Most downloaded biology preprints, all time
in category paleontology
190 results found. For more information, click each entry to expand.
631 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The oldest traces for planktonic lifestyle have been reported in ca. 3.4 billion years old silicified sediments from the Strelley Pool Formation in Western Australia. Observation of flange appendages suggests that Archean life motility was passive and driven by drifting of microorganisms in their surrounding environment. Until now, the oldest traces for active motility are ca. 2.1 billion years old. Whether or not active motility already existed during the Archean eon remains an open question. Here we report the discovery of new 3.4 billion years old tailed microfossils. These microfossils exhibit a lash-like appendage that likely provided them with movement capabilities. This suggests that these microfossils are the oldest remains of active motile life forms. With the ability to move in liquids and on organic and/or mineral surfaces, these microorganisms were capable of escaping from harsh environments and/or colonizing new ecological niches as early as 3.4 billion years ago. The existence of these deep-rooted Archean motile life forms offers a new picture of the Archean biodiversity, with unanticipated evolutionary innovative morphological complexities. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
629 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The 407-million-year-old Rhynie chert preserves the earliest terrestrial ecosystem and informs our understanding of early life on land. However, our knowledge of the 3D structure, and development of these plants is still rudimentary. Here we used digital 3D reconstruction techniques to produce the first complete reconstruction of the lycopsid Asteroxylon mackiei, the most complex plant in the Rhynie chert. The reconstruction reveals the organisation of the three distinct axes types -- leafy shoot axes, root-bearing axes and rooting axes -- in the body plan. Combining this reconstruction with developmental data from fossilised meristems, we demonstrate that the A. mackiei rooting axis -- a transitional lycophyte organ between the rootless ancestral state and true roots -- developed from root-bearing axes by anisotomous dichotomy. Our discovery demonstrates how this unique organ developed, and highlights the value of evidence-based reconstructions for understanding the development and evolution of the first complex plants on Earth.
628 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Bone collagen is an important material for radiocarbon, paleodietary, and paleoproteomic analyses, but it degrades over time. Various methods have been employed to prescreen bone for collagen preservation, but these are often destructive and/or require exportation for analysis. Here we show that near-infrared spectroscopy can be used to determine bone collagen content quickly and non-destructively on site.
626 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The late Miocene is marked by pronounced environmental changes and the appearance of strong temperature and precipitation seasonality. Although environmental heterogeneity is to be expected during this time, it is challenging to reconstruct palaeoenvironments using plant fossils. We investigated leaves and dispersed spores/pollen from 6.4-6 Ma strata in the intermontane Florina-Ptolemais-Servia Basin (FPS) of northwestern Greece. To assess how well plant fossils reflect the actual vegetation of the FPS, we assigned fossil-taxa to biomes providing a measure for environmental heterogeneity. Additionally, the palynological assemblage was compared to pollen spectra from modern lake sediments to assess biases in spore/pollen representation in the pollen record. We found a close match of the Vegora assemblage with modern Fagus-Abies forests of Turkey. Using taxonomic affinities of leaf fossils, we further established close similarities of the Vegora assemblage with modern laurophyllous oak forests of Afghanistan. Finally, using information from sedimentary environment and taphonomy, we distinguished local and distantly growing vegetation types. We then subjected the plant assemblage of Vegora to different methods of climate reconstruction and discussed their potentials and limitations. Leaf and spore/pollen records allow accurate reconstructions of palaeoenvironments in the FPS, whereas extra-regional vegetation from coastal lowlands is likely not captured. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
619 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The Permian-Triassic mass extinction (PTME) altered macroevolutionary landscapes by removing incumbent biota. Here, using terrestrial paleocommunities of the Karoo Basin spanning the PTME, we show that a preextinction incumbent configuration of biotic interactions made significant ecological re-organizations or macroevolutionary innovations unlikely. The post-PTME ecosystem initially was more likely to be reorganized, but incumbency was reestablished by the Middle Triassic. We argue that the stability of the pre-PTME ecosystem, its subsequent loss, and replacement, resulted from the influence of community-level structure and dynamics on species evolution andsurvival.
