Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: New tropical Jurassic bryozoan species from southern Israel

December 12th, 2014

1 Hyporosopora nanaWe are pleased to introduce to the world four new species of Jurassic cyclostome bryozoans. In a paper that has just appeared in the Bulletin of Geosciences, Steph Bosch (’14), Paul Taylor and I describe the first tropical Jurassic bryozoan fauna (see Wilson et al., 2015, below; it is open access and a free download). This work was the basis of Steph’s excellent Senior Independent Study thesis, and it could not have been done without Paul’s bryozoan mastery and his scanning electron microscopy skills. We found six bryozoan species in the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian) exposed in Hamakhtesh Hagadol, southern Israel, four of which are new to science and shown in this post. The image above is a colony of Hyporosopora nana n. sp. attached to a crinoid ossicle.
2 Gonozooid Hyporosopora nanaIdentifying and classifying Jurassic cyclostome bryozoans almost always involves finding the specialized reproductive gonozooids. Here we see a close-up of the gonozooid on H. nana. The ooeciopore (an opening for communication with the water outside) is at the distal end on the right. The species name “nana” means “small” in Latin and refers to the small size of the autozooids (feeding zooids).
3 Hyporosopora negevensisThis is Hyporosopora negevensis n. sp., named after its type location in the Negev. On the right side of the colony you can see its characteristic boomerang-shaped gonozooid.
4 Idmonea snehiIdmonea snehi n. sp. is named after my good friend and superb geologist Amihai Sneh of the Geological Survey of Israel. Amihai has now “retired” officially after a distinguished career, but continues to work. He is the lead author of the new Geological Map of Israel. Turns out I have no images of him with his face to the camera.
5 Idmonea snehi colorThis is a color optical image of I. snehi to show what these fossils look like outside the SEM. The wiggly lines you see in the background are where the host crinoid columnals articulate in the stem. (The crinoid is Apiocrinites negevensis.) I. snehi has the earliest example of lateral branching in a post-Paleozoic cyclostome, and is now the only published example of lateral branching in any Jurassic bryozoan.
6 Microeciella yoaviMicroeciella yoavi n. sp. (above) has a gonozooid with a spherical brood chamber, visible near the center of the image. It is named after another good friend and colleague, Yoav Avni of the Geological Survey of Israel. Yoav has been my field companion for over a decade now and is most responsible for the logistical and scientific success of our expeditions into the Negev. Yoav even accompanied the Wooster Geologists on our last departmental field trip to the Mojave Desert.
7 MatmorBryoField070513Team Israel 2013 worked hard to find the bulk of the bryozoans used in this study. They are shown above at one of our most productive sites in Hamakhtesh Hagadol.
8 2013 team IsraelWe took a group photo in Jerusalem in July 2013. On the left is Steph Bosch (’14; bryozoan expert); next to her is Lizzie Reinthal (’14; crinoid specialist); then Oscar Mmari (’14; he worked on Cretaceous phosphates but also valiantly collected Jurassic bryozoans); then me; and on the far right Yoav Avni.

Please download and read the paper for more information and context on this study. The Matmor bryozoans are most similar to their counterparts in the Callovian of Poland. The low diversity of the Matmor bryozoan fauna is not unusual for the Jurassic, but they are less abundant than contemporaneous bryozoan faunas from higher paleolatitudes in Europe and North America. The unusually small zooids of the Matmor bryozoans may be a function of the “temperature-size rule” because this fauna developed in shallow, warm, tropical waters.

References:

Ausich, W.I. and Wilson, M.A. 2012. New Tethyan Apiocrinitidae (Crinoidea, Articulata) from the Jurassic of Israel. Journal of Paleontology 86: 1051–1055.

Feldman, H.R. and Brett, C.E. 1998. Epi- and endobiontic organisms on Late Jurassic crinoid columns from the Negev Desert, Israel: Implications for co-evolution. Lethaia 31: 57–71.

