SVP Meeting in Calgary

The Society for Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) meets in Calgary, Canada, next week, and the Extinct team will be there! We'll be holding a workshop on philosophy of paleontology on Tuesday, August 22nd. Looking forward to the conference!

Origination and extinction rates in ferns

A new paper uses a large dataset consisting of thousands of fossil samples of ferns to try to suss out what might account for variation in speciation and extinction rates. Interestingly, the causes of variation in origination rates seem to be different from what drives variation in extinction rates.

Studying the chemical signatures of 200 million year old fossil leaves

It's not possible to get any DNA fro 200 million year old plant fossils, but it turns out that the organic molecules in the leaves have distinctive chemical signatures. In a recent paper, scientists from Lund University in Sweden show how to use these chemical signatures to reconstruct plant phylogeny. Here is a press release that describes the work. Here's the paper. 

The "Hippopotamine Event"

A new paper appearing this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology helps to fill in a gap in the fossil record for hippos. Fossils from Chorora, Ethiopia, provide new information about the rapid diversification and increase in abundance of hippos that occurred around 8 million years ago. Here is a report on the work in Nature.

New insights on speciation in birds

New research published in PNAS looks at the rate at which genetic differences accumulate in populations of birds. Here is a summary of the work. And here's the original paper. The researchers assessed the rate of genetic differentiation in 173 species of birds, and then showed that higher rates of genetic differentiation correlate with higher speciation rates over longer timescales.

H. sapiens might be older than we thought

Human remains found in Morocco at a site called Jebel Irhoud suggest that our species might be much older than anyone thought--possibly 300,000 years old. Here is a summary of the work. Here is the paper in Nature. And here is a second paper that covers the techniques used to date the remains. The researchers used thermoluminescence dating on lithics that were associated with the human skeletal remains.