613 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
With over 15,000 extant species, Decapoda (or ten-legged crustaceans such as crabs, shrimp, lobsters, and relatives) are among the most speciose and economically important group of crustaceans. Despite of their diversity, anatomical disparity, and remarkable fossil record extending back to the Late Paleozoic, the origins of Decapoda and their phylogenetic relationships with eumalacostracans remains elusive and inconclusive. Molecular dating suggests that decapods originated in the Late Ordovician (~450 Mya), but no reliable fossil crown groups are found until the Late Devonian. Moreover, there is no consensus on which lineages belong to stem groups, obscuring our understanding of the roots of the ten-legged decapod body plans as a whole, and how they relate to other non-decapod crustaceans. We present new, exceptional fossils from the Late Devonian of Czech Republic and Poland that belong to Angustidontida, an odd shrimp-looking crustacean with a combination of anatomical features unlike those of any crown eumalacostracan known, extinct or extant. Our phylogenetic analyses, including representatives of all major lineages of crown eumalacostracans plus Angustidontida, identify angustidontids as the only known stem-group decapod, and give hints about the transformation series, polarity of change, and evolutionary pathways leading to the modern decapod body plans seen today. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
611 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
We describe a unique three-dimensionally preserved fossil down feather from the Late Cretaceous of Myanmar. The morphology is highly congruent with Stage IIIb of the widely accepted Prum and Brush model of feather evolution-development. This makes the new specimen the first evidence of this developmental stage in the fossil record. The Stage IIIb diagnosis is robustly supported by the absence of a central rachis and by its paired barbules emanating from radially positioned barbs that are attached to a short calamus. Prum and Brush model hypothesises a bifurcation in the evolution-development pathway at Stage III. Stage IIIa involves rachis development and branching into barbs. Stage IIIb involves branching of the barbs from the calamus and then further branching of the barbules from the barbs. These two pathways then converge into Stage IIIa+b where feathers produce a rachis, barbs and barbules in nested order, finally leading to Stage IV. Evolution-development studies on the morphogenesis of feathers have unequivocally shown that such feather branching can be controlled by BMP, Noggin, Shh and several other proteins. Therefore, molecular crosstalk can convert a barb into a rachis and vice versa. The topology of this down feather, consistent with specific patterns of modular protein-protein signalling already observed, provides the first definitive evidence that such signalling was responsible for the evolution of a diverse inventory of feather morphologies in non-avialan dinosaurs and early birds since the middle Jurassic. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
610 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
With approximately 1,500 extant species, freshwater crabs (Decapoda: Brachyura) are among the most diverse decapod crustaceans. Nevertheless, their fossil record is extremely limited: only Potamidae, Potamonautidae and Trichodactylidae are reported up to the Eocene of the Neotropics so far. This work documents unusually large decapod claws from the Upper Cretaceous (Campanian) continental deposits of Velaux and vicinity (southern France), in close association with large vertebrate remains. In addition to (1) the systematic assignment of these claws, the study addresses (2) the salinity trends in the deposit environment from its faunal assemblage and the elementary chemical patterns of fossils, and (3) the likely scenario for their auto/allochtony in the Velaux fluvial system. These claws belong to a new taxon, Dinocarcinus velauciensis n. gen. n. sp., referred to as Portunoidea sensu lato, a group of "true" crabs nowadays linked to marine systems. However, the faunal assemblage, the claw taphonomy and the carbonates Y/Ho signatures support their ancient freshwater/terrestrial ecology, making them the oldest reported continental brachyurans and extending the presence of crabs in freshwater environments by 40 Ma. Either as primary or as secondary freshwater crabs, the occurrence of these portunoids in Velaux is an evidence for the independent colonizations of continental environments by multiple brachyuran clades over time, as early as the Campanian.
606 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Fossil information is essential for estimating species divergence times, and can be integrated into Bayesian phylogenetic inference using the fossilized birth-death (FBD) process. An important aspect of palaeontological data is the uncertainty surrounding specimen ages, which can be handled in different ways during inference. The most common approach is to fix fossil ages to a point estimate within the known age interval. Alternatively, age uncertainty can be incorporated by using priors, and fossil ages are then directly sampled as part of the inference. This study presents a comparison of alternative approaches for handling fossil age uncertainty in analysis using the FBD process. Based on simulations, we find that fixing fossil ages to the midpoint or a random point drawn from within the stratigraphic age range leads to biases in divergence time estimates, while sampling fossil ages leads to estimates that are similar to inferences that employ the correct ages of fossils. Second, we show a comparison using an empirical dataset of extant and fossil cetaceans, which confirms that different methods of handling fossil age uncertainty lead to large differences in estimated node ages. Stratigraphic age uncertainty should thus not be ignored in divergence time estimation and instead should be incorporated explicitly.
