employ enhanced manipulation, whilst A. sediba apparently presents a mix of both derived and more primitive traits. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
957 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Demographic models of human cultural evolution have high explanatory potential but weak empirical support. Here we use a global dataset of rock art sites and climate and genetics-based estimates of ancient population densities to test a new model based on epidemiological principles. The model focuses on the process whereby a cultural innovation becomes endemic in a population. It predicts that this cannot occur unless population density exceeds a critical value. Analysis of the data, using a Bayesian statistical framework, shows that the model has stronger empirical support than a null model, where rock art detection rates and population density are independent, or a proportional model where detection is directly proportional to population density. Comparisons between results for different geographical areas and periods yield qualitatively similar results, supporting the robustness of the model. Re-analysis of the rock art data, using a second set of independent population estimates, yields similar results. We conclude that population density above a critical threshold is a necessary condition for the maintenance of rock art as a stable part of a population's cultural repertoire. Methods similar to those described can be used to test the model for other classes of archaeological artifact and to compare it against other models. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
955 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Jianianhualong tengi is a key taxon for understanding the evolution of pennaceous feathers as well as troodontid theropods, and it is known by only the holotype, which was recovered from the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation of western Liaoning, China. Here, we carried out a large-area micro-X-Ray fluorescence (micro-XRF) analysis on the holotypic specimen of Jianianhualong tengi via a Brucker M6 Jetstream mobile XRF scanner. The elemental distribution measurements of the specimen show an enrichment of typical bones couponing elements such as S, P and Ca allowing to visualize the fossil structure. Additionally, to this, the bones are enriched in several heavier elements such as Sr, Th, Y and Ce over the surrounding rocks. The enrichment is most likely associated to secondary mineralization and the phosphates from the bones. Interestingly the plumage shape correlates with an enrichment in elements such as Cu, Ni and Ti, consistent with a previous study [] on Archaeopteryx using synchrotron imaging. The analysis presented here provide new biological and taphonomic information of this fossil. An in-situ and nondestructive micro-XRF analysis is currently the most ideal way to map the chemistry of fossils, so far this is manly restricted to small samples. Larger samples usually required a synchrotron facility for analysis. Our study demonstrated that laboratory-based large-area micro-XRF scanner can provides a practical tool for the study of large large-sized specimens allowing collect full chemical data for a better understanding of evolutionary and taphonomic processes. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest. : #ref-1
954 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The Caribbean archipelago is a hotspot of biodiversity characterized by a high rate of extinction. Recent studies have examined these losses, but the causes of the Antillean Late Quaternary vertebrate extinctions, and especially the role of humans, are still unclear. Current results provide support for climate-related and human-induced extinctions, but often downplaying other complex bio-ecological factors that are difficult to model or to detect from the fossil and archaeological record. Here, we discuss Caribbean vertebrate extinctions and the potential role of humans derived from new and existing fossil and archaeological data from Cuba. Our results indicate that losses of Cuba’s native fauna occurred in three waves: one during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, a second during the middle Holocene, and a third one during the last 2 ka, coinciding with the arrival of agroceramists and the early Europeans. The coexistence of now-extinct species with multiple cultural groups in Cuba for over 4 ka implies that Cuban indigenous non-ceramic cultures exerted far fewer extinction pressures to native fauna than the later agroceramists and Europeans that followed. This suggests a determinant value to increased technological sophistication and demographics as the most plausible effective extinction drivers.
945 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Understanding why some clades contain more species than others is a major challenge in evolutionary biology, and variation in dispersal ability and its connection to diversification rate may be part of the explanation. Several studies have suggested a negative relationship between dispersal capacity and diversification rate among living mammals. However, this pattern may differ when also considering extinct species, given known extinction biases. The colonization of new areas by various lineages may be associated with both diversity increases in those colonising lineages and declines in the lineages already present. Past diversity declines are, however, effectively impossible to infer based on phylogenies of extant taxa, and the underlying process may, therefore, be difficult to determine. Here we produce a novel species-level phylogeny of all known extant and extinct species of the order Carnivora and related extinct groups (1,723 species in total) to show that there is instead a positive relationship between dispersal rate and diversification rate when all extinct species are included. Species that disperse between continents leave more descendant species than non-dispersers, and dispersing species belong to lineages that at the time of dispersal were diversifying faster than the average non-disperser. Our study showcases the importance of combining fossils and phylogenies to better understand evolutionary and biogeographic patterns.
