Episode 134: Mammal Locomotion and Ecology

In this episode we talk to Professor Christine Janis about mammal palaeontology, and her career. Christine is one of the world’s foremost experts in mammal palaeontology and mammalogy. She has authored dozens of scientific papers, and has been co-author of the major textbook Vertebrate Life for the last 20 years. Christine has had a long and distinguished career, and is currently a researcher at the University of Bristol in the UK. Her work is particularly…

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Episode 133: Drawing and Painting Dinosaurs

It can be argued that palaeoart is the single biggest hook for getting people interested in prehistoric life. It takes the complex scientific terminology and data found within the academic literature and translates it into a reconstruction of an extinct organism. It is only through palaeoart that we can visualise some extinct organisms (particularly the vertebrates, and dinosaurs in this instance, whose external tissues are rarely preserved as fossils) and show some of the behaviours…

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Episode 131: Burmese Amber Pt1

Burmese amber is well known for preserving fossils in exquisite details. This amber is dated to around 100 million years old, representing the Albian – Cenomanian ages of the Cretaceous period, so would have been deposited whilst non-avian dinosaurs still walked the land. Fossils preserved in this amber include representatives from numerous different groups including arachnids, insects, vertebrates, and plants. Whilst the amber itself (as fossilised tree sap/resin) is produced in a terrestrial environment, some…

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Episode 127: Coprolite Inclusions

One of the factors that makes palaeontology such a popular science is its constant ability to surprise us. It seems almost every week that a new study is released that significantly adds to our understanding of ancient life. This could be in relation to a new species, a new analysis or new fossil locality. In this episode, we discuss a new discovery that not only yields a new species, but also provides direct dietary evidence…

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Episode 126: Beats Before Us

In this episode, we talk to our very own Dr Elsa Panciroli about her new book Beasts Before Us. In it, she tells the untold story of mammalian evolution, tracing the origin of synapsids back to the Carboniferous. You’ll be taken to fossil sites around the world to meet some of these pioneering animals and some of the palaeontologists that discovered them. For this interview, we’ll give you an overview of the early evolution of…

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Episode 124: Crocodylomorph Disparity

Crocodiles are often referred to as “living fossils”, but if we compare modern and ancient species, does that label hold up? What different kinds of morphologies (shapes) did past crocs have and how did they live? How quickly did this past diversity arise and why are we left with so few species today? What’s to stop them from diversifying again? In this episode, we speak to Dr Tom Stubbs, University of Bristol, about his recent…

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Episode 123: Soil

Terrestrial life as we know it couldn’t exist without soil. Soil is a layer of minerals, organic matter, liquids, gasses and organisms that not only provides a medium for plant growth, but also modifies the atmosphere, provides a habitat for animals and retains and purifies water. However, this kind of soil hasn’t always existed, so in order to understand early conditions on land, we first need to understand what can be constituted as a soil…

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Episode 121: Dietary ecology of Smilodon fatalis

Smilodon is probably one of the most iconic mammalian apex predators with its extended upper canines and robustly-built forearms. In fact, when we compare Smilodon to modern cats (felids), we don’t see these same characteristics. So what were they used for? Was Smilodon specialised for any particular behaviour? Owing to the unique preservation of the tar seeps at Rancho La Brea, Los Angeles, USA, we can find an overabundance of predators, including Smilodon fatalis, Canis…

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Episode 120: Naked Ammonite

It wouldn’t be outlandish to state that many a fossil collection has started with the acquisition of an ammonite. Their planispiral shells (termed a conch) are instantly recognisable and since that conch was originally composed of the relatively hard mineral aragonite, they better lend themselves to the fossilisation process. But how much do we actually know about the animal that produces the conch? We might be able to make superficial inferences based on comparisons with…

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Episode 119: The Soom Shale

The Soom Shale is an Ordovician lagerstätte in the Western Cape of South Africa. Whilst it lacks the diversity of organisms seen in other lagerstätten, such as the Burgess Shale or Chengjiang, it more than makes up for it in the fidelity of preservation. The taphonomic pathway to the fantastic preservation in the Soom Shale is long and complex, reliant not only on local conditions, but also ties into global climatic events. It’s vitally important…

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