Wilson, M.A., Bosch, S. and Taylor, P.D. 2015. Middle Jurassic (Callovian) cyclostome bryozoans from the Tethyan tropics (Matmor Formation, southern Israel). Bulletin of Geosciences 90: 51–63.

Wilson, M.A., Reinthal, E.A. and Ausich, W.I. 2014. Parasitism of a new apiocrinitid crinoid species from the Middle Jurassic (Callovian) of southern Israel. Journal of Paleontology 88: 1212-1221.

Zatoń, M. and Taylor, P.D. 2009. Middle Jurassic cyclostome bryozoans from the Polish Jura. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 54: 267–288.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Fish-bitten echinoid spines from the Middle Jurassic (Callovian) of southern Israel

December 5th, 2014

BittenSpine585110214This week we revisit a group of fossils covered in an earlier blog post. It is now the subject of a paper that has just appeared in the journal Lethaia entitled, “Bitten spines reveal unique evidence for fish predation on Middle Jurassic echinoids“. My co-authors are my good Polish colleagues Tomasz Borszcz and Michał Zatoń. Above is one of these bitten echinoid spines from the Matmor Formation (Callovian) of Hamakhtesh Hagadol, the Negev, southern Israel. Many Independent Study students who worked in Israel over the past several years helped me collect hundreds like it. Now we have at last sorted through them systematically, collected the data, and published our analysis as a Lethaia Focus paper.
Figure 1 110214This is Figure 1 from the paper, with the caption: Selected examples of bitten rhabdocidaroid echinoid spines from the Matmor Formation (Callovian) of Hamakhtesh Hagadol, southern Israel. All scale bars are 5 mm. All specimens are from locality C/W-370 (N 30.94952°, E 34.98725°). A-I, various flabellate spines showing bite marks. J, spine with a double tooth impression. K-L, closer views of bite marks on flabellate spines. M, closer view of spine illustrated as A showing multiple tooth marks caused by a series of teeth. (Tomasz Borszcz constructed this great composite image.)
SpineCollectionMatmor585We have here the earliest direct evidence of fish predation on echinoids (“sea urchins” in this case) through these numerous bite marks. The echinoid was a species of Rhabdocidaris, which was very spiny. As you can see in the above image, the spines are diverse in shape and size. The large, flat ones easily preserve encrusters and bite marks. We collected and assessed 1266 spines; 57 of them (4.5%) are bitten.
RhabdocidaridTestPlateA test fragment from Rhabdocidaris found with the spines. Bits of the test (the main skeleton surrounding the body) are not nearly as common as the spines. The central elevation (the boss) is where a single spine was attached.

Camelbed 110214My Israeli geologist friend Yoav Avni is here collecting echinoderm fragments from one of my favorite (if least photogenic sites). It is an area used by camels for sleeping and mucking about in the soft sediments. Their activity brings fossil fragments to the surface in a most efficient way. (Finally something positive to say about the camels in Hamakhtesh Hagadol.)

Echinoderm bits 110214Here is a collection of fossil echinoderm fragments from this site. Most are from crinoids, but I’m sure you’ve noted the two echinoid spines there.

The variability of bite marks on the spines suggests that the predator manipulated the echinoids for some period, as shown by the sheephead fish (Semicossyphus pulcher) that feeds on sea urchins today. This YouTube video (expertly filmed by Joseph See and used with permission) shows a sheephead biting and tossing about an echinoid before forcing it open. Imagine what the spines would look like that are scattered about on the seafloor. This is the scenario we imagine for our Jurassic echinoids.

Predation is an important selective force in the evolution of communities, so this first evidence of direct predation on echinoids is an important data point in the explanation of how Mesozoic invertebrate marine communities changed in structure and composition after the Permian mass extinctions. Geerat Vermeij began the modern discussion of predation’s role in evolution with his 1977 paper on the Mesozoic Marine Revolution. We’re proud to have our work in this tradition.

If you want a pdf of our new Lethaia paper, please contact me.

References:

Borszcz, T. and Zatoń, M. 2013. The oldest record of predation on echinoids: evidence from the Middle Jurassic of Poland. Lethaia 46, 141–145.

