New paper on crinoids of the Kalana Lagerstätte (Early Silurian) of central Estonia

May 14th, 2019

Bill Ausich (The Ohio State University), Oive Tinn (University of Tartu) have a paper that has just appeared:

Ausich, W.I., Wilson, M.A. and Tinn, O. 2019. Kalana Lagerstätte crinoids: Early Silurian (Llandovery) of central Estonia. Journal of Paleontology doi.org/10.1017/jpa.2019.27

It was an absolutely delightful project that was thoroughly documented in this blog. Last summer Bill and I traveled to Tartu, Estonia, to work with Oive on describing the extraordinary crinoids of the Silurian Kalana Lagerstätte. A Lagerstätte is a sedimentary deposit with exceptional fossil preservation. It is a privilege as a paleontologist to work on one. As you can see from the images, the crinoids here are well preserved indeed. I’ll let the paper’s abstract tell the story:

Abstract.—The Kalana Lagerstätte of early Aeronian (Llandovery, Silurian) age in central Estonia preserves a diverse shallow marine biota dominated by non-calcified algae. This soft-tissue flora and decalcified and calcified crinoids are preserved in situ in a lens of microlaminated, dolomitized micrite interbedded in a sequence of dolomitized packstones and wackestones. Although the Lagerstätte is dominated by non-calcified algae, crinoids (together with brachiopods and gastropods) are among the most common organisms that were originally comprised of a carbonate skeleton. Two new crinoids are described from this unit, Kalanacrinus mastikae n. gen. n. sp. (large camerate) and Tartucrinus kalanaensis n. gen. n. sp. (small disparid). Interestingly, these two crinoids display contrasting preservation, with the more common large camerate preserved primarily as a decalcified organic residue, whereas the smaller disparid is preserved primarily in calcite. Preservation was assessed using elemental mapping of C, Ca, S, and Si. Columns have the highest portion of Ca, once living soft tissue is indicated by C, S was dispersed as pyrite or associated with organics, and Si is probably associated with clay minerals in the matrix. This new fauna increases our understanding of the crinoid radiation on Baltica following Late Ordovician extinctions.

The top image and that above shows the new crinoid Kalanacrinus mastikae. Look at those gorgeous arms and the carbon films in the calyx that may represent internal organs. The species is named in recognition of Viirika Mastik, an Estonian graduate student who helped us in innumerable ways, and she was very patient with the sometimes clueless Americans! The genus, of course, is named for the deposit. (Scale bar is 5.0 mm.)

Here is another specimen of Kalanacrinus mastikae. Note the small angular, twiggy fossil below the calyx. I think it may be a green alga similar to the modern Hydrodictyon but marine and with larger cells.

Say hello to the new crinoid Tartucrinus kalanaensis. It’s pretty obvious how we came up with these names. Note again a carbon film in the calyx that may be from internal organs, possibly the anal sac. (Scale bar is 5.0 mm.)

The location and stratigraphy of the Kalana Quarry.

Several slabs of Kalana material. What a joy it was to study them for long, uninterrupted days.

The paleo lab at the University of Tartu, with Bill working in the background.

I loved this brand new Leica photomicroscope (model S9i).

Oive does excellent geochemistry, so she handled the elemental mapping. This example shows a close view of a Kalana crinoid column, with the elements C, Ca, S, and Si mapped. As stated in the abstract, columns have the highest portion of Ca, once living soft tissue is indicated by C, S was dispersed as pyrite or associated with organics, and Si is probably associated with clay minerals in the matrix.

Thank you to our excellent Estonian colleagues!

From the left is Oive Tinn, Mare Isakar, Bill, and Viirika Mastik.

Conulariid and trepostome bryozoan symbiosis in the Upper Ordovician of Estonia

January 22nd, 2019

A new paper is just out in which all the characters have been covered previously in this blog, but not as parts of a single story. It describes an interprets the relationship between the mysterious conulariids and trepostome bryozoans in the Katian and Sandbian (Upper Ordovician) of northern Estonia. The authors have all made appearance here, including lead author Olev Vinn (Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Tartu, Estonia). Andrej Ernst (Institut für Geologie, Universität Hamburg, Germany), myself, and Ursula Toom (Institute of Geology, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia). It was a fun team to work on, and Olev led it masterfully.

