Discovery of tiny fossil new to science

December 11, 2012



'It is exciting to discover that a common group of fossils that we thought we knew a lot about may well have been hood-winking us as to their true identity, which we now realise because we have their beautifully fossilised soft-parts. A case of a 'wolf in sheep's clothing''- Professor David Siveter, University of Leicester

An international team of researchers have made an extremely rare discovery of a species of animal - related to crabs, lobsters and shrimps - that is new to science.

Scientists from the universities of Leicester, Oxford, Imperial and Yale have announced their discovery of a new and scientifically important fossil species of ostracod in the journal, Proceedings of The Royal Society B. The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

The discovered species, which is up to 10 millimetres long, is special because it is exceptionally well preserved, complete with not only the shell but also the soft parts - its body, limbs, eyes, gills and alimentary system. Such discoveries are extremely rare in the fossil record.

The discovery of the tiny shelled arthropod was made in 425 million year old rocks in Herefordshire, Welsh Borderland. The rocks at the site date to the Silurian period of geological time, when southern Britain was a sea area on a small continent situated in warm, southerly subtropical latitudes. The ostracods and associated marine animals living there were covered by a fall of volcanic ash that preserved them frozen in time.

Professor David Siveter, of the University of Leicester Department of Geology, said: "The two ostracod specimens discovered represent a genus and species new to science, named Pauline avibella. The genus is named in honour of a special person and avibella means 'beautiful bird', so-named because of the fancied resemblance of a prominent feature of the shell to the wing of a bird."

"Ostracods are the most abundant fossil arthropods, occurring ubiquitously as bivalved shells in rocks of the last 490 million years, and are common in most water environments today. The find is important because it is one of only a handful preserving the fossilised soft-tissues of ostracods. Its assignment to a particular group of ostracods based on knowledge of its biology is at odds with its shell form, thus urging caution in interpreting the classification of fossil ostracods based on shell characters alone."

"The preservation of soft-parts of animals is a very rare occurrence in the fossil record and allows unparalleled insight into the ancient biology, community structure and evolution of animals - key facts that that would otherwise be lost to science. The fossils known from the Herefordshire site show soft-part preservation and are of global importance."

The fossils were reconstructed 'virtually', by using a technique that involves grinding each specimen down, layer by layer, and photographing it at each stage. Ten millimetres is relatively tiny, but at an incremental level of 20 μm (micrometres) that yields 500 slices, which can then be pieced together in a computer to provide a full, three-dimensional image of each fossil, outside and in.

Professor Siveter added: "Fossil discoveries in general help elucidate our own place in the tree of life. This discovery adds another piece of knowledge in the jigsaw of understanding the diversity and evolution of animals."

"It is exciting to discover that a common group of fossils that we thought we knew a lot about may well have been hood-winking us as to their true identity, which we now realise because we have their beautifully fossilised soft-parts. A case of a 'wolf in sheep's clothing'."
-end-
The research was undertaken together with Professor Derek Siveter and Dr Sarah Joomun (Oxford), Dr Mark Sutton (Imperial College London) and Professor Derek Briggs (Yale, USA).

Note:

The genus is named in honour of Pauline Siveter, in memoriam, late wife of the lead author of the paper.

Bibliographic reference:

Siveter DJ, Briggs DEG, Siveter DJ, Sutton MD, Joomun SC. 2012 A Silurian myodocope with preserved soft-parts: cautioning the interpretation of the shell-based ostracod record. Proc R Soc B 20122664.

The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship of many of the world's most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering, and medicine. The Society's fundamental purpose, as it has been since its foundation in 1660, is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity.

The Society's strategic priorities emphasise its commitment to the highest quality science, to curiosity-driven research, and to the development and use of science for the benefit of society. These priorities are:

1. Promoting science and its benefits

2. Recognising excellence in science

3. Supporting outstanding science

4. Providing scientific advice for policy

5. Fostering international and global cooperation

6. Education and public engagement

For further information please visit http://royalsociety.org. Follow the Royal Society on Twitter at http://twitter.com/royalsociety or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/theroyalsociety.

ABOUT NERC:

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is the UK's main agency for funding and managing world-class research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. It coordinates some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on earth, and much more. NERC receives around £300 million a year from the government's science budget, which it uses to fund independent research and training in universities and its own research centres. www.nerc.ac.uk

University of Leicester

Related Fossil Articles from Brightsurf:

Fossil shark turns in to mystery pterosaur
Lead author of the project, University of Portsmouth PhD student Roy Smith, discovered the mystery creature amongst fossil collections housed in the Sedgwick Museum of Cambridge and the Booth Museum at Brighton that were assembled when phosphate mining was at its peak in the English Fens between 1851 and 1900.

New fossil seal species rewrites history
An international team of biologists, led by Monash University, has discovered a new species of extinct monk seal from the Southern Hemisphere -- describing it as the biggest breakthrough in seal evolution in 70 years.

How to fix the movement for fossil fuel divestment
Bankers and environmentalists alike are increasingly calling for capital markets to play a bigger role in the war on carbon.

New fossil ape is discovered in India
A 13-million-year-old fossil unearthed in northern India comes from a newly discovered ape, the earliest known ancestor of the modern-day gibbon.

Fossil growth reveals insights into the climate
Panthasaurus maleriensis is an ancestor of today's amphibians and has been considered the most puzzling representative of the Metoposauridae.

Australian fossil reveals new plant species
Fresh examination of an Australian fossil -- believed to be among the earliest plants on Earth -- has revealed evidence of a new plant species that existed in Australia more than 359 Million years ago.

Tracking fossil fuel emissions with carbon-14
Researchers from NOAA and the University of Colorado have devised a breakthrough method for estimating national emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels using ambient air samples and a well-known isotope of carbon that scientists have relied on for decades to date archaeological sites.

Rare lizard fossil preserved in amber
The tiny forefoot of a lizard of the genus Anolis was trapped in amber about 15 to 20 million years ago.

Reconstructing the diet of fossil vertebrates
Paleodietary studies of the fossil record are impeded by a lack of reliable and unequivocal tracers.

Fossil is the oldest-known scorpion
Scientists studying fossils collected 35 years ago have identified them as the oldest-known scorpion species, a prehistoric animal from about 437 million years ago.

Read More: Fossil News and Fossil Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.