Vermeij, G.J. 1977. The Mesozoic marine revolution; evidence from snails, predators and grazers. Paleobiology 3, 245–258.

Wilson, M.A., Borszcz, T. and Zatoń, M. 2014. Bitten spines reveal unique evidence for fish predation on Middle Jurassic echinoids. Lethaia (DOI: 10.1111/let.12110).

Wilson, M.A., Feldman, H.R., Bowen, J.C. and Avni, Y.  2008. A new equatorial, very shallow marine sclerozoan fauna from the Middle Jurassic (late Callovian) of southern Israel. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 263, 24–29.

Wilson, M.A., Feldman, H.R. and Krivicich, E.B. 2010. Bioerosion in an equatorial Middle Jurassic coral-sponge reef community (Callovian, Matmor Formation, southern Israel). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 289, 93–101.

Zatoń, M., Villier, L. and Salamon, M.A. 2007. Signs of predation in the Middle Jurassic of south-central Poland: evidence from echinoderm taphonomy. Lethaia 40, 139–151.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A new crinoid species from the Middle Jurassic of southern Israel (with a bonus parasitic infection)

November 14th, 2014

1 PitBelowCalyxThese fossils are a joy to present this week. Lizzie Reinthal (’14), Bill Ausich (Ohio State University) and I have a new paper out in the latest issue of the Journal of Paleontology. It is titled: “Parasitism of a new apiocrinitid crinoid species from the Middle Jurassic (Callovian) of southern Israel”. Allow me to introduce Apiocrinites feldmani, a new articulate crinoid species. In the image above we have fused columnals (the “buttons” that make up a crinoid stem) upwards through two radial plates (from the calyx) with two pits and associated swollen columnals (due to a nasty little parasite; see below). A gnarly beast it is, and that’s what makes this creature interesting. I posted another even more twisted specimen earlier.

This new species is named after my friend Howard Feldman of Touro College and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He was a pathfinder with the Matmor Formation and its fossils in Hamakhtesh Hagadol, Negev, southern Israel.
2 Extracted holdfast 2Apiocrinites feldmani is a small crinoid that lived in a brachiopod-coral-sponge community with a larger cousin named Apiocrinites negevensis (named earlier by Bill Ausich and me). Above we see a pluricolumnal (range of articulated columnals) with the holdfast of another A. feldmani wrapped around them. (I’m also showing off my mad skills at extracting an image from its background.)
3 Gnarly pluricolumnalThis pluricolumnal shows how bad the parasitic infection could get for many A. feldmani specimens. These gall-like growths are responses to some soft-bodied parasite that became embedded within the crinoid skeleton. The crinoid stems were deformed and likely lost considerable flexibility because of these parasites.
4 PitThis is a cross-section through one of the pits in an A. feldmani stem. Note that the narrow end of the pit begins at the articulation between two columnals. The parasite apparently wedged into that space, forcing the crinoid to grow around it as it grew itself. The result was a conical pit with swollen columnals surrounding it.
5 PitPluricolumnalHere we’re looking straight into one of the conical pits with a magnificent swelling around it. You can barely make out the articulation lines of the swollen columnals. Sometimes these cone-shaped pits were closed off by crinoid skeletal growth, presumably because the parasite inside died or otherwise left the premises. We don’t know the identity of this parasite, but we can surmise that it was a soft-bodied filter-feeder that probably gained an advantage from living high above the seafloor on these crinoid stems. Oddly, the larger A. negevensis crinoids in the same community did not have these parasites.

