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Antarctic amphibian from 245 million years ago

Sarda Sahney (UK) The beautiful thing about the Antarctic is that it is one of Earth’s last unexplored frontiers. New climatoligical, geological and palaeontological advances are regularly made on this continent and, recently, the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology announced the discovery here of a fossilised amphibian that lived more than 245Ma during the Triassic period. Its presence suggests that the climate at the time here was mild enough to allow cold-blooded creatures to live near Pangea’s southern margin, at least seasonally. This news is of particular relevance to my work, so I was very excited when I heard about it. For those of you who want to get technical, the amphibian, Parotosuchus was a large predatory temnospondyl that inhabited lakes and rivers. Put more prosaically, it was basically a 2m (6.5ft) long animal that superficially resembled a modern day crocodile, but was actually an amphibian. Fig. 1. Parotosuchus , discovered in the Fremouw Formation of the Transantarctic Montains. Parotosuchus differs from modern-day amphibians because of its form, large size and the fact that it was covered in a scaly skin. It was similar in that it was amphibious, so liked to live both in the water and on land (but never far from the water), and also swam in an eel-like fashion. Previously, Parotosuchus remains have been discovered in Germany, Kazakhstan, Russia and South Africa. In fact, southern Africa was, until now, considered to be its most southerly range. However, in the Triassic period, Africa and Antarctica were joined together … Read More

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Fossil forests in the freezer

Stephen McLoughlin (Sweden) South of the craggy limits of Patagonia, Africa and Tasmania, and beyond the piercing gales of the roaring forties and the furious fifties, lies Antarctica – the last great continent on Earth to be explored. Straddling the South Pole, it lies frozen in a winter that has lasted millions of years. Today, only a few plant species more robust than mosses eke out a harsh existence on its warmest fringes. The bitter cold and screaming katabatic winds (a katabatic wind is one that carries high density air down a slope under the force of gravity) that drain off the continental interior mean that few plants and animals can survive in Antarctica year-round. However, this has not always been the case. Through much of deep time, it has not been the ‘white continent’ but a land of green forests and lush swamps. This forested landscape provided habitats for a wide range of terrestrial animals for most of the past 400 million years. The continent’s central location within the ancient southern supercontinent of Gondwana also meant that it held an important role in the exchange of plants and animals between the southern lands. Fig. 1. Map of Antarctica showing the Permian-Triassic basins. Early clues Little was known about Antarctica’s geology or fossil heritage until ‘the heroic era of exploration’ began to unlock the continent’s secrets in the 1800s. Some of the first explorers to realize that vegetation once clothed Antarctica’s landscape were the members of Captain Robert Scott’s team, … Read More

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