310-million-year-old tree fossils to reveal new ancient animals

phys.org | 9/11/2012 | Staff
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Over 150 years ago, geologist Sir William Dawson made an astounding discovery in the Joggins Cliffs, along the shores of Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy. Within the lithified remains of a giant tree-like fern were the bones of a tiny, 310 million-year-old animal.

This animal was unlike any other seen thus far. It was able to venture where no vertebrate (back-boned) animal had ventured before, deep into the lycopsid forests, away from the water's edge. This was all thanks to an evolutionary innovation: the amniotic egg.

Animals - Land - Period - Animals - Egg—such

Although animals had previously ventured onto land in the earlier Devonian Period, animals with an amniotic egg—such as modern reptiles, birds and yes, even mammals—do not need to return to the water to reproduce, as modern amphibians still do. The amniotic egg is a self-contained pond, where the embryo and all its food and waste are stored surrounded by a protective, desiccation-resistant shell.

This new kind of animal, that Dawson would name Hylonomus lyelli, remains the earliest amniote in the fossil record. Since then, many other animals, some strange and some familiar, have been added to the list of discoveries at Joggins Cliffs at the Bay of Fundy. These include microsaurs, temnospondyls and Dendrerpeton acadianum.

Joggins - Fossil - Cliffs - UNESCO - World

In 2008, the Joggins Fossil Cliffs were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And the cliffs haven't ceased sharing their secrets—each colossal tidal cycle erodes and exposes more of the ancient ecosystem that once thrived in its formerly equatorial location.

The initial discovery of the paleontological significance of Joggins took place in 1842, when British geologist Sir Charles Lyell travelled to Nova Scotia. Ten years later, Lyell and local geologist Sir William Dawson together studied the strata of the 310 million-year-old cliffs. Within the cliffs stood the bodies of giant trees, frozen in time. However, these trees are unlike those in forests today. Rather...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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