605 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The musculoskeletal configuration of the mammalian pectoral limb has been heralded as a key anatomical feature leading to the adaptive radiation of mammals, but limb function in the cynodont outgroup remains unresolved. Conflicting reconstructions of abducted and adducted posture are based on mutually-incompatible interpretations of ambiguous osteology. We reconstruct the pectoral limb of the Triassic non-mammalian cynodont Massetognathus pascuali in three dimensions, by combining skeletal morphology from micro-computed tomography with muscle anatomy from an extended extant phylogenetic bracket. Conservative tests of maximum range of motion suggest a degree of girdle mobility, as well as substantial freedom at the shoulder and the elbow joints. The glenoid fossa supports a neutral pose in which the distal end of the humerus points 45° posterolaterally from the body wall, intermediate between classically "sprawling" and "parasagittal" limb postures. Massetognathus is reconstructed as having a near-mammalian complement of shoulder muscles, including an incipient rotator cuff (m. subscapularis, m. infraspinatus, m. supraspinatus, and m. teres minor). Based on close inspection of the morphology of the glenoid fossa, we hypothesize a posture-driven scenario for the evolution of the therian ball-and-socket shoulder joint. The musculoskeletal reconstruction presented here provides the anatomical scaffolding for more detailed examination of locomotor evolution in the precursors to mammals.
604 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
A recent study by Norell et al. (2020) described new egg specimens for two dinosaur species, identified as the first soft-shelled dinosaur eggs. The authors used phylogenetic comparative methods to reconstruct eggshell type in a sample of reptiles, and identified the eggs of dinosaurs and archosaurs as ancestrally soft-shelled, with three independent acquisitions of a hard eggshell among dinosaurs. This result contradicts previous hypotheses of hard-shelled eggs as ancestral to archosaurs and dinosaurs. Here we estimate the ancestral condition for dinosaur and archosaur eggs by reanalyzing the original data from Norell et al. and that from a recent study on reptile eggshells (Legendre et al., 2020) with the addition of these new dinosaur specimens. We show that the recovery of dinosaur eggs as ancestrally soft-shelled is conditioned by the discretization of a continuous character (eggshell thickness), the exclusion of turtle outgroups from the original sample, and a lack of branch length information. When using a larger sample, calibrated trees, and a definition of hard-shelled eggs referencing their unique prismatic structure, we recover dinosaur and archosaur eggs as either hard-shelled or uncertain (i.e. equal probability for hard- and soft-shelled). This remaining ambiguity is due to uncertainty in the assessment of eggshell type in two dinosaur species, i.e. ~1% of the total sample. We conclude that more reptile egg specimens and a strict comparative framework are necessary to decipher the evolution of dinosaur eggs in a phylogenetic context.
603 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Małgorzata Kot, Maciej T Krajcarz, Magdalena Moskal-del Hoyo, Natalia Gryczewska, Michał Wojenka, Katarzyna Pyżewicz, Virginie Sinet-Mathiot, Marcin Diakowski, Stanisław Fedorowicz, Michał Gąsiorowski, Adrian Marciszak, Paweł Mackiewicz
Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanowician (LRJ) sites are sparse, and Koziarnia Cave in Poland is one of only few such sites situated at the eastern fringe of LRJ. The aim of the recent study was to obtain new chronostratigraphic data for the LRJ industries due to their extreme scarcity in Central Europe. Although the new fieldworks did not bring new fossil directeur such as bifacial leafpoints, a detail debitage analysis enabled identifying a presence of the ventral thinning chips in layer D, which could be identified as the LRJ assemblage-containing stratum. Besides the LRJ assemblage, strata with traces of Late Middle Palaeolithic and Early Gravettian occupation were found at the site. The radiocarbon dates of Koziarnia samples show that the archaeological settlement represent one of the oldest Gravettian stays north to Carpathians. What is more, these dates demonstrate that the cave had been alternately occupied by humans and cave bears. Additionally the radiocarbon dates indicate rather young chronology of the Jerzmanowician occupation in Koziarnia Cave (c.a. 39-36 ky cal. BP). The results confirm the possibility of long chronology of the LRJ technocomplex, exceeding the Campanian Ignimbrite event.