Living crinoids are afflicted by a variety of parasites. There are none today that have this sort of effect on the stems, but there are reports of fossil crinoids with similar pathologies all the way back to the Silurian (Brett, 1978).
6 BivalveBoringCrinoidEven after death these Jurassic crinoid stems provided homes for other organisms. Above is another cross-section through a stem of A. feldmani. “A” is one of the columnals, “B” is a section through an articulated bivalve filled with a relatively coarse sediment, and “C” is a fine sediment that filled in around the bivalve. The bivalve bored into the crinoid stem after death to make a crypt from which it could conduct its filter-feeding with some safety and seclusion.
7 Apiocrinites feldmani specimens 585Finally, here are the type specimens of Apiocrinites feldmani all packed up to be delivered to the Orton Geological Museum at Ohio State University. This museum has a large collection of echinoderms from around the world and so is an appropriate place for our treasures to reside awaiting further study.

This was a fun study that was part of Lizzie Reinthal’s 2013-2014 Independent Study project at Wooster. She concentrated on the taphonomy and sclerobiont successions as we both worked up the parasite and systematic story with our echinoderm expert friend Bill Ausich. There aren’t that many accounts of parasite-host relationships in the fossil record, so we’re proud to add one.

So many beautiful fossils in the Jurassic of southern Israel. More papers to come!

References:

Ausich, W.I. and Wilson, M.A. 2012. New Tethyan Apiocrinitidae (Crinoidea, Articulata) from the Jurassic of Israel. Journal of Paleontology 86: 1051–1055.

Brett, C.E. 1978. Host-specific pit-forming epizoans on Silurian crinoids. Lethaia 11: 217–232.

Feldman, H.R. and Brett, C.E. 1998. Epi- and endobiontic organisms on Late Jurassic crinoid columns from the Negev Desert, Israel: Implications for co-evolution. Lethaia 31: 57–71.

Wilson, M.A., Feldman, H.R. and Krivicich, E.B. 2010. Bioerosion in an equatorial Middle Jurassic coral-sponge reef community (Callovian, Matmor Formation, southern Israel). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 289: 93–101.

Wilson, M.A., Reinthal, E.A. and Ausich, W.I. 2014. Parasitism of a new apiocrinitid crinoid species from the Middle Jurassic (Callovian) of southern Israel. Journal of Paleontology 88: 1212-1221.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Remanié fossils in the Lower Cretaceous of south-central England

August 22nd, 2014

Faringdon ammonite smThe last two editions were about a bryozoan and borings from the Faringdon Sponge Gravels (Lower Cretaceous, Upper Aptian) of south-central England. This week we have some Jurassic fossils from the same unit. That sounds a bit daft at first — Jurassic fossils in a Cretaceous unit? — until it becomes obvious that these are older fossils reworked into a younger deposit. In this case underlying Jurassic ammonites have been unearthed and tossed around with sediment in Cretaceous high-energy tidal channels. These older fossils in a younger context are called remanié, meaning they have been “rehandled” in a fancy French way.

The above image is an example of remanié in the Faringdon Sponge Gravels. It is a partial internal mold of a Jurassic ammonite. Drilled into it are several holes attributed to Early Cretaceous bivalves and called by the trace fossil name Gastrochaenolites. The ammonite fossil was eroded out of an outcrop of Jurassic rock and then bored while rolling around in what would become the Faringdon Sponge Gravels.
Ammonite frag 2 072014This is another Jurassic ammonite internal mold. The jagged lines are the sutures of the ammonite (remnants of the septal walls). This mold was phosphatized (partially replaced with phosphate) before it was reworked into the Cretaceous gravels. Many remanié fossils are phosphatized because of long exposure on the seafloor.
Ammonite frag 1 072014Finally, this is a fragment of another Jurassic ammonite internal mold in the Faringdon Sponge Gravels. It has an odd shape because it has disarticulated along the sutures. We are looking at the face of one of the septa, or at least where this septum would have been if it hadn’t dissolved. You can see some tiny borings that were made by Cretaceous polychaete worms.

In one of the cobbles in the Faringdon Sponge Gravels I found an identifiable ammonite. It was Prorasenia bowerbanki, which indicated that the cobble was derived from the Lower Kimmeridge Clay or Upper Oxfordian clays. The above ammonites are likely from the same Jurassic sequence. This means these fossils were roughly 45 million years old when they were reworked into the sponge gravels. Today it would be as if Eocene fossils were eroding out of a cliff and being incorporated within a modern sediment. When you think about it, this is a relatively common occurrence.

