From Fins to Feet: Early Vertebrate Evolution (September 24-28)

This week we return to the Paleozoic and examine developing marine communities, followed by a discussion of the causes of the Permian Mass Extinctions — the greatest disaster in the History of Life. Paleogeographic maps of Pangaea at the end of the Permian can be found on the Paleomap website (note that it was not “99% of all life” which went extinct). Wikipedia has a good Permian Extinctions article, although the topic is controversial enough that some parts of it may be biased by partisan editors of one cause or another.

The End-Permian Extinction happened much more rapidly than we previously thought. In fact, from this study, it was geologically instantaneous. Life was doing OK until quite suddenly a tipping point was reached to throw it into catastrophe.

Here’s a New York Times article describing the Permian Extinctions — and comparing these horrific events to the effects of climate change today. Be very afraid.

Probably on Friday our vertebrate cousins will appear in our narrative. The best place on the Web for simple and thorough descriptions of the chordates and their history is at the University of California Museum of Paleontology. Check out their pages on the urochordates (tunicates), cephalochordates, and chordates in general. The Berkeley tetrapod (four-legged) webpage is especially useful for us. I like this website lovingly devoted to the ancient coelacanth fish Latimeria. It has many illustrations and an extensive history of what we know about this remarkable evolutionary survivor. The Tree of Life page on terrestrial vertebrates will show you current ideas about the relationships of fish and early amphibians. It is a rich source of further links. You might like the short Japanese 3-D animation of Eusthenopteron (an ancient bony fish near the origin of the amphibians) embedded in this link.

Here is a good general page from Wikipedia on amphibians.

Your first test results: The class average was 78%, with a high of 100%. There were 10 tests 90-100%, 10 from 80 to 89%, 6 in the 70s, 3 in the 60s, and 5 below 60%. Well over half the class earned the equivalent of an A or B, which is good. Here are the Fall 2018 student HOL test #1 answers.

A pycnodontid fish tooth, Menuha Formation (Upper Cretaceous), southern Israel. Collected by Andrew Retzler. (Click to enlarge.)

Geology in the News –

You may have heard that mammoths are about to be cloned. Fake news!

Great music video on evo-devo. Starts with hox genes. “This is how we go from single cells to people.” The channel A Capella Science is highly recommended!

Paleontologists are now using neutron scanners to make ultra-high resolution images of vertebrate fossils. Very cool results.

Arctic lakes are now bubbling out massive amounts of the potent greenhouse gas methane. This is not good.


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