Answer to restoring lost island biodiversity found in fossils

September 22nd, 2014
Croc skull

A new study shows scientists are only beginning to understand the roles of native species in prehistoric island ecosystems. Researchers discovered this 3,000-year-old fossil skull of a Cuban Crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer, in the Bahamas.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Kristen Grace

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Many native species have vanished from tropical islands because of human impact, but University of Florida scientists have discovered how fossils can be used to restore lost biodiversity.

The key lies in organic materials found in fossil bones, which contain evidence for how ancient ecosystems functioned, according to a new study available online and in the September issue of the Journal of Herpetology. Pre-human island ecosystems provide vital clues for saving endangered island species and re-establishing native species, said lead author Alex Hastings, who conducted work for the study as graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History and UF department of geological sciences.

“Our work is particularly relevant to endangered species that are currently living in marginal environments,” said Hastings, currently a postdoctoral researcher at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. “A better understanding of species’ natural roles in ecosystems untouched by people might improve their prospects for survival.”

Thousands of years ago, the largest carnivore and herbivore on the Bahamian island of Abaco disappeared. The study reconstructs the ancient food web of Abaco where these two mega-reptiles, the endangered Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) and (more…)

New study of Panama shark, ray fossils sheds light on ancient ocean connections

October 14th, 2013
Pimiento measuring tooth

Lead researcher Catalina Pimiento measures a shark tooth at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new study led by University of Florida researchers provides evidence of an interchange between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans nine to 11 million years ago despite the ongoing formation of the Isthmus of Panama.

Seeking to provide the most complete description to date of 10-million-year-old shark and ray fossils in an outcrop on the Caribbean side of Panama, the researchers identified species that today are restricted to the Pacific Ocean, suggesting the oceans were connected at the time. The study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Paleontology.

The research has significant implications for the evolutionary history of sharks and possibly other marine animals, said lead researcher Catalina Pimiento, a doctoral candidate at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. (more…)

Dig into geology at the Florida Museum during ‘Can You Dig It?’ March 17

March 1st, 2012

Editors Note: A complete list activities follows this release

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Dig into geology and discover the ground beneath your feet at the sixth annual “Can You Dig It?” at the Florida Museum of Natural History from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 17.

This free, family-friendly event is sponsored by the University of Florida department of geological sciences and features hands-on activities and engaging demonstrations from the Gainesville Gem and Mineral Society, Jackson Stoneworks and Santa Fe College.

“We’ve added some new displays and tables this year,” said Matt Smith, lecturer for the UF department of geological sciences. “We really want to get the people and kids out to see what geology is all about. Lots of kids don’t know what geologists actually do, so every year we try to mix it up and make the event better.”


Monthly presentation series discusses fossils, paleontology at Florida Museum

February 9th, 2012

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Learn more about fossil nuts, primates and horses from Florida Museum of Natural History researchers during the “Cruisin’ for Fossils” spring presentation series.

The three free presentations are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Feb. 19, March 11 and April 29 in the museum classroom.

Topics include “Cruisin’ for Fossil Nuts” by curator of paleobotany Steve Manchester, “Cruisin’ for Fossil Primates” by associate curator of vertebrate paleontology Jonathan Bloch and “Cruisin’ for Florida’s Fossil Horses” by vertebrate paleontology collections manager Richard Hulbert, respectively.


Bring fossils, questions to museum ‘Ask a Paleontologist’ events February through May

February 8th, 2012

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Area residents who have discovered a mysterious fossil while gardening or hiking and would like to learn more about it now have the perfect opportunity.

The Florida Museum of Natural History is hosting “Ask a Paleontologist” events from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 12), March 4, April 15 and May 6.

Florida Museum vertebrate paleontology collections manager Richard Hulbert and Florida Museum invertebrate paleontology collections manager Roger Portell will identify fossils for visitors and share information about paleontology March 4 and May 6. Hulbert is also scheduled for Feb. 12 and Portell for April 15. (more…)

Fla. Museum offers opening day activities for new fossil exhibit Feb. 4

January 27th, 2012

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Take a prehistoric road trip with the Florida Museum of Natural History during the opening of “Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway with artist Ray Troll and paleontologist Kirk Johnson” from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 4.

University of Florida mascots Albert and Alberta are scheduled to appear from 11 a.m. to noon for visitor photographs with the Albertosaurus skeleton in the exhibit. UF paleontologists, paleobotanists and geologists, as well as members of state fossil clubs including the Tampa Bay Fossil Club, Southwest Florida Fossil Club, Florida Fossil Hunters and the Florida Paleontological Society will also speak with visitors and display specimens from their collections. (more…)

Dinosaurs invade Gainesville with ‘Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway’ exhibit Feb. 4

December 22nd, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Dinosaurs are coming to Gainesville! Take a prehistoric road trip through the Florida Museum of Natural History’s newest temporary exhibit, “Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway with Artist Ray Troll and Paleontologist Kirk Johnson,” Feb. 4 through Sept. 3.

The exhibit features 30 fossils, including complete skeleton casts of the three-horned Triceratops dinosaur, and Albertosaurus, a carnivore that lived about 70 million years ago. The fossils complement 19 color prints and five large-scale murals by Troll, created for the book “Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway,” by Troll and Johnson. Visitors also will be able to observe Florida Museum scientists in a functioning paleontology lab preparing fossils collected during research projects from around the world. (more…)

Museum researchers name new ancient crocodile relative from land of Titanoboa

October 1st, 2011

By Danielle Torrent

Did an ancient crocodile relative give the world’s largest snake a run for its money? In the post-dinosaur world of giants, Florida Museum of Natural History researchers discovered a new species related to crocodiles they say ate the same freshwater fish as Titanoboa. (more…)

Researchers discover oldest evidence of nails in modern primates

August 15th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – From hot pink to traditional French and Lady Gaga’s sophisticated designs, manicured nails have become the grammar of fashion.

But they are not just pretty – when nails appeared on all fingers and toes in modern primates about 55 million years ago, they led to the development of critical functions, including finger pads that allow for sensitive touch and the ability to grasp, whether it’s a nail polish brush or remover to prepare for the next trend.

In a new study co-authored by University of Florida scientists, researchers recovered and analyzed the oldest fossil evidence of fingernails in modern primates, confirming the idea nails developed with small body size and disproving previous theories nails evolved with an increase in primate body size. More than 25 new specimens of Teilhardina brandti – an extinct primate originally described from a single lower molar – include pieces of upper teeth and ankle bones that show the mammal lived in trees. Its nails allowed the lemur-like animal to grasp onto branches and move through the trees with more agility, researchers said. (more…)

UF study names new genus of 125-million-year-old eudicot from China

March 30th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A University of Florida researcher has helped describe the earliest known fossil remains of a flowering plant from China that has a direct evolutionary relationship with most plants humans depend on today.

The study, scheduled to appear as the cover story in the March 31 issue of the journal Nature, describes the basal eudicot species, Leefructus mirus, which lived during the early Cretaceous period about 125 million years ago. It is most closely related to living plants in the buttercup family. Eudicots, known as “typical dicots,” are one of the largest groups of flowering plants. (more…)

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