942 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Theropod dinosaurs were relatively scarce in the Late Cretaceous ecosystems of southeast Brazil. Instead, hypercarnivorous crocodyliforms known as baurusuchids were abundant and probably occupied the ecological role of apex predators. Baurusuchids exhibited a series of morphological adaptations hypothesised to be associated with this ecological role, but quantitative biomechanical analyses of their morphology have so far been lacking. Here, we employ a biomechanical modelling approach, applying finite element analysis (FEA) to models of the skull and mandibles of a baurusuchid specimen. This allowed us to characterise the craniomandibular apparatus of baurusuchids, as well as to compare the functional morphology of the group to that of other archosaurian carnivores, such as theropods and crocodylians. Our results support the ecological role of baurusuchids as specialised apex predators in the continental Late Cretaceous ecosystems of South America. With a relatively weak bite force (∼600 N), baurusuchids’ predation strategies likely relied on other morphological specializations, such as ziphodont dentition and strong cervical musculature. Comparative assessments of the stress distribution and magnitude of scaled models of other predators (the theropod Allosaurus fragilis and the living crocodylian Alligator mississippiensis ) consistently show different responses to loadings under the same functional scenarios, suggesting distinct predatory behaviours for these animals. The unique selective pressures in the arid to semi-arid Late Cretaceous ecosystems of southeast Brazil, which were dominated by crocodyliforms, possibly drove the emergence and evolution of the biomechanical features seen in baurusuchids, which are distinct from those previously reported for other predatory taxa.
941 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Common species shape the world around us, and changes in their commonness signify large-scale shifts in ecosystem structure and function. Dominant taxa drive productivity and biogeochemical cycling, in direct interaction with abiotic components of the Earth system. However, our understanding of the dynamic response of ecosystems to global environmental changes in the past is limited by our ability to robustly estimate fossil taxonomic richness, and by our neglect of the importance of common species. To rectify this, we use observations of the most common and widespread species to track global changes in their distribution in the deep geological past. Our simple approach is robust to factors that bias richness estimators, including widely used sampling-standardization methods, which we show are highly sensitive to variability in the species-abundance distribution. Causal analyses of common species frequency in the deep-sea sedimentary record detect a lagged response in the ecological prominence of planktonic foraminifera to oceanographic changes captured by deep-ocean temperature records over the last 65 million years, encompassing one of Earth's major climate transitions. Our results demonstrate that common species can act as tracers of a past global ecosystem and its response to physical changes in Earth's dynamic history.
933 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The Miocene sands of the Swiss Jura Mountains, long exploited in quarries for the construction industry, have yielded abundant fossil remains of large mammals. Among Deinotheriidae (Proboscidea), two species, Prodeinotherium bavaricum and Deinotherium giganteum, had previously been identified in the Delemont valley, but never described. A third species, Deinotherium levius, from the locality of Charmoille in Ajoie, is reported herein for the first time in Switzerland. These occurrences are dated from the middle to the Late Miocene, correlating to the European Mammal biozones MN5 to MN9. The study is completed by a discussion on the palaeobiogeography of dinotheres at the European scale.
933 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
This study seeks to better quantify the parameters that drove the evolution of flight from non-volant winged dinosaurs to modern birds. In order to explore this issue, we used fossil data to model the feathered forelimb of Caudipteryx, the most basal non-volant maniraptoran dinosaur with elongate pennaceous feathers that could be described as forming proto-wings. In order to quantify the limiting flight factors, we created three hypothetical wing profiles for Caudipteryx representing incrementally larger wingspans, which we compared to the actual wing morphology as what revealed through fossils. These four models were analyzed under varying air speed, wing beat amplitude, and wing beat frequency to determine lift, thrust potential and metabolic requirements. We tested these models using theoretical equations in order to mathematically describe the evolutionary changes observed during the evolution of modern birds from a winged terrestrial theropod like Caudipteryx. Caudipteryx could not fly, but this research indicates that with a large enough wing span Caudipteryx-like animal could have flown, the morphology of the shoulder girdle would not actually accommodate the necessary flapping angle and metabolic demands would be much too high to be functional. The results of these analyses mathematically confirm that during the evolution of energetically efficient powered flight in derived maniraptorans, body weight had to decrease and wing area/wing profile needed to increase together with the flapping angle and surface area for the attachment of the flight muscles. This study quantifies the morphological changes that we observe in the pennaraptoran fossil record in the overall decrease in body size in paravians, the increased wing surface area in Archaeopteryx relative to Caudipteryx, and changes observed in the morphology of the thoracic girdle, namely the orientation of the glenoid and the enlargement of the sternum.
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