Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dinosaur Burrows Yield Clues to Climate Change

On the heels of his discovery in Montana of the first trace fossil of a dinosaur burrow, Emory University paleontologist Anthony Martin has found evidence of more dinosaur burrows – this time on the other side of the world, in Victoria, Australia. The find, to be published this month in Cretaceous Research, suggests that burrowing behaviors were shared by dinosaurs of different species, in different hemispheres, and spanned millions of years during the Cretaceous Period, when some dinosaurs lived in polar environments.

"This research helps us to better understand long-term geologic change, and how organisms may have adapted as the Earth has undergone periods of global cooling and warming," says Martin.

Drawing by James Hays, Fernbank Museum

A year after the Montana find, Martin traveled to the Victoria coast, which marks the seam where Australia once snuggled against Antarctica. Lower Cretaceous strata of Victoria have yielded the best-documented assemblage of polar dinosaur bones in the world.

During a hike to a remote site known as Knowledge Creek, west of Melbourne, Martin rounded the corner of an outcropping and was astounded to see, right at eye level, the trace fossil of what appeared to be a burrow almost identical to the one he had identified in Montana. "I stared at it for a long time," recalls Martin. "In paleontology, the saying, 'where luck meets preparation' really holds true."

Read reports on Martin's find from the BBC and National Geographic.

Related stories:
Digging dinosaur discovered in fossil den
Crayfish fossils provide missing evolutionary link
Paleontologist tracks clues to ancient life

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