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World's oldest known fossil forest found in quarry in upper New York state – CNN International

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The fossilized roots– footprints of an ancient landscape– belonged to trees with wood and leaves, similar to what we see today, the study says.
This find was made in Cairo, about 40 miles south of Albany. Previously, scientists thought a fossilized forest in Gilboa, New York, was the earliest, but the one in Cairo is two or three million years older and dramatically different.
Scinetists stand on the edge of an Archaeopteris tree root system. They put the bucket where they think the tree's trunk was located.
A person from the New York State Museum was the first to spot the large, root-like structures in the bottom of the quarry.
Christopher Berry, study co-author and a paleobotanist at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, told CNN he was a bit skeptical the first time he visited the site. He thought a modern tree might have grown into the rock and been removed.
Upon closer inspection of the soil profile, researchers quickly confirmed they were looking at the footprint of something much, much older.
“The scale of the root systems were really striking,” said William Stein, lead author and emeritus professor of biological sciences at Binghamton University, located about two hours west of Cairo.
The team carefully swept away layer upon layer of dirt, meticulously mapping the extraordinary find.
Eospermatopteris root system in overwash sediment.  Eospermatopteris root system in overwash sediment.
The team hypothesizes a catastrophic flood killed most of the trees in the forest and preserved the root system as fossils. They even found fish fossils near the largest trees.

What an ancient forest teaches us

Local officials placed rocks to try to protect the fossils from fourwheelers.Local officials placed rocks to try to protect the fossils from fourwheelers.
The discovery provides a snapshot of one of the planet’s great transitional periods, between an earth with no forests and an earth that’s covered in forests, Berry said.
For context, the Cairo forest is about 140 million years older than the first dinosaurs that roamed the earth. The oldest known insect lived around 400 million years ago, and a few million years after that, the first four-legged animals conquered the land.
During the middle of the Devonian period (about 419 to 359 million years ago), Berry told CNN, the Cairo forest was actually located about 30 degrees south of the equator, in between a temperate and arid climate.
Researchers carefully clean and map the surface of the ancient forest discovered in Cairo, New York.Researchers carefully clean and map the surface of the ancient forest discovered in Cairo, New York.
Ultimately, they identified three types of trees, two of which were unique to the site, pointing to an ecology distinct from the nearby Gilboa site.
“With the advent of forests, we see a major shift in the kind of ecology that the earth has… both in the terrestrial and the marine realm,” Stein told CNN.
During the Devonian, scientists say a drastic drop in CO2 levels led to a cooling of the earth, which may have caused an extinction at the end of the period.
Overview of well-preserved Archaeopteris root system, left, and possible Stigmarian Isoetalean lycopsid.Overview of well-preserved Archaeopteris root system, left, and possible Stigmarian Isoetalean lycopsid.
“That’s sort of the opposite of what we’re experiencing today, with the possibility of an extinction as well,” Stein said. So in that sense, history matters. If we look at the origin of these forests and their effects, and particularly the plants themselves and what they’re doing, we may have an insight into processes that are going on today.”

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Fermenting ferns? Rare dinosaur stomach fossil opens door to ancient world – News Talk 650 CKOM

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Fresh ferns, loaded with spores, lightly dusted with leaves and twigs and perfectly seasoned with locally sourced charcoal.

Sound good? It did to an ankylosaur about 110 million years ago, as evidenced by amazingly complete fossils of what was certainly the tank-like dinosaur’s last meal.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Caleb Brown, a curator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and co-author of a paper published Tuesday on what is one of probably only three fossilized dinosaur stomachs discovered.

“We can start recontructing the life histories and ecologies of these animals.”

The dining dinosaur was first unearthed in 2011 in a northern Alberta Suncor oilsands mine, where many excavators have learned to look for fossils as they dig. When this one turned up, a crew from the Tyrrell followed shortly afterward.

It was an amazingly well-preserved ankylosaur from the early Cretaceous period. Low but large — the species could reach eight metres long and weigh eight tonnes — the fossil took two weeks to remove.

It then took 5 1/2 years for technician Mark Mitchell to clean and prepare it, which is why the species now bears the Latin name markmitchelli. The restored specimen, complete with body armour and outer skin, was remarkable enough for a 2017 National Geographic magazine feature.  

But for paleontologists, the fun was just starting. They began looking at a fossilized structure that co-author Jim Basinger of the University of Saskatchewan described as looking like a “squashed basketball.”

It was in the right place for a stomach and it held gastroliths, small stones dinosaurs used to help digest their food, much as some birds do today.

“There’s a great mess of them and they’re quite distinctive,” said Basinger.

The scientists eventually compiled 16 pieces of evidence that the squashed basketball was, in fact, a stomach.  

“It’s unquestionable,” Basinger said.

There are only two other fossilized stomachs in the world that scientists are this sure about. Neither opens doors to the past the way this one does.

About 80 per cent of this last meal was a particular species of ferns. The fossils are so well preserved their spores identify them.

