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The evolution of life

There are all sorts of ways to reconstruct the history of life on Earth. Pinning down when specific events occurred is often tricky, though. For this, biologists depend mainly on dating the rocks in which fossils are found, and by looking at the "molecular clocks" in the DNA of living organisms.

There are problems with each of these methods. The fossil record is like a movie with most of the frames cut out. Because it is so incomplete, it can be difficult to establish exactly when particular evolutionary changes happened.

Modern genetics allows scientists to measure how different species are from each other at a molecular level, and thus to estimate how much time has passed since a single lineage split into different...

New research throws doubt on earlier 'killer walrus' claims

Palaeontologists who examined a new fossil found in southern California have thrown doubt on earlier claims that a “killer walrus” once existed. (Credit: Copyright Robert W. Boessenecker)

 Palaeontologists who examined a new fossil found in southern California have thrown doubt on earlier claims that a "killer walrus" once existed.

A University of Otago geology PhD student Robert Boessenecker and co-author Morgan Churchill from the University of Wyoming have just published...

Great Oxidation Event: More oxygen through multicellularity

Nostochopis: multicellular cyanobacterium with algae-like growth. (Credit: UZH)

The appearance of free oxygen in Earth's atmosphere led to the Great Oxidation Event. This was triggered by cyanobacteria producing oxygen that was used by multicellular forms as early as 2.3 billion years ago. As evolutionary biologists from the Universities of Zurich and Gothenburg have shown, this multicellularity was linked to the rise in oxygen and thus played a significant role for life on Earth as it...

Scientists reassemble the backbone of earliest four-legged animals using synchrotron X-rays

Scientists have been able to reconstruct, for the first time, the intricate three-dimensional structure of the backbone of early tetrapods, the earliest four-legged animals. High-energy X-rays and a new data extraction protocol allowed the researchers to reconstruct the backbones of the 360 million year old fossils in exceptional detail and shed new light on how the first vertebrates moved from water onto land. The results were published 13 January 2013, in Nature.



Low extinction rates made California a refuge for diverse plant species

California has more than 5,500 native plant species, including these spring wildflowers on Coyote Ridge in Santa Clara County. (Credit: Jenn Yost)

The remarkable diversity of California's plant life is largely the result of low extinction rates over the past 45 million years, according to a new study published in the journal Evolution. Although many new species have evolved in California, the rate at which plant lineages gave rise to new species has not been notably higher in...

Giant fossil predator provides insights into the rise of modern marine ecosystem structures

An international team of scientists has described a fossil marine predator measuring 8.6 meters in length (about 28 feet) recovered from the Nevada desert in 2010 as representing the first top predator in marine food chains feeding on prey similar to its own size.

A paper with their description will appear the week of Jan. 7, 2013 in the early electronic issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists who studied the fossil include lead author Dr. Nadia...

Dinosaur shook tail feathers for mating show

Peacock. A University of Alberta researcher's examination of fossilized dinosaur tail bones has led to a breakthrough finding: some feathered dinosaurs used tail plumage to attract mates, much like modern-day peacocks and turkeys. (Credit: © qayyum125 / Fotolia)

A University of Alberta researcher's examination of fossilized dinosaur tail bones has led to a breakthrough finding: some feathered dinosaurs used tail plumage to attract mates, much like modern-day peacocks and...

Paleo-ocean chemistry: New data challenge old views about evolution of early life

Organic-rich shale samples, such as these from the 2.5-billion-year-old Mount McRae Shale from Western Australia, were analyzed for their zinc contents. The results confirm that the early ocean was not Zn-lean and that other controls must be invoked to explain the protracted appearance and proliferation of eukaryotic life. (Credit: Arizona State University)

A research team led by biogeochemists at the University of California, Riverside has tested a popular hypothesis in paleo-ocean...

Black piranha, megapiranha have most powerful bites of fish living or extinct, researcher finds

New research finds that the black piranha (shown above) and the extinct giant piranha, or megapiranha, have the most powerful bites of carnivorous fishes, living or extinct, once body size is taken into account. (Credit: Courtesy of Guillermo Orti)

 The black piranha and the extinct giant piranha, or megapiranha, have the most powerful bites of carnivorous fishes, living or extinct, once body size is taken into account, find researchers in a paper recently published in Scientific...

Inside the head of a dinosaur: Research reveals new information on the evolution of dinosaur senses

Fossil skull of the Cretaceous therizinosaur Erlikosaurus andrewsi (Credit: Image by Emily Rayfield, University of Bristol)

An international team of scientists, including PhD student Stephan Lautenschlager and Dr Emily Rayfield of the University of Bristol, found that the senses of smell, hearing and balance were well developed in therizinosaurs and might have affected or benefited from an enlarged forebrain. These findings came as a surprise to the researchers as exceptional sensory...

New study sheds light on dinosaur size

Frequency distribution of species body size for eight different animal groups: (a) extinct dinosaurs; (b) extant birds; (c) extant reptiles; (d) extant amphibians; (e) extant fish; (f) extant mammals; (g) extinct pterosaurs; and (h) Cenozoic mammals. Note that all distributions are positively-skewed except for dinosaurs, which are markedly negatively-skewed (see Table 2). A combination of kernel density estimation and smoothed bootstrap resampling was used to test for optimum modality of...