603 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The Emsian deposits of the Battery Point Formation (Gaspe, Canada) host the most diverse Early Devonian flora in North America. While most of this diversity has been described from plant compressions, the permineralized component of the flora is incompletely explored. Based on >15 axes studied in serial sections, we describe a new anatomically preserved rhyniopsid from the Battery Point Formation, Eddianna gaspiana gen. & sp. nov. Eddianna axes are up to 2 mm in diameter and have a well-developed terete xylem strand with potential centrarch maturation (comprising 80% of the cross sectional surface area) that features Sennicaulis-type tracheid wall thickenings. A thin layer interpreted as phloem is preserved around the central xylem and an irregular sclerenchymatous cortex forms longitudinal anastomosing ridges on the outside of the axes. The anatomy of Eddianna axes suggests that they represent lower portions, specialized in efficient water transfer, of a larger plant whose distal regions have yet to be discovered. Eddianna, the first permineralized rhyniopsid described from the Battery Point Formation, is one of only four anatomically preserved plants reported from this unit. These fossils reiterate the potential for additional discoveries of anatomically preserved plants in the Battery Point Formation.
600 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The study on evolution of the mammalian middle ear has been fueled by continuous discoveries of Mesozoic fossils in the last two decades. Wang et al. recently reported a specimen of Vilevolodon diplomylos (IMMNH-PV01699) that adds to the increasing knowledge about the auditory apparatus of "haramiyidans", an extinct Mesozoic group of mammaliaforms. The authors hypothesized that a middle ear with a monotreme-like incus and malleus and incudomallear articulation was primitive for mammals, which challenges the convention that the monotreme middle ear is specialized or autapomorphic in mammals. We raise concerns about terminology and identification of the incus presented by Wang et al. and show that their analysis does not support their hypothesis; instead, it supports the one by Mao et al.
598 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Recently, approaches that estimate species divergence times using fossil taxa and models of morphological evolution have exploded in popularity. These methods incorporate diverse biological and geological information to inform posterior reconstructions, and have been applied to several high-profile clades to positive effect. However, there several examples where morphological data are misleading, resulting in unrealistic age estimates. While several studies have demonstrated that these approaches can be robust and internally consistent, the causes and limitations of these patterns remain unclear. In this study, we dissect signal in Bayesian dating analyses of three mammalian clades. For two of the three examples, we find that morphological characters provide little information regarding divergence times as compared to geologic range information, with posterior estimates largely recapitulating those recovered under the prior. However, in the cetacean dataset, we find that morphological data do appreciably inform posterior divergence time estimates. We supplement these empirical analyses with a set of simulations designed to explore the efficiency and limitations of binary and 3-state character data in reconstructing node ages. Our results demonstrate areas of both strength and weakness for morphological clock analyses, and help to outline conditions under which they perform best and, conversely, when they should be eschewed in favour of purely geological approaches.
597 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The role of time (i.e. taxa ages) in phylogeny has been a source of intense debate within palaeontology for decades and has not yet been resolved fully. The fossilised birth-death range process is a model that explicitly accounts for information about species through time. It presents a fresh opportunity to examine the role of stratigraphic data in phylogenetic inference of fossil taxa. Here, we apply this model in a Bayesian framework to an exemplar dataset of well-dated conodonts from the Late Devonian. We compare the results to those obtained using traditional unconstrained tree inference. We show that the combined analysis of morphology and stratigraphic data under the FBD range process reduces overall phylogenetic uncertainty, compared to unconstrained tree inference. We find that previous phylogenetic hypotheses based on parsimony and stratophenetics are closer to trees generated under the FBD range process. However, the results also highlight that irrespective of the inclusion of age data, a large amount of topological uncertainty will remain. Bayesian inference provides the most intuitive way to represent the uncertainty inherent in fossil datasets and new flexible models increase opportunities to refine hypotheses in palaeobiology.
