Ecological reshuffle following a crocodyliform extinction

Chaaaaange places! Sometimes, when extinction hits it’s not quite the dramatic ‘great dying’ we might think of where animals choke their final breaths out in the desolate, lifeless wastelands. Sometimes, it’s more like the Mad Hatter’s tea party from Alice in Wonderland: chaotic, messy, no major character dies, but you can be sure that something pretty weird and dramatic has just happened.

Well, I think this is what happened around 145 million years ago at the Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary. In a recent paper, we analysed the diversity and extinction patterns of crocodyliforms – the group that includes modern crocodiles and their super cool ancestors – and found that they got hit pretty hard by an extinction event around this time.

Continue reading

Why I think the Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary is super important

Mass extinctions are insanely catastrophic, but important, events that punctuate the history of life on Earth. The Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary, around 145 million years ago, was originally thought of to represent a mass extinction, but has subsequently been ‘down-graded’ to a minor extinction event based on new discoveries.

However, compared to other important stratigraphic boundaries, like the end-Triassic or the end-Cretaceous, both time periods representing mass extinction events, the Jurassic/Cretaceous (J/K) boundary actually remains really poorly understood. This is both in terms of what was going on with different animal groups at the time, and what environmental changes were occurring alongside this.

Well, I have a new research paper out now that synthesises more than 600 research articles, bringing them together to try and build a single picture of what was going on around this time! It’s free to read here, and is essentially the literature review from my thesis, or as I like to think of it, the justification for my existence as a researcher!

Continue reading

The Spinosaurus saga continues..

Spinosaurus is without a doubt one of the most iconic and badass dinosaurs that ever roamed the planet. It’s research history, however, has been complicated to see the least. Some of the original material of this species was lost or destroyed during World War II, and newer specimens discovered since come from questionable sources without detailed information regarding where they were collected from. This makes it one of the more heavily debated dinosaur species, which is not helped by its fearsome public image!

Fantastic new artwork of Spinosaurus by Sergey Krasovskiy

Fantastic new artwork of Spinosaurus by Sergey Krasovskiy

I’ve written about Spinosaurus before, and other great writers have gone into great detail about its history. A new research paper though, by Christophe Hendrickx and colleagues, reports on some new spinosaur discoveries from North Africa that help to clarify previous suspicions about specimens assigned to this beasty, as well as reveal an unusual behavioural feeding aspect of it. The new study is published in PLOS ONE (open access ftw!), and Discover Magazine were kind enough to let me write about it for them, so plenty to catch up on for dinosaur lovers!

Which palaeontology stories in 2015 captured the public’s imagination?

Happy New Year everyone! It’s that time of year when all the summaries of an amazing year of research are coming out, and goodness, what a year it’s been! The folk over at Altmetric have been kind enough to summarise the top 100 articles of 2015, measured by their altmetrics scores – a measure of the social media chatter around articles. All the data are available on Figshare, and here I just wanted to highlight the palaeontology stories that stood out in the media this year according to the list.

Continue reading

New giant ‘raptor from hell’ discovered!

For those who haven’t seen, recently a new ‘giant raptor from Hell’ was discovered! As a cousin to the infamous Velociraptor, it represents one of the largest members of the group known as Dromaeosauridae, which were the close relatives of early birds. The new giant raptor lived alongside other beasties like T. rex and comes from the latest Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation, where it would have been a mid-tier ambush predator. It comes fully equipped with the largest ‘sickle’ claws currently known from these guys, making it one helluva lethal killing machine. Perhaps most importantly, the new species, named Dakotaraptor is the largest known ‘raptor’ that possesses unequivocal evidence of a ‘true’ wing formed from feathers. Anyway, being a greedy little grad student, I wrote about the story for Discover Magazine and also for EarthTouch, so take your pick!

Beautiful reconstruction of Dakotaraptor by Emily Willoughby

Beautiful reconstruction of Dakotaraptor by Emily Willoughby