There are numerous trepostome bryozoans in the Upper Ordovician of Estonia that grew up and around the bases of conulariids, which are extinct cnidarians. This is, in fact, an example of bryoimmuration as covered in my last post. The puzzle is what was the relationship between these two groups. Were the conulariids parasites on the bryozoans? Did they gain protection from predators by embedment in the bryozoan calcitic skeleton? Were the bryozoans prime real estate for the conulariids because they were hard substrate islands on a muddy seafloor? We think the answers are probably yes to all these questions.

The top composite of images is Figure 3 in the paper. The caption: A, Two conulariids Climacoconus bottnicus (Holm, 1893) in Diplotrypa bicornis (Eichwald, 1829) from Haljala Regional Stage, northern Estonia, note the slightly elevated apertures of conulariids (GIT 720-4). B, Longitudinal section of Diplotrypa abnormis (Modzalevskaya, 1953) with conulariid Climacoconus bottnicus (Holm, 1893) (GIT 537-1822) from Haljala Regional Stage, northern Estonia. C, Longitudinal section of completely embedded Climacoconus bottnicus (Holm, 1893) in Esthoniopora communis (GIT 537-1656) from Haljala Regional Stage, northern Estonia. D, Conulariid in Mesotrypa expressa Bassler, 1911 from Oandu Regional Stage, northern Estonia; note the depression around the conulariid’s aperture (GIT 770-7). E, Conulariid in Mesotrypa expressa Bassler, 1911 from Oandu regional Stage, northern Estonia; note the malformation of a zooid near the aperture of the conulariid (GIT 770-92). F, Conulariid in Esthoniopora subsphaerica from Rakvere Regional Stage, northern Estonia; note the strongly elevated aperture of the conulariid (GIT 537-1760).

This work is another product of Wooster’s generous research leaves program that has supported many trips to Estonia.

Reference:

Vinn, O., Ernst, A., Wilson, M.A., and Toom, U. 2019. Symbiosis of conulariids with trepostome bryozoans in the Upper Ordovician of Estonia (Baltica). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 518: 89-96.

Wooster and Ohio State Paleontologists in Tallinn, Estonia

August 8th, 2018

Tallinn, Estonia — This morning Bill Ausich (Ohio State University) took the bus from Tartu to Tallinn to finish one more research task and then prepare for the long journey home. Above is the view from my hotel room towards the Old City section of Tallinn.

After getting settled, we visited Ursula Toom at the Department of Geology, Tallinn University of Technology. She and Bill (above) exchanged crinoids, and then Ursula discussed with me a wide variety of Ordovician borings as part of her dissertation work.

This is a small part of the various mystery specimens Ursula shared with me. There are some fantastic undescribed borings in this lot.

Afterwards Bill and I had an early evening dinner in the Old City, beautiful in the setting sun.

Our research in Estonia is done! Tomorrow we pack up and then walk around Tallinn taking in the sights and culture. On Friday we fly home. I hope to describe the results of our work soon in this blog.

Last day at the Tartu Natural History Museum, and a visit to a grim museum

August 7th, 2018

Tartu, Estonia — Bill Ausich and I started our last full day in this city at the University of Tartu Natural History Museum, finishing our work with the marvelous Mare Isakar, pictured above. Mare quickly found the specimens we needed, and many others she knew we would find interesting. She did nearly instant registration of specimens, greatly speeding up our taxonomic progress.

We finished photographing museum specimens for our future reference and possible publications. Bill concentrated on Silurian crinoids and I worked on the Ordovician rhombiferan Echinosphaerites.

This is one of Öpik’s Echinosphaerites aurantium specimens. Two roundish encrusting brachiopods are visible, along with sheet-like bryozoans. Shockingly, there are gouges in the bryozoans as if someone tried to scrape them off!

Most of the rhombiferans are filled with sediment and/or calcite crystals, but Bill found this hollow one in the collections. Note that it was still able to resist sedimentary compaction. Also note the bryozoans on the broken edge.

This broken specimen shows sediment in the bottom of the skeleton and crystals in the top half. This is known as a geopetal structure where the sediment shows what was the lower part of the skeleton when it was filled. Here’s another example.

Mare found even more specimens of Echinosphaerites today, so there is much to do on a later trip! Thank you again to Mare Isakar and our other friends in Tartu. Tomorrow we travel to Tallinn for a bit more work before heading home on Friday.

And now for something darker — the KGB Cells Museum in Tartu. It is a horrifying place of pain, anguish and hopelessness, yet today is surrounded by a vibrant, free city and country. This museum, in an actual KGB prison, is both disturbing and ultimately inspiring. It is a history we avoid at our peril.