596 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
Dispersal is essential for terrestrial organisms living in disjunct habitats and constitutes a significant challenge for the evolution of wingless taxa. Springtails (Collembola), the sister-group of all insects (with dipluran), are reported since the Lower Devonian and thought to have originally been subterranean. The order Symphypleona is reported since the early Cretaceous with genera distributed on every continent, implying an ability to disperse over oceans although never reported in marine water contrary to other springtail orders. Despite being highly widespread, modern springtails are generally rarely reported in any kind of biotic association. Interestingly, the fossil record has provided occasional occurrences of Symphypleona attached by the antennae onto the bodies of larger arthropods. Here, we document the case of a ~16 Ma old fossil association: a winged termite and ant displaying not some, but 25 springtails attached or closely connected to the body. The collembola exhibit rare features for fossils, reflecting their courtship and phoretic behaviors. By observing the modes of attachment of springtails on different arthropods, the sex representation and ratios in springtail antennal anatomies in new and previously reported cases, we infer a likely mechanism for dispersal in Symphypleona. By revealing hidden evidence of modern springtail associations with other invertebrates such as ants and termites, new compelling assemblages of fossil springtails and the drastic increase of eusocial insects' abundance over Cenozoic (ants/termites comprising more than the third of insects in Miocene amber), we stress that attachment with winged casts of ants and termites may have been a mechanism for the worldwide dispersal of this significant springtail lineage. Moreover, by comparing the general constraints applying to the other wingless soil-dwelling arthropods known to disperse through phoresy, we suggest biases in the collection and observation of phoretic Symphypleona related to their reflexive detachment and infer that this behavior continues today. The specific case of tree resin entrapment represents the (so far) only condition uncovering the actual dispersal mechanism of springtails - one of the oldest terrestrial arthropod lineages living today. Associations with soil-dwelling social insects over time would have been at the origin of this behavioural specialization.
596 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The role of aquatic resources in ancient economies and paleodiet is important for understanding the evolution of prehistorical societies. However, conventional archaeometric approaches lack organismal specificity, are affected by abundant environmental contaminants and do not elucidate food processing recipes. We performed proteomics analysis of charred organic deposits adhered on early ceramics from Mesolithic-Neolithic inland site Friesack 4 (Brandenburg, Germany). Proteomics of foodcrust from a vessel attributed to Endmesolithic pottery identified fine carp roe meal and revealed details of a prehistorical culinary recipe. We propose that Endmesolithic occupants of Friesack at the end of the 5th millennium BC utilized fish as a food reserve and adopted delayed-return subsistence strategy. These data contribute to better understanding of the dietary context of Neolithic transition in European inland.
590 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
The Early Permian mesosaurs are the oldest known primarily aquatic amniotes. Despite the interest that they have generated over time, their affinities remain controversial. Recently, two hypotheses have been supported, in which mesosaurs are either the sister-group of all other sauropsids, or the sister-group of other parareptiles. We recently upheld the former hypothesis, but in the latest study on mesosaur affinities, MacDougall et al. published a study highly critical of our work, while upholding the hypothesis that mesosaurs are basal parareptiles. We expect that the debate about mesosaur affinities will continue in the foreseeable future, but we wish to respond to the two central comments published by MacDougall et al. in 2018, who argue that variability in the temporal fenestration of early sauropsids, combined with the omission of several recently-described parareptile taxa, explain the differences in topologies between their study and ours. Reanalyzing our data matrix and theirs without characters linked with temporal fenestration, and removing from their matrix the parareptile taxa that they added (and that we omitted) does not alter the resulting topologies. Thus, their main conclusions are false; the differences in taxonomic position of mesosaurs must result from character choice and scoring differences.
584 downloads bioRxiv paleontology
There is a consensus that Caribbean coral reefs are a pale shadow of what they once were, yet a reef's pre-human state is typically assumed or estimated using space-for-time substitution approaches. These approaches may fail to account for past variation before human impact which could mislead conservation priorities and actions. In this study we use a suite of fossilised mid-Holocene (7.2-5.6 ka) fringing reefs in Caribbean Panama to define the Historical Range of Variation (HRV) in coral community structure before human-impact to provide context for the states of modern reefs in the same area. Using the abundances of coral taxa to quantify communities, we found that most of the modern coral communities exist in novel ecosystem states with no fossil precedence. We do however identify one modern reef that is indistinguishable in coral community structure from the mid-Holocene reefs. Reef-matrix cores show that the community on this reef has remained in a stable state for over 760 years, suggesting long-term resistance to the region-wide shift to novel states. Without historical context this robust and stable reef would be overlooked since it does not fulfil expectations of what a pristine coral reef should look like. This example illustrates how defining past variation using the fossil record can place modern degradation in historical context and improve conservation recommendations.
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