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Perspectives — Palaeontology in 2018

Perspectives — Palaeontology in 2018

Perspectives
by The Palaeontology [online] editorial board*1 Introduction: At the turn of most years, the some of the editorial board at Palaeontology [online] takes the opportunity to reflect on the past year in palaeontology. Given that we published a wonderful overview of Diploporitans in January, this year we’ve moved our look over our favourite studies from last year to February. Palaeontology and associated disciplines are fast-moving and exciting areas of science — looking back at 2018 lets us highlight just a few of the key developments that really show this. Picking just one article each is difficult, and we have been forced to miss out many of the hundreds of exciting papers published in the past 12 months. Nevertheless, we hope that our choices reflect the breadth and depth of palaeob
Fossil Focus: Diploporitans

Fossil Focus: Diploporitans

Fossil Focus
by Sarah L. Sheffield*1 Introduction: Echinoderms, a group of marine animals that includes familiar organisms such as sea stars and sea urchins, were much more diverse in the past than they are today. There are five living classes of echinoderms (sea stars, sea urchins, brittle stars, sea cucumbers and crinoids), but more than 20 extinct classes are known only from the fossil record. During the Palaeozoic Era (542 million to 251 million years ago), especially, echinoderms were incredibly diverse and thrived all over the globe (Fig. 1). This was a time of significant environmental change, with the climate ranging from very warm oceans with high sea levels and high atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to much colder oceans, with extensive glacial ice. By studying how fossil ...

Stereom

A mesh network of calcium carbonate material that makes up the skeleton of echinoderm organisms.

Carbonate

Sedimentary rocks made of carbonate minerals (for example, calcite, aragonite); these mainly form rocks such as limestone and dolomite.
Patterns in Palaeontology — Deducing the tree of life

Patterns in Palaeontology — Deducing the tree of life

Patterns in Palaeontology
by Russell Garwood*1 Introduction “Increasing knowledge leads to triumphant loss of clarity” — Palaeontologist Alfred Romer Some areas of life and human endeavour have the luxury of certainty. Along these paths of discovery, there are things we can know to be true or false. In others, it is impossible to assess the concept of truth: it can’t be established, or just isn’t a consideration. And between these extremes is a whole mess of important stuff. Palaeontology almost always lies somewhere on this gradation. Researchers studying past life are often juggling multiple layers of uncertainty. We try to balance the need to say something useful — something with meaning, that moves a field and its consensus closer to the truth — with the risk of over-interpreting our data. If the data is t
Education and Outreach: Cosplay for Science Initiative and the Natural History Museum of Pokémon

Education and Outreach: Cosplay for Science Initiative and the Natural History Museum of Pokémon

Education and Outreach
by Gabriel Santos1 In the world of education, we often hear complaints that people know more about celebrities and fictional characters than about science. Taking a moment to scroll through Twitter or Instagram, it can be easy to agree with such complaints. It can be a constant struggle for educators to find a way to make abstract concepts from science more interesting than ideas from fiction, like the Force or giant robots. But what if there were a way to use people’s fascination with pop culture as a tool for education? What if there were a way to use pop culture to make science relatable and accessible? What if there were a way to use pop culture to make scientists and educators more approachable? That is where the Cosplay for Science Initiative comes in. The Cosplay for Science I
Fossil Focus: Calcareous nannofossils: the best things are microscopic

Fossil Focus: Calcareous nannofossils: the best things are microscopic

Fossil Focus
by Amy P. Jones1 Introduction: Calcareous nannofossils — words that are, perhaps, unfamiliar to you. You might never have stumbled upon them before … So what are they? They are the fossil remains of coccolithophores: single-celled marine algae from the phylum Haptophyta and division Prymnesiophyceae. They exist in great abundance around the world in the oceans, and have done for over 200 million years. They are also known as the grass of the sea, and are regarded as one of the most important phytoplankton groups in the oceans owing to their relationship with the carbon cycle. They provide valuable proxies to help us understand conditions throughout geological history, because their evolution shows consistent and resilient patterns. Nannofossils are composed of calcium carbonate, also
Fossil Focus: Paracrinoids

Fossil Focus: Paracrinoids

Fossil Focus
by Maggie R. Limbeck*1 Introduction: The oceans of the Palaeozoic era (541 million to 252 million years ago) were full of animals that we are familiar with, such as fish, snails, and coral, but also included many organisms that look almost nothing like their living relatives. The further back in time we go, for instance to the Cambrian and Ordovician periods (541 million to 444 million years ago), the greater the difference in body plans, or morphologies, compared to modern species. Echinoderms are an excellent example of this — living members of the group, such as starfish and sea urchins, are easily recognizable, but many of their extinct, fossilized relatives from hundreds of millions of years ago look very different. Understanding these different body forms is important to palaeontol
Patterns in Palaeontology: How do we measure biodiversity in the past?

Patterns in Palaeontology: How do we measure biodiversity in the past?

Patterns in Palaeontology
by Emma Dunne*1 Introduction: Life on Earth is incredibly diverse. More than 1.7 million species have already been described and estimates suggest that there could be as many as 9 million in total. But exactly how this rich biodiversity has developed over the last 542 million years since the Cambrian remains the subject of debate amongst palaeontologists. Did biodiversity increase steadily from one geological period to the next, or did it wax and wane without any overall direction? These questions are crucial in a modern context: today, we are flooded with urgent reports on the state of biodiversity worldwide, with many scientists stating that we are in the middle of a biodiversity crisis driven by human impact, leading to what is being called the sixth mass extinction. To understand and
Fossil Focus: Blastoids

Fossil Focus: Blastoids

Fossil Focus
by Jennifer E. Bauer*1 Introduction: The ancient seas of the Palaeozoic era (541 million to 252 million years ago) teemed with unusual creatures that would be almost unrecognizable to us today. Although these animals look very peculiar, they often have living relatives that we are more familiar with. Consider echinoderms, such as sea stars and sea urchins: these marine animals can be recognized easily by scientists and the general public alike due to their distinctive five-fold symmetry and often vibrant colours. However, the Palaeozoic fossil record of echinoderms includes a wide range of forms that are radically different from living species. Indeed, there are only 5 major living groups of echinoderms, but about 20 extinct groups known only from the Palaeozoic. This means that the foss