There are bits of other plants and twigs so immaculate that their growth rings are being used to estimate weather at the time. And there is charcoal from burned woody material.

Brown points out ferns aren’t that nutritious. A beast this size would need digestion capable of getting the most from them.

That means this dinosaur may have fermented its food, much like many animals today.

“All big herbivores today use some form of fermentation,” Brown said. “For this animal, it was almost certainly fermenting those ferns.”

Which raises other interesting questions: How much fermented fern does it take to move an eight-tonne lizard? How much energy might it need? Where might that much fodder be found?

The charcoal provides a clue. It probably came from an ancient forest fire where ferns would have been abundant in the first flush of new growth, much as they are today.

“(The dinosaur) was taking advantage of a charred landscape,” Basinger said. Many modern animals do the same, chowing down on tender, nutritious and low-hanging new growth that follows the flames.

More than just reassembling skeletons, modern paleontology is starting to rebuild ecosystems that haven’t existed for millions and millions of years.

“That’s something we can start playing with,” Brown said. 

The fossils tell individual stories, too.

Basinger said, given the undigested contents of its stomach, this ankylosaur died quickly. It was surrounded by marine fossils, and researchers believe it slipped or fell into a large river, where it drowned and was swept out to sea.

“Whatever happened to the poor dinosaur, it would have happened pretty fast after it had eaten.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2020

— Follow at @row1960 on Twitter

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Fermenting ferns? Rare dinosaur stomach fossil opens door to ancient world – The Observer

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Fresh ferns, loaded with spores, lightly dusted with leaves and twigs and perfectly seasoned with locally sourced charcoal.

Sound good? It did to an ankylosaur about 110 million years ago, as evidenced by amazingly complete fossils of what was certainly the tank-like dinosaur’s last meal.

article continues below

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Caleb Brown, a curator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and co-author of a paper published Tuesday on what is one of probably only three fossilized dinosaur stomachs discovered.

“We can start recontructing the life histories and ecologies of these animals.”

The dining dinosaur was first unearthed in 2011 in a northern Alberta Suncor oilsands mine, where many excavators have learned to look for fossils as they dig. When this one turned up, a crew from the Tyrrell followed shortly afterward.

It was an amazingly well-preserved ankylosaur from the early Cretaceous period. Low but large — the species could reach eight metres long and weigh eight tonnes — the fossil took two weeks to remove.

It then took 5 1/2 years for technician Mark Mitchell to clean and prepare it, which is why the species now bears the Latin name markmitchelli. The restored specimen, complete with body armour and outer skin, was remarkable enough for a 2017 National Geographic magazine feature.

But for paleontologists, the fun was just starting. They began looking at a fossilized structure that co-author Jim Basinger of the University of Saskatchewan described as looking like a “squashed basketball.”

It was in the right place for a stomach and it held gastroliths, small stones dinosaurs used to help digest their food, much as some birds do today.

“There’s a great mess of them and they’re quite distinctive,” said Basinger.

The scientists eventually compiled 16 pieces of evidence that the squashed basketball was, in fact, a stomach.

“It’s unquestionable,” Basinger said.

There are only two other fossilized stomachs in the world that scientists are this sure about. Neither opens doors to the past the way this one does.

About 80 per cent of this last meal was a particular species of ferns. The fossils are so well preserved their spores identify them.

There are bits of other plants and twigs so immaculate that their growth rings are being used to estimate weather at the time. And there is charcoal from burned woody material.

Brown points out ferns aren’t that nutritious. A beast this size would need digestion capable of getting the most from them.

That means this dinosaur may have fermented its food, much like many animals today.

“All big herbivores today use some form of fermentation,” Brown said. “For this animal, it was almost certainly fermenting those ferns.”

Which raises other interesting questions: How much fermented fern does it take to move an eight-tonne lizard? How much energy might it need? Where might that much fodder be found?

The charcoal provides a clue. It probably came from an ancient forest fire where ferns would have been abundant in the first flush of new growth, much as they are today.

“(The dinosaur) was taking advantage of a charred landscape,” Basinger said. Many modern animals do the same, chowing down on tender, nutritious and low-hanging new growth that follows the flames.

More than just reassembling skeletons, modern paleontology is starting to rebuild ecosystems that haven’t existed for millions and millions of years.

“That’s something we can start playing with,” Brown said.

The fossils tell individual stories, too.

Basinger said, given the undigested contents of its stomach, this ankylosaur died quickly. It was surrounded by marine fossils, and researchers believe it slipped or fell into a large river, where it drowned and was swept out to sea.

“Whatever happened to the poor dinosaur, it would have happened pretty fast after it had eaten.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2020

— Follow at @row1960 on Twitter

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Western Canadian scientists discover what an armoured dinosaur ate for its last meal – Yorkton This Week

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More than 110 million years ago, a lumbering 1,300-kilogram, armour-plated dinosaur ate its last meal, died, and was washed out to sea in what is now northern Alberta. This ancient beast then sank onto its thorny back, churning up mud in the seabed that entombed it—until its fossilized body was discovered in a mine near Fort McMurray in 2011.  