A cell door near the entrance to this basement complex of “the grey house”. These dungeons were used by the Soviet secret police for detention, torture and executions in the 1940s and 1950s. For a brief interval (1941-1944) the Nazis took over and did the same beastly activities. The victims were almost entirely Estonians.

A hallway of cells. The exhibits inside the rooms include many Soviet artifacts, along with stories of Estonian resistance.

A KGB mannikin at the end of a hallway. A sound track of a harsh Russian voice plays in a loop here, along with inevitable screams and moans. The brutality of the place is quite evident enough, thank you.

Finally, before you leave, why not dress up as a Soviet KGB officer and pose with Stalin? I don’t understand why anyone would do such a thing, especially in such a tragic space.

Tomorrow it is back to science as Bill and I take the bus to Tallinn. The countryside of free Estonia is beautiful.

Last day in the University of Tartu Geology Department — and a great garden party

August 6th, 2018

Tartu, Estonia — As a sign we’re near the end of our work in Tartu, there are no crinoids in this post. Instead, above is an Ordovician bryozoan from Estonia that encrusted the aragonitic shell of a nautiloid. The aragonite dissolved away, giving my favorite underside view of a bryozoan attachment from its ancestrula. We’ve seen this more than once in this blog. The bonus here are the just-visible chains of little crystalline teardrops across the surface.

These are the zooids of the cyclostome bryozoan Corynotrypa. They are encrusted right-side-up, meaning that they grew across the exposed attachment surface of the big bryozoan. The nautiloid shell thus dissolved between the two encrusting events — very early on the seafloor. Classic calcite sea dynamics.

After sorting out the specimens used in our crinoid studies, and doing some last microphotography, we finished our work for this season at the University of Tartu Department of Geology. A small and happy garden party followed.

Bill Ausich and some of our Estonian colleagues and friends. From the left is Oive Tinn, Mare Isakar, Bill, and Viirika Mastik. Great conversations. It actually got a little chilly outside, so we ended in Oive’s house (see below).

Sunday at the University of Tartu Natural History Museum — this time as tourists

August 5th, 2018

Tartu, Estonia — Bill Ausich and I returned to the Natural History Museum today to tour the public exhibits. It was hard to not make it into a study trip, though, for our research. I suppose since our “work” is so enjoyable it is difficult to separate it from a holiday. Above, for example, is a display of our favorite rhombiferan, Echinosphaerites aurantium of the Estonian Upper Ordovician.

There is a display about the Kalana Lagerstätte that we are studying.

Here is the museum description of the Lagerstätte.

And a close-up of some crinoids (“meriliilia”, sea lilies) from the Kalana.

It is a fun museum with a very thorough geology section, including meteorites you can touch (a favorite of mine). It has what is now an old-fashioned style of emphasizing actual specimens that Bill and I appreciated. There is a large biology section with much taxidermy and mounted skeletons. One of the featured exhibits is a rare “rat king” (see below), which you must look up!

Saturday at the Estonian National Museum (plus a street festival)

August 4th, 2018

Tartu, Estonia — This morning Bill Ausich and I walked to the new Estonian National Museum, shown above. It has a most unusual elongated building constructed on an abandoned secret Soviet airbase for bombers (Raadi Airfield). It follows an old runway with the revetments still in place. It is striking.

Parts of the Soviet base are still preserved, including these concrete fence posts.

This is an old Soviet air force garage on the way to the museum. This base was so secret that the entire city of Tartu was closed to foreigners. Now Bill and I stroll the grounds. We did the same in a once-secret Soviet missile base on Saaremaa.

The front entrance of the Estonian National Museum.

I don’t have a lot to show you in the museum itself, since it is mostly about fold and cultural history (which was fascinating). Bill and I appreciated the digital signs. They appear first in Estonian, like this one. We were issued special language cards, though.

When we pass the “English” card across the sensor, the text is instantly translated! Very clever.

Across the road from the museum is an upside-down house. It is apparently quite the tourist attraction, but we passed.

Back in the city center, in fact in front of our hotel, was a street festival. It had live music, fantastic food, and large, happy crowds.

There were lots of fried fish stands, with fish from the local lakes and the Baltic.

Here is Bill waiting for a meal. Impressively, by 10 pm the festival was over, and the streets completely clear the next morning. This is a very efficient, sensible country!

