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Owl pellets bridge ancient and modern ecosystems

In Homestead Cave near Utah’s Great Salt Lake, owls have been regurgitating pellets containing the undigested bones and hair of prey — typically small mammals like rodents — at a relatively constant rate since the end of the Pleistocene glaciations about 13,000 years ago. Those pellets have stacked up and fossilized in the cave to present a near-continuous glimpse into how mammal communities in this part of the Great Basin region have changed over time. Now, paleontologists examining bones in the pellets have found that, although small mammals in the region have generally been able to adapt to shifting ecosystems in the past, today, in the face of landscape-altering human activity, the mammal population is changing in unprecedented ways.
25 Oct 2015

Triceratops relative 'Wendi' sported a fantastic frill

The discovery of a 79-million-year-old frilled and horned relative of Triceratops is shedding light on the early evolution of the ceratopsid’s distinctive look. The new specimen, discovered in a quarry in southern Alberta, Canada, and described recently in PLOS ONE, was named Wendiceratops pinhornensis after the famed fossil hunter Wendy Sloboda of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, who discovered the site in 2010.
24 Oct 2015

A Cambrian-like explosion of mammals in the Mid-Jurassic

Dinosaurs dominated the continents during the Mesozoic, and for a long time, paleontologists assumed our mammalian ancestors kept a low-profile in that era, existing only as small, ground-dwelling, nocturnal insect-eaters. But in the last decade, discoveries of an ever-increasing diversity of mammal fossils have forced a rethink: Mesozoic mammals were also gliders, climbers, diggers and swimmers. Now, scientists looking at mammalian rates of evolution during the time of the dinosaurs have found that this diversity peaked in the Mid-Jurassic, leading to new physical characteristics that would remain for millions of years.
20 Oct 2015

First fossilized bird of another feather found in Brazil

Delicate bird bones and feathers aren’t easily preserved as fossils, and most known examples of Cretaceous birds and feathers come from a few sites in northeastern China. An exquisitely feathered bird fossil found recently in the Araripe Basin of Brazil is the first to be discovered in South America, putting the ancient southern supercontinent Gondwana on the map of early avian evolutionary history.
12 Oct 2015

Benchmarks: October 4, 1915: Dinosaur National Monument Founded

While moving across the country from California to Michigan two years ago, I stopped at Dinosaur National Monument, or “Dinosaur,” which today covers 85,000 hectares and straddles the northern portion of the border between Colorado and Utah. I camped at the Green River Campground on the Utah side, and from there, Split Mountain, on the western margin of the east-west-trending Uinta Mountains, glowed violet-pink in the sunset light. 
04 Oct 2015

Dinosaurs used the same nests repeatedly

Fossil dinosaur eggs and nests offer clues about dinosaur development and behavior: Based on past work, for example, scientists have thought that some dinosaurs, like oviraptors, brooded, or sat on their eggs, much like modern birds do. Now, the results of a new study describing two fossil egg nests suggest that some dinosaurs used the same nesting sites again and again.
23 Sep 2015

Gender equity in dino bones

Modern birds like cardinals and peacocks offer some of the most dramatic examples of sexual dimorphism on Earth, with males and females varying in size and/or displaying different plumage, among other differences. But whether the two sexes of birds’ dinosaur ancestors also possessed different physical characteristics has long been debated. Now, in a new study, scientists using state-of-the-art measuring techniques to look at Protoceratops — a frilled, horned relative of Triceratops that’s found abundantly in the fossil record — are questioning past notions about whether the sex of specimens can be distinguished based on their fossils.
17 Sep 2015

Closing a gap in the tetrapod fossil record

The story of how fish evolved into four-legged land animals called tetrapods has long been left incomplete by a 15-million-year gap in the fossil record, known as Romer’s Gap, which stretches from the end of the Devonian Period into the Carboniferous. Whether the gap is due to the actual absence of tetrapod fossils from this interval, or whether such fossils exist but have not been found yet has long remained unclear. A new study, however, shows tetrapod fossils from the base of the gap, adding to a growing list of discoveries that appear to be closing the gap.
07 Sep 2015

Oldest birds unearthed in China

The discovery of two well-preserved fossils in the Sichakou Basin of northeastern China has pushed back the known evolutionary record of birds by as much as 6 million years, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
24 Aug 2015