References:

Murray-Wallace, C V. and Belperio, A.P. 1994. Identification of remanié fossils using amino acid racemisation. Alcheringa 18: 219-227.

Pitt L.J. and Taylor P.D. 1990. Cretaceous Bryozoa from the Faringdon Sponge Gravel (Aptian) of Oxfordshire. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Geology Series, 46: 61–152.

Wells, M.R., Allison, P.A., Piggott, M.D., Hampson, G.J., Pain, C.C. and Gorman, G.J. 2010. Tidal modeling of an ancient tide-dominated seaway, part 2: the Aptian Lower Greensand Seaway of Northwest Europe. Journal of Sedimentary Research 80: 411-439.

Wilson, M.A. 1986. Coelobites and spatial refuges in a Lower Cretaceous cobble-dwelling hardground fauna. Palaeontology 29: 691-703.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A faulted oyster ball from the Middle Jurassic of Utah

July 25th, 2014

Split oyster ball 062914I’m returning this week to one of my favorite fossil types: the ostreolith, popularly known as the “oyster ball”. These were lovingly described in a previous blog entry, so please click there to see how they were formed and some additional images. They are found almost exclusively in the Carmel Formation (Middle Jurassic) of southwestern Utah.They are circumrotatory (a fancy word for “rolling around while forming”) accumulations of small cup-like oysters along with minor numbers of plicatulid bivalves, disciniscid brachiopods, cyclostome bryozoans (see Taylor & Wilson, 1999), and mytilid bivalves that drilled borings known as Gastrochaenolites. They are nice little hard-substrate communities originally nucleated on bivalve shells (Wilson et al., 1998).

oyster ball close 062914Here is a close view of the oyster valves on the outside of the ostreolith. They are attached to similar valves below them, and it is oysters all the way to the center.

What is special about our specimen here is that it managed to obtain a fault right through its center! The chances of this happening are slim, given that they are relatively rare in the rock matrix. The faulting was probably during the Miocene related to a “left-lateral transfer zone that displaces north-south–trending crustal blocks of the eastern Basin and Range Province to the west” (Petronis et al., 2014, p. 534). This is an interesting tectonic region between the Basin and Range Province and the Colorado Plateau.

Slickenfibers 062914A close view of the fault surface shows it is a striated slickenside. The striations (called slickenlines) are parallel to the direction of movement, not that we have to guess when we look at the ostreolith itself. There are also calcitic deposits here formed during faulting called slickenfibres. These elongated crystals have tiny step-like breaks in them that show the actual direction of movement.

Another nice specimen combining paleontology and structural geology.

References:

Petronis, M.S., Holm, D.K., Geissman, J.W., Hacker, D.B. and Arnold, B.J. 2014. Paleomagnetic results from the eastern Caliente-Enterprise zone, southwestern Utah: Implications for initiation of a major Miocene transfer zone. Geosphere 10: 534-563.

Taylor, P.D. and Wilson, M.A. 1999. Middle Jurassic bryozoans from the Carmel Formation of southwestern Utah. Journal of Paleontology 73: 816-830.

Wilson, M.A., Ozanne, C.R. and Palmer, T.J. 1998. Origin and paleoecology of free-rolling oyster accumulations (ostreoliths) in the Middle Jurassic of southwestern Utah, USA. Palaios 13: 70-78.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A barnacle and sponge symbiosis from the Middle Jurassic of Israel

July 4th, 2014

Barnacle boring bioclaustration 1

[Programing note: Wooster’s Fossil of the Week is now being released on Fridays to correspond with the popular Fossil Friday on Twitter and other platforms.]

