Fossil bird study describes ripple effect of extinction in animal kingdom

March 7th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A University of Florida study demonstrates extinction’s ripple effect through the animal kingdom, including how the demise of large mammals 20,000 years ago led to the disappearance of one species of cowbird.

The study shows the trickle-down effect the loss of large mammals has on other species, and researchers say it is a lesson from the past that should be remembered when making conservation, game and land-use decisions today. (more…)

UF research provides new understanding of bizarre extinct mammal

October 11th, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida researchers presenting new fossil evidence of an exceptionally well-preserved 55-million-year-old North American mammal have found it shares a common ancestor with rodents and primates, including humans.

The study, scheduled to appear in the Oct. 11 online edition of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, describes the cranial anatomy of the extinct mammal, Labidolemur kayi. High resolution CT scans of the specimens allowed researchers to study minute details in the skull, including bone structures smaller than one-tenth of a millimeter. Similarities in bone features with other mammals show L. kayi’s living relatives are rodents, rabbits, flying lemurs, tree shrews and primates. (more…)

UF one of first to receive two NSF research, education grants in same cycle

August 5th, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida is one of the first institutions to receive two Partnership for International Research and Education Grants from the National Science Foundation in a single award cycle.

The university’s Florida Museum of Natural History received $3.8 million to study the history of climate change and biodiversity in Panama, and the College of Engineering received $3.1 million to study multiphase fluid mechanics with leading institutes in Japan and France.

“One of the primary goals of the project is to build internationally competent researchers among future U.S. scientists through innovative research and learning experiences,” said Doug Jones, director and curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum and principal investigator on the museum’s grant. (more…)

Florida Museum researcher helps reveal ancient origins of modern opossum

December 15th, 2009

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida researcher has co-authored a study tracing the evolution of the modern opossum back to the extinction of the dinosaurs and finding evidence to support North America as the center of origin for all living marsupials.

The study, to be published in PLoS ONE on Dec. 16, shows that peradectids, a family of marsupials known from fossils mostly found in North America and Eurasia, are a sister group of all living opossums. The findings are based in part on high-resolution CT scans of a 55-million-year-old skull found in freshwater limestone from the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming. (more…)

Plant fossils give first real picture of earliest Neotropical rainforests

October 15th, 2009

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A team of researchers including a University of Florida paleontologist has used a rich cache of plant fossils discovered in Colombia to provide the first reliable evidence of how Neotropical rainforests looked 58 million years ago.

Researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and UF, among others, found that many of the dominant plant families existing in today’s Neotropical rainforests — including legumes, palms, avocado and banana — have maintained their ecological dominance despite major changes in South America’s climate and geological structure.

The study, which appears this week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined more than 2,000 megafossil specimens, some nearly 10 feet long, from the Cerrejón Formation in northern Colombia. The fossils are from the Paleocene epoch, which occurred in the 5- to 7-million-year period following the massive extinction event responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs. (more…)

Florida Museum announces ninth annual free volunteer fossil dig

October 6th, 2009

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History vertebrate paleontology division will begin its annual free volunteer fossil dig Saturday, Oct. 24. The project will continue through Tuesday, Nov. 24, with work occurring from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

No previous experience is required. Volunteers must be at least 15 years old, in good physical condition and be able to work a minimum of three hours a day. Visit for more information and an application form.

This year’s dig will take place at the Thomas Farm fossil site in northern Gilchrist County near the town of Bell. The site contains a rich diversity of ancient life that lived in the Southeast about 18 million years ago. Volunteers will likely discover fossil teeth and bones of small three-toed horses, a large horn-less rhinoceros, the giant bear-dog, and Alligator olseni, the ancestor of the modern alligator. (more…)

Fossils excavated from Bahamian blue hole may give clues of early life

December 3rd, 2007

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Long before tourists arrived in the Bahamas, ancient visitors took up residence in this archipelago off Florida’s coast and left remains offering stark evidence that the arrival of humans can permanently change — and eliminate — life on what had been isolated islands, says a University of Florida researcher.

The unusual discovery of well-preserved fossils in a water-filled sinkhole called a blue hole revealed the bones of landlubbing crocodiles and tortoises that did not survive human encroachment, said David Steadman, a UF ornithologist and the lead author of a paper published this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The climate and environmental conditions back then weren’t much different from those of today,” said Steadman, who works at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “The big difference is us. When people got to the island, there was probably nothing easier to hunt than tortoises so they cooked and ate them. And they got rid of the crocodiles because it’s tough to have kids playing at the edge of the village where there are terrestrial crocodiles running around.” (more…)

Wanted: Puzzle-lovers to help process 220 fossil skeletons found near Newberry

June 27th, 2007

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Now that the second field season of excavating fossils at a site west of Gainesville has ended, Florida Museum of Natural History paleontologists are gearing up to begin work on the approximately 220 skeletons and literally thousands of specimens uncovered between mid-September 2006 and May.

Florida Museum Vertebrate Paleontology Collections Manager Richard Hulbert is looking for volunteers over the age of 16 who enjoy working on puzzles and are able to devote time weekly to washing, sorting and repairing the material.

“We’re looking for people who are really good with puzzles,” Hulbert said. “Because despite the wonderful preservation at the site, pressure has crushed many of the bones into five, 10, or even 50 pieces that have to be put back together.” (more…)

Fla. Museum debuts renowned paleo-artist Charles R. Knight paintings April 21

April 16th, 2007

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Beginning April 21, the Florida Museum of Natural History will display seven study paintings and a self-portrait by renowned paleo-artist Charles R. Knight (1874-1953) in the Hall of Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life and Land exhibition.

Knight completed the paintings, on loan from his granddaughter Rhoda Knight Kalt of New York, nearly a century ago as studies for some of his famous large murals. They include many animals that once lived in Florida, and have extra significance because Knight painted the landscape backgrounds when he visited the state in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Knight’s murals depicting ancient life grace the halls of America’s greatest natural history museums, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Field Museum in Chicago. (more…)

Fla. Museum volunteers join hunt for flightless "Terror Bird" fossil skeleton in Newberry

March 26th, 2007

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History scientists continue to find complete fossil animal skeletons in a 2-million-year-old sinkhole in western Alachua County and are desperately seeking volunteers to help excavate the site.

Located northeast of Newberry, this site has produced the largest number of fossil animal skeletons ever found at a single Florida location. With the help of volunteers, scientists hope to find the first skeleton of the 7-foot-tall flightless Terror Bird, Titanis walleri, that once roamed ancient Florida.

Florida Museum crews led by professional paleontologists are digging at the site every day until the end of May and more volunteers are needed most days. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old, physically fit enough to work outside for a minimum of three hours and provide their own transportation to the site. No experience is necessary and all needed training will be provided on the first day of work. (more…)

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