Archive for June 13th, 2014

Visiting an aquarium and historic ships in Gdynia, Poland

June 13th, 2014

Akwarium GdyniaSOPOT, POLAND — After lunch today the Larwood 2014 meeting participants had an excellent field trip to the aquarium in Gdynia on the Baltic coast (above). This aquarium has a diverse and interesting collection, but for me the two historic ships docked alongside were just as fascinating.
Dar PomorzaThis is the Dar Pomorza, a fully rigged ship built in Hamburg, Germany, in 1909 as the Prinzess Eitel Friedrich. It was used as a training ship in the Baltic Sea by the German Navy, and then surrendered to France in 1919 as part of reparations for World War I. The Polish bought it as a training ship for naval cadets in 1929, adding a diesel engine. It was interned in Stockholm during World War II, returning to Polish service in 1946. It became a museum ship in 1983.
Dar Pomorza plankingThe Dar Pomorza is being refurbished, so we had only this close view of new planking being laid on the deck.
Destroyer 2 061314This magnificent ship (above and below) had a long and distinguished career in World War II. It is the Błyskawica, which means “lightning” in Polish. It was built in 1935-1937 by a British firm on contract for the Polish government. On August 30, 1939, the Polish Navy secretly evacuated this ship along with two other destroyers to Great Britain just before the Germans invaded Poland. It was thus able to participate in the war against the Germans throughout the North Sea, Atlantic and Mediterranean. It covered operations in Norway, the evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkerque, and the Allied landings in both North Africa and France. It must have been deeply satisfying for the Polish sailors on board the Błyskawica to be able to fight back so long and effectively against the Nazis.

Destroyer sailors 061314Polish sailors by an anti-aircraft gun and torpedo tubes.

Blyskawica_na_AtlantykuThe Błyskawica in the North Atlantic during the war.

Blyskawica MW 061314I couldn’t resist. Thanks to my friend Tomasz Borszcz for taking this photo on the Błyskawica.

The last presentations of the 2014 Larwood Meeting, including a sober reminder for paleontologists

June 13th, 2014

pdt lecturing 061314SOPOT, POLAND — This morning we had the final set of talks at Larwood 2014. Out of all the presentations, the one that struck me the most was by Paul Taylor and Andrea Waeschenbach entitled “Molecular phylogeny and the adequacy of skeletal characters in cyclostome taxonomy: The alarming case of Diaperorcia purpurascens.” Paul is shown delivering it above. This project represents the best of what these bryozoan conferences are about: the combination of biology and paleontology to further our understanding of the evolution and ecology of this large phylum. It also warned paleontologists to never be complacent about the value of morphology (shape and form) for sorting out systematic and evolutionary relationships.

Diaperoecia purpurascens is a “fixed-walled, tubuliporine” cyclostome bryozoan species common in New Zealand waters today. Molecular sequence data, though, shows it is without a doubt within the “free-walled cerioporine” cyclostome genus Heteropora. You don’t need to know why those terms actually mean to understand that the molecular work has shown that two dissimilar groups share a surprisingly close common ancestor — so close that the systematics are now fully disrupted. When we knew only the morphology of these bryozoans the differences between them were apparent at a high taxonomic level. Now that we have molecular data it is brutally clear that our reliance on shape and form to separate the groups was an illusion. Molecules trump skeletal evidence — and all paleontologists have to work with are the skeletons.
pdt image 2 061314Paul and Andrea did find, though, that in the early colony growth (astogeny) of these bryozoan groups they share a common pattern of tiny pores (pseudopores) on the earliest portion of the colonial skeleton (the protoecium; see above and below). It is this morphological feature, as subtle as it is, that shows the groups share a close common ancestor.
pdt slide 1 061314The lesson is that paleontological systematics are always provisional. We do our best with morphology alone because that’s what we have, but we should be forever haunted by the knowledge that we lack full biological evidence.