This week’s fossil is again from the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian) of southern Israel. (What can I say? We have a lot of them!) We are looking above at a crinoid pluricolumnal (a section of the stem made of several columnals) almost completely encrusted by a calcareous sponge (the sheet-like form with tiny pores). A round oyster is attached to the sponge in the lower center. In the left half you see the items of our interest this week: ovoid holes produced by barnacles. This specimen was studied by Lizzie Reinthal (’14) as part of her Senior Independent Study on the taphonomy of the Matmor crinoids.
Barnacle boring bioclaustration 2These barnacle holes are interesting because we can see in this closer view that the sponge grew around them. There is thickened sponge wall at the margins of the holes, and the feature in the middle is a thick mound built around one of these holes. The barnacles in the holes and the sponge were living together. If they weren’t either the sponge would have overgrown the empty holes or the barnacle would have cut through the dead sponge skeleton. This is an example of symbiosis. It would be a facultative relationship because the sponge and barnacle did not need each other to survive; each does just fine without the other. It could be considered parasitic if the barnacles acquired nutrients the sponge would have ordinarily received, or vice versa.
Barnacle boring bioclaustration 3This third view is of the edge of the sponge skeleton as it partially overlaps the barnacle holes. Now we see the nature of the intergrowth. The barnacle holes are actually borings into the crinoid pluricolumnal below. They are the trace fossil called Rogerella, which we have seen before in this blog. The sponge grew along the crinoid substrate covering all sorts of small holes, cracks and crevices, but when it reached these borings living barnacles were still in them filter-feeding away with their filamentous legs. The sponge thus laid its skeleton right up to the hole edges, eventually surrounding them with their spongy matrix.

The holes are borings, a kind of trace fossil. The structure created when the sponge surrounds a living boring barnacle like this is more difficult to name. It is not technically a bioimmuration (see Taylor, 1990) because the barnacles were not passively subsumed within the sponge skeleton. It may be a bioclaustration (Palmer and Wilson, 1988) because the sponge adapted its skeleton to isolate and surround the barnacle. I think we can at least say these are trace fossils in the ethological (behavioral) group called Impedichnia (Tapanila, 2005) because the barnacles acted as impediments, or limiting factors, to the growth of the sponge.

I love these examples of symbiosis in the fossil record, and the interesting debates about their interpretations.

References:

Cónsole‐Gonella, C. and Marquillas, R.A. 2014. Bioclaustration trace fossils in epeiric shallow marine stromatolites: the Cretaceous‐Palaeogene Yacoraite Formation, northwestern Argentina. Lethaia 47: 107-119.

Palmer, T.J. and Wilson, M.A. 1988. Parasitism of Ordovician bryozoans and the origin of pseudoborings. Palaeontology 31: 939–949.

Tapanila, L. 2005. Palaeoecology and diversity of endosymbionts in Palaeozoic marine invertebrates: Trace fossil evidence. Lethaia 38: 89–99.

Taylor, P.D. 1990. Preservation of soft-bodied and other organisms by bioimmuration: A review. Palaeontology 33: 1–17.

Vinn, O. and Mõtus, M.A. 2014. Symbiotic worms in biostromal stromatoporoids from the Ludfordian (Late Silurian) of Saaremaa, Estonia. GFF (in press).

Wilson, M.A., Palmer, T.J. and Taylor, P.D. 1994. Earliest preservation of soft-bodied fossils by epibiont bioimmuration: Upper Ordovician of Kentucky. Lethaia 27: 269–270.

Castles in Poland I expect, but a desert?

June 19th, 2014

Zamek Mirow 061914SOSNOWIEC, POLAND — Today my colleague Michał Zatoń took me and his family (wife Aneta and son Tomasz) on a tour of the Polish Jura, an upland with spectacular exposures of Jurassic rocks and the castles who love them. Above is the castle I consider most dramatic: Zamek Mirów from the 14th Century. Note the large mass of white bedrock at its base. This is a natural outcrop on which the castle was built. This will be a theme.

Mirow Oxfordian bioherms 061914Here we see a series of these white rocks jutting dramatically across the landscape. They are Upper Jurassic (Oxfordian) sponge-rich silicified limestones that grew as bioherms (organic mounds) on portions of seafloor elevated because of igneous intrusions below. The sponges loved being raised off the deep seabed and continued to grow upwards. Since many of them were siliceous sponges, after death their silica was mobilized into the surrounding sediment as a cement. This process produced these outcrops of very hard silicified limestones just waiting to host a castle or two.