Who's zooming who? Frogs, fractals and the tree of life

A biologist has developed a revolutionary way of visualising the tree of life. (Credit: OneZoom, copyright James Rosindell)

Dec. 18, 2012 — As ecologists assemble ever larger parts of the tree of life, whose evolutionary branches connect the millions of species on Earth, they need better ways of presenting and organising information. Now, biologist Dr James Rosindell of Imperial College London has developed a revolutionary way of visualising the tree of life. He will demonstrate his...

Scientists discover evidence of giant panda's population history and local adaptation

Hungry giant panda bear eating bamboo. (Credit: © wusuowei / Fotolia)

A research team, led by Institute of Zoology of Chinese Academy of Sciences and BGI, has successfully reconstructed a continuous population history of the giant panda from its origin to the present. The findings suggested whereas global changes in climate were the primary drivers in panda population fluctuation for millions of years, human activities were likely to underlie recent population divergence and serious...

Rare fossil related to crabs, lobsters, shrimp: Exceptionally well preserved, including shell and soft parts

This shows the ventral view of the fossil Pauline avibella. (Credit: David J. Siveter, Derek E. G. Briggs, Derek J. Siveter, Mark D. Sutton and Sarah C. Joomun)

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...

Most ancient evidence of insect camouflage: 110 million years ago

The fossil is a predatory larva of the order Neuroptera covered by filamentous plant remains. (Credit: University of Barcelona)

An insect larva covered by plant remains that lived in the Early Cretaceous, about 110 million years ago, evidences the most ancient known insect camouflage, according to a paper published in the last edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The paper is based on the study of an amber piece found in 2008 in El Soplao outcrop...

Asteroid that killed the dinosaurs also wiped out the 'Obamadon'

The asteroid collision widely thought to have killed the dinosaurs also led to extreme devastation among snake and lizard species, according to new research -- including the extinction of a newly identified lizard Yale and Harvard scientists have named Obamadon gracilis.

"The asteroid event is typically thought of as affecting the dinosaurs primarily," said Nicholas R. Longrich, a postdoctoral associate with Yale's Department of Geology and Geophysics and lead author of the study. "But...

Ethiopians and Tibetans thrive in thin air using similar physiology, but different genes

Dec. 6, 2012 — Scientists say they have pinpointed genetic changes that allow some Ethiopians to live and work more than a mile and a half above sea level without getting altitude sickness. The specific genes differ from those reported previously for high-altitude Tibetans, even though both groups cope with low-oxygen in similar physiological ways, the researchers report.

If confirmed, the results may help scientists understand why some people are more vulnerable to low blood oxygen...

Scientists find oldest dinosaur -- or closest relative yet

Artist rendering of Nyasasaurus parringtoni, either the earliest dinosaur or the closest dinosaur relative yet discovered. Nyasasaurus parringtoni was up to 10 feet long, weighed perhaps 135 pounds and is depicted near plant-eating reptiles of the genus Stenaulorhynchus. (Credit: © Natural History Museum, London/Mark Witton)

1000pa (Dec. 4, 2012) — Researchers have discovered what may be the earliest dinosaur, a creature the size of a Labrador retriever, but...

Model sheds light on chemistry that sparked origin of life

The question of how life began on a molecular level has been a longstanding problem in science. (Credit: Copyright Michele Hogan)

1000pa (Nov. 26, 2012) — The question of how life began on a molecular level has been a longstanding problem in science. However, recent mathematical research sheds light on a possible mechanism by which life may have gotten a foothold in the chemical soup that existed on the early Earth.

Researchers have proposed several...

After 121 years, identification of 'grave robber' fossil solves a paleontological enigma

The Miocene mammal Necrolestes patagonensis ventures out of its burrow 16 million years ago in Patagonia, present-day Argentina. Necrolestes is now recognized as a member of a group long thought to have become extinct shortly after the extinction of the large dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period. (Credit: Reconstruction by Jorge Gonzalez, copyright Guillermo W. Rougier for PNAS)

1000pa (Nov. 19, 2012) — An international team of researchers, including...

New ancient shark species gives insight into origin of great white

Shark origin explored: Dana Ehret, lead author of a University of Florida study on the origin of great white sharks, analyzes a 4.5-million-year-old fossil at Gordon Hubbell’s private gallery in Gainesville, Fla., on March 6, 2009. In a study published Nov. 14, 2012, in Palaeontology, researchers name the species Carcharodon hubbelli for Hubbell, who donated the fossil to the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. Ehret, now a lecturer at Monmouth University...

First Bird

First Bird
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Unexplained artifacts

unexplained artifacts
The 10 most amazing unexplained artifacts


Timeline: Human Evolution

Biggest Dinosaurs

The 10 Biggest Dinosaurs


Fossil Formation: How Do Fossils Form?

Book review

Dinosaurs Encyclopedia

Book Review

Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-to-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages ... WRITTEN BY A PROFESSIONAL paleontologist specifically for young readers, this guide to the Dinosauria is packed...