UF study of lice DNA shows humans first wore clothes 170,000 years ago

January 6th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new University of Florida study following the evolution of lice shows modern humans started wearing clothes about 170,000 years ago, a technology which enabled them to successfully migrate out of Africa.

Principal investigator David Reed, associate curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, studies lice in modern humans to better understand human evolution and migration patterns. His latest five-year study used DNA sequencing to calculate when clothing lice first began to diverge genetically from human head lice.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study is available online and appears in this month’s print edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution. (more…)

UF study provides new insight into origin, evolution of flowering plants

December 13th, 2010

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Flowering plants have evolved at explosive rates throughout history, yet scientists since Charles Darwin have been faced with the great biological mystery of how they originated.

A new University of Florida study to be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presents the deepest insight to the genes that made up the first flower, the common ancestor of all flowering plants, and how those genes have changed over time. (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 study shows carnivore species shrank during global warming event

August 24th, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new University of Florida study indicates extinct carnivorous mammals shrank in size during a global warming event that occurred 55 million years ago.

The study, scheduled to appear in the December print edition of the Journal of Mammalian Evolution and now available online, describes a new species that evolved to half the size of its ancestors during this period of global warming.

The hyena-like animal, Palaeonictis wingi, evolved from the size of a bear to the size of a coyote during a 200,000-year period when Earth’s average temperature increased about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Following this global warming event, Earth’s temperature cooled and the animal evolved to a larger size. (more…)

Florida Museum case study analyzes why, where and when of leading shark attack site

May 26th, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Shark attacks are most likely to occur on Sunday, in less than 6 feet of water, during a new moon and involve surfers wearing black and white bathing suits, a first-of-its-kind study from the University of Florida suggests.

Researchers analyzed statistics from shark attacks that occurred in Florida’s Volusia County, dubbed the “Shark Attack Capital of the World,” between 1956 and 2008. They also spent a year observing people between Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History. (more…)

New study first to directly measure body temperatures of extinct species

May 24th, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new study by researchers from five institutions including the University of Florida introduces the first method to directly measure body temperatures of extinct vertebrates and help reconstruct temperatures of ancient environments.

The study, appearing in this week’s online early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes how scientists could use carbon and oxygen isotopes from fossils to more accurately determine whether extinct animals were warm-blooded or cold-blooded and better estimate temperature ranges during the times these animals lived. (more…)

Florida Museum scientists discover megalodon shark nursery

May 10th, 2010

Photos Available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History researchers have discovered a 10-million-year-old Neotropical nursery area for the extinct megalodon shark in Panama, providing fossil evidence the fish used these areas to protect their young for millions of years.

Appearing in this week’s edition of the journal PLoS ONE, the article is the first thorough study of megalodon juveniles and gives scientists a better picture of shark behavior.

“The study provides evidence of megalodon behavior in the fossil record,” said lead author Catalina Pimiento, who just completed a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Florida and worked in the Florida Museum’s vertebrate paleontology division. “Behavior doesn’t fossilize, but we were able to interpret ancient protection strategies used by extinct sharks based on the fossil record.” (more…)

DNA sequencing unlocks relationships among flowering plants

February 23rd, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The origins of flowering plants from peas to oak trees are now in clearer focus thanks to the efforts of Florida Museum of Natural History researchers.

A study appearing online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences unravels 100 million years of evolution through an extensive analysis of plant genomes. It targets one of the major moments in plant evolution, when the ancestors of most of the world’s flowering plants split into two major groups.

Together the two groups make up nearly 70 percent of all flowering plants and are part of a larger clade known as Pentapetalae, which means five petals. Understanding how these plants are related is a large undertaking that could help ecologists better understand which species are more vulnerable to environmental factors such as climate change. (more…)

Florida Museum researchers: Ancient crocodile relative likely food source for Titanoboa

February 2nd, 2010

Multimedia available: http://news.ufl.edu/2010/02/02/titanoboa-food-multimedia/

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A 60-million-year-old relative of crocodiles described this week by University of Florida researchers in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology was likely a food source for Titanoboa, the largest snake the world has ever known.

Working with scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, paleontologists from the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus found fossils of the new species of ancient crocodile in the Cerrejon Formation in northern Colombia. The site, one of the world’s largest open-pit coal mines, also yielded skeletons of the giant, boa constrictor-like Titanoboa, which measured up to 45 feet long. The study is the first report of a fossil crocodyliform from the same site. (more…)

Florida Museum researcher helps reveal ancient origins of modern opossum

December 15th, 2009

Multimedia available: http://news.ufl.edu/2009/12/15/opossum-multimedia/

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…)

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