Oxfordian limestone 061914Conveniently, the rocks can be quarried to produce the stones used in castle construction. Fossils are quite common in the building stones, like this ammonite external mold.

Zamek Bobolice 061914This is a reconstructed castle built on the outcrops.  (Zamek Bobolice; also 14th Century in origin.)

Zamek Smoleniu 061914Zamek Smoleniu was the smallest castle we visited, but somehow the scariest to climb. Getting to the top of that tower was a challenge.

Zamek Ogrodzieniec view 061914Zamek Ogrodzieniec was the largest and best known castle we visited today. It is haunted, but I ain’t scared.

Zamek Ogrodzieniec 061914The outer fortifications of Zamek Ogrodzieniec have very impressive outcrops of the Oxfordian silicified limestones.

Pustynia Bledowska 061914Now what about that mysterious Polish desert? Well, turns out it isn’t a desert in the official sense (it receives a lot of rain), but it sure looks like a desert. Pustynia Błędowska is its name in Polish. It is definitely an odd patch: 32 square kilometers in the midst of rich Polish pine forests. This place is so deserty that the German Afrika Korps trained here before going to northern Africa, and the Polish military uses it as a proxy for Middle Eastern situations. There is a lesson for humanity here as well: In the 13th and 14th Centuries the forest in this area was completely logged to provide charcoal for smelters producing silver and lead ingots. The removal of the trees exposed highly mobile glacial sands, which blew around enough to create dunes and soil too unstable for the trees to recolonize. This is a medieval ecological catastrophe. The Błędów Desert is now protected from human traffic so it has a chance to be absorbed back into the surrounding forests.

Research begins in southern Poland

June 16th, 2014

Gillette 061614SOSNOWIEC, POLAND — On this beautiful day I began research at the University of Silesia with Michał Zatoń and Tomasz Borszcz in this impressive building. (It is reportedly the tallest Earth Science building in the world, although the Chinese are on the case.) Our first project, and the one I will devote most of my remaining Polish time to, is an analysis of fish-bitten echinoid (sea urchin) spines from the Middle Jurassic Matmor Formation of southern Israel (see below).

Spine 173_bittenWe have dozens of these crunched rhabdocidarid spines, which are critical evidence of early predation on regular echinoids. We hope our work will help illuminate the evolution of predator adaptations in the echinoids, and the actions of the hungry fish. More on this later.

Spines arrayed 061614Here we have a simple sorting of the spines in relation to their likely position on the echinoid test (body skeleton). Pretty simple, but it was an easy way for us to discuss spine morphology and function.

Michal office 061614To give you a glimpse of my new surroundings, here is a view of Michał’s office. As with every working paleontologist, there are plenty of specimens, books and papers!

Office view 061614The view from Michał’s office of Sosnowiec.

Silesia dorms 061614This is looking from Michał’s department building towards a series of dormitories for students at the University of Silesia.

Lunch 061614You know at some point I need to show some Polish food. This is today’s lunch. Note the crunchy latke and the pierogis. You pay for this food by its weight on the plate. This scrumptiousness plus a Sprite cost me $4.

Hotel Cumulus 061614This is my hotel in neighboring Będzin.

Hotel area Będzin Castle 061614Będzin Castle, which is a short walk from my hotel. You can expect a history post coming up soon!

 

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A geopetal structure in a boring from the Middle Jurassic of Israel

June 15th, 2014

Geopetal Structure 585We have a very simple trace and body fossil combination this week that provides a stratigraphic and structural geologic tool. Above is a bit of scleractinian coral from the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian) of Makhtesh Gadol in southern Israel. The coral skeleton was originally made of aragonite. It has been since recrystallized into a coarse sparry calcite, so we can no longer see the internal skeletal details of the coral. In the middle of this polished cross-section is an elliptical hole. This is a boring made by a bivalve (the trace fossil Gastrochaenolites). Inside the boring you see a separate elliptical object: a cross-section of a bivalve shell. This could be the bivalve that made the boring or, more likely, a bivalve that later occupied the boring for a living refuge. This, then, is the trace fossil (Gastrochaenolites) and body fossil (the bivalve shell) juxtaposition.