Since then, researchers at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alta., Brandon University (BU), and the University of Saskatchewan (USask) have been working to unlock the extremely well-preserved nodosaur’s many secrets—including what this large armoured dinosaur (a type of ankylosaur) actually ate for its last meal.  

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“The finding of the actual preserved stomach contents from a dinosaur is extraordinarily rare, and this stomach recovered from the mummified nodosaur by the museum team is by far the best-preserved dinosaur stomach ever found to date,” said USask geologist Jim Basinger, a member of the team that analyzed the dinosaur’s stomach contents, a distinct mass about the size of a soccer ball. 

“When people see this stunning fossil and are told that we know what its last meal was because its stomach was so well preserved inside the skeleton, it will almost bring the beast back to life for them, providing a glimpse of how the animal actually carried out its daily activities, where it lived, and what its preferred food was.”  

There has been lots of speculation about what dinosaurs ate, but very little known. In a just-published article in Royal Society Open Science, the team led by Royal Tyrrell Museum palaeontologist Caleb Brown and Brandon University biologist David Greenwood provides detailed and definitive evidence of the diet of large, plant-eating dinosaurs—something that has not been known conclusively for any herbivorous dinosaur until now. 

“This new study changes what we know about the diet of large herbivorous dinosaurs,” said Brown. “Our findings are also remarkable for what they can tell us about the animal’s interaction with its environment, details we don’t usually get just from the dinosaur skeleton.” 

Previous studies had shown evidence of seeds and twigs in the gut, but these studies offered no information as to the kinds of plants that had been eaten. While tooth and jaw shape, plant availability and digestibility have fuelled considerable speculation, the specific plants herbivorous dinosaurs consumed has been largely a mystery. 

So what was the last meal of Borealopelta markmitchelli (which means “northern shield” and recognizes Mark Mitchell, the museum technician who spent more than five years carefully exposing the skin and bones of the dinosaur from the fossilized marine rock)? 

“The last meal of our dinosaur was mostly fern leaves—88 per cent chewed leaf material and seven per cent stems and twigs,” said Greenwood, who is also a USask adjunct professor.  

“When we examined thin sections of the stomach contents under a microscope, we were shocked to see beautifully preserved and concentrated plant material. In marine rocks we almost never see such superb preservation of leaves, including the microscopic, spore-producing sporangia of ferns.” 

Team members Basinger, Greenwood and BU graduate student Jessica Kalyniuk compared the stomach contents with food plants known to be available from the study of fossil leaves from the same period in the region. They found that the dinosaur was a picky eater, choosing to eat particular ferns (leptosporangiate, the largest group of ferns today) over others, and not eating many cycad and conifer leaves common to the Early Cretaceous landscape.  

Specifically, the team identified 48 palynomorphs (microfossils like pollen and spores) including moss or liverwort, 26 clubmosses and ferns, 13 gymnosperms (mostly conifers), and two angiosperms (flowering plants). 

“Also, there is considerable charcoal in the stomach from burnt plant fragments, indicating that the animal was browsing in a recently burned area and was taking advantage of a recent fire and the flush of ferns that frequently emerges on a burned landscape,” said Greenwood. 

“This adaptation to a fire ecology is new information. Like large herbivores alive today such as moose and deer, and elephants in Africa, these nodosaurs by their feeding would have shaped the vegetation on the landscape, possibly maintaining more open areas by their grazing.”  

The team also found gastroliths, or gizzard stones, generally swallowed by animals such as herbivorous dinosaurs and today’s birds such as geese, to aid digestion.  

“We also know that based on how well-preserved both the plant fragments and animal itself are, the animal’s death and burial must have followed shortly after the last meal,” said Brown. “Plants give us a much better idea of season than animals, and they indicate that the last meal and the animal’s death and burial all happened in the late spring to mid-summer.” 

“Taken together, these findings enable us to make inferences about the ecology of the animal, including how selective it was in choosing which plants to eat and how it may have exploited forest fire regrowth. It will also assist in understanding of dinosaur digestion and physiology.” 

Borealopelta markmitchelli, discovered during mining operations at the Suncor Millennium open pit mine north of Fort McMurray, has been on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum since 2017. The main chunk of the stomach mass is on display with the skeleton. 

Other members of the team include museum scientists Donald Henderson and Dennis Braman, and BU research associate and USask alumna Cathy Greenwood.  

Research continues on Borealopelta markmitchelli—the best fossil of a nodosaur ever found—to learn more about its environment and behaviour while it was alive. Kalyniuk is currently expanding her work on fossil plants of this age to better understand the composition of the forests in which it lived. Many of the fossils she will examine are in Basinger’s collections at USask. 

The research was funded by Canada Foundation for Innovation, Research Manitoba, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, National Geographic Society, Royal Tyrrell Museum Cooperating Society, and Suncor Canada, as well as in-kind support from Olympus Canada. 

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