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!

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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.

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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

Your bite or mine?

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=1250

It rises from the dark waters like some behemoth from the deep, and lets out a blood-curdling roar. It’s feeding time. One of the most iconic scenes from Jurassic Park III is where the long-snouted, sail-backed giant theropod dinosaur Spinosaurus emerges from underwater to try, yet again, to eat our beleaguered rabble of misfortunates. It’s always been the way these dinosaurs have been portrayed, including one of Spinosaurus’ close cousins Baryonyx from the UK. With their long snouts, bulbous tips, and pointy teeth, it’s often been thought that spinosaurid dinosaurs were quite a lot like modern crocodiles. But how much of this is true?

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Another clue to the origins of dinosaurs

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=1222

Often the early evolution and radiation of the first dinosaurs is an overlooked part of their tale, in favour of the more dramatic but arguably no less important tales of their later radiations and extinctions. It is actually a fairly poorly understood part of their evolution too, with the timing, and actual mechanism that drove them to become the most successful land group ever still a bit of a mystery.

We are, however,  learning more and more about this important phase of their history, in a time known as the Late Triassic some 231-201 million years ago. A new fossil site from this time in Poland – probably not one of the places you’d associate with important fossils – is helping to fill in the blanks. Usually, dinosaur-bearing sites from around this time are known from the southwestern United States and southern South America, so a European locality can potentially tell us quite a bit!

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