That stratigraphic and structural interest is that the boring and the bivalve shell are partially filled with a yellow sediment. This sediment has gravitationally settled to the bottom of these cavities (at slightly different levels). These holes have thus acted as natural builders’ levels showing is which way was down and which was up at the time of deposition. We can tell without any clues from the recrystallized coral the “way up” before any later structural deformation (or in this case rolling around on the outcrop) changed the orientation of the coral. Pretty cool and simple, eh? The name for this feature is a geopetal structure. There are some faulted and folded sedimentary rock exposures in the world where we search diligently for these little clues to original orientation (see, for example, Klompmaker et al., 2013). Not all geopetal structures have fossil origins (i.e., Mozhen et al., 2010), but most do. A little gift from paleontology to its sister disciplines.

References:

Klompmaker, A.A., Ortiz, J.D. and Wells, N.A. 2013. How to explain a decapod crustacean diversity hotspot in a mid-Cretaceous coral reef. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 374: 256-273.
Mozhen, G., Chuanjiang, W., Guohui, Y., Xueqiang, S., Guohua, Z. and Xin, W. 2010. Features, origin and geological significance of geopetal structures in Carboniferous volcanic rocks in Niudong Block, Santanghu Basin. Marine Origin Petroleum Geology 3: 15.
Wieczorek, J. 1979. Geopetal structures as indicators of top and bottom. Annales de la Societé géologique de Pologne 49: 215-221.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: My favorite part of a crinoid (Middle Jurassic of Israel)

June 1st, 2014

Apiocrinites negevensis proximale 585In April of this year I completed my 11th trip to southern Israel for fieldwork in the Mesozoic. My heart warmed every time I saw these robust plates of the crinoid Apiocrinities negevensis, which was reviewed in a previous blog post. They are thick disks of calcite with a heft and symmetry like exotic coins. They are easy to spot in the field because of their size and incised perfect star. They have been a critical part of our paleoecological and systematic studies of the Matmor Formation (Callovian, Middle Jurassic) in the Negev. Lizzie Reinthal (14) and Steph Bosch (14) know them particularly well!
negevensis proximales 1This part of the crinoid is called the proximale. It has a round base that articulates with the columnal below it in the stem, and its top has five facets that hold the basal plates of the calyx. It is thus the topmost columnal, specialized to serve as the integration between the articulated stem below and the complicated head above. The pentastellate (five-armed star, but you probably figured that out) impression is called the areola. In the very center is the open hole of the lumen, which goes from the head all the way down through the stem to the holdfast as an internal fluid-filled cavity.
Composite Miller Apiocrinites arrowedAbove are Miller’s (1821) original illustrations of Apiocrinites rotundus with the proximale shown by the red arrow. Note how thin this piece is compared to the equivalent from Apiocrinites negevensis. The significant thickness of the proximale is one of the distinguishing features of the Negev species.

I saw many more of these beautiful fossils in the field this year. We don’t need any more for our research, but they always indicate that other good fossils are nearby.

References:

Ausich, W.I. and Wilson, M.A. 2012. New Tethyan Apiocrinitidae (Crinoidea; Articulata) from the Jurassic of Israel. Journal of Paleontology 86: 1051-1055.

Miller, J.S. 1821. A natural history of the Crinoidea or lily-shaped animals, with observation on the genera Asterias, Euryale, Comatula, and Marsupites. Bryan & Co, Bristol, 150 pp.

Wilson, M.A., Feldman, H.R. and Krivicich, E.B. 2010. Bioerosion in an equatorial Middle Jurassic coral-sponge reef community (Callovian, Matmor Formation, southern Israel). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 289: 93-101.

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