Back to work in the University of Tartu Geology Department

August 3rd, 2018

Tartu, Estonia — Today Bill Ausich and I returned to the geology lab on the university campus to continue our work on the Kalana Lagerstätte crinoids. There is Bill above working on specimens.

I spent most of the day working with this beautiful Leica photomicroscope (model S9i). It is the most intuitive photomicroscope I have ever seen. The images are superb. I want.

Here I am at the microphotography station, looking wistfully outside.

We don’t have anything new to report today, so here’s an image of one of the best Kalana crinoids.

This is my favorite specimen because it is squashed in a way that separated the calyx plates to make them easier to see.

The calyx is on the left side of this specimen. The pinnules from the arms are preserved so well here they look like hair. Note the small angular fossil just below the crinoid on the right. These are common in the Lagerstätte, often appearing to be attached to crinoids. We think they may be green algae, possibly like the modern Hydrodictyon but marine — and with larger cells. Another mystery in this fossil assemblage.

We’ve now completed a week in Tartu. The Kalana crinoid project has gone especially well. Thank you to graduate student Viirika Mastik who collected most of the Kalana crinoids, and to her supervisor Oive Tinn. They have helped us immensely in the lab.

Starting work in the University of Tartu Natural History Museum

August 2nd, 2018

Tartu, Estonia — Today Bill Ausich and I began our work in the University of Tartu Natural History Museum. Our most knowledgeable and helpful host is chief geology curator Mare Isakar. This museum is just a short walk from our hotel.

This is one of the collections rooms in the paleontological research part of the museum. Here is where I examined Ordovician bivalves and gastropods for bryoimmurations.

One of our goals is to study encrusters on specimens of the nearly spherical Late Ordovician rhombiferan echinoderm Echinosphaerites aurantium. Mare Isakar kindly set out dozens of specimens for us to study, a small subset of which is shown above.

Here is Bill at work scanning through a drawer of Echinosphaerites.

One of the encrusted Echinosphaerites skeletons. The black, branching, carbonaceous encruster is the graptolite Thallograptus sphaericola (“sphere-dweller”).

Posted in the museum is this figure by Öpik (1925) showing his idea of an Echinosphaerites community with encrusting graptolites. We want to test his hypothesis that the graptolites encrusted living rhombiferans as shown. My hypothesis is that the graptolites lived instead on dead, cemented skeletons. Armin Aleksander Öpik (1898-1983) was a prominent and productive Estonian paleontologist. Like many Estonian scientists of his generation, his career was bifurcated by World War II.

Several characters from Estonia’s scientific past watched us work. This is Constantin Grewingk (1819-1887). Ohio paleontologists will recognize him as the namesake of the rugose coral Grewingkia.

Here is Friedrich Schmidt (132-1908), considered the founder of Estonian geology. Both Grewingk and Schmidt were Baltic Germans.

The public part of the museum includes this exhibit on “Secrets of Ancient Sea”. You may recognize some familiar Ordovician characters in this scene. Bill and I intend to visit the public exhibits here on Sunday.

Thank you again to Mare Isakar for setting us up so efficiently for our research!

Back to the paleontology lab in Tartu, Estonia

August 1st, 2018

Tartu, Estonia — Disconcertingly it says “chemistry”, but there really is a geology department inside this building on the University of Tartu campus.

The Geology Department is part of the Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences. We are very impressed with their facilities and friendly academics.

Here again is the lab room loaned to us for our stay. Bill is working in the back. The crinoid-rich specimens from the Kalana Lagerstätte at the Kalana Quarry (Silurian, Llandovery, Aeronian) are spread out through the room. We are very fortunate to have such space.

This is my workstation with my trusty laptop. The Leica microscope is fantastic.

We are examining the crinoids preserved on this dolomicritic limestone slabs that were carefully collected by university staff from Kalana Quarry in central Estonia. The crinoids are quickly apparent because their beautiful hair-like pinnulate arms are visible.

I’ll write more paleontological details later, but here is the part-counterpart of the best specimen of what will be a new crinoid taxon. From the bottom is the cylindrical stem, followed upwards by the conical calyx, and then the long arms with thin extensions called pinnules. You can also see some black smears of carbonaceous material on the right. These specimens are compressed and mostly decalcified. Their preservation is still a bit mysterious to us.

This is why we’re here so far from home!

Here is an image of the Kalana Quarry, where the Lagerstätte is found, from this wonderful Estonian geology website.

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