U of S Professor's geological work featured in Nature brief

A University of Saskatchewan researcher is challenging the long belief that a group of ocean creatures known as trilobites were essentially restricted to open-marine settings.

The paper published in Geology this month and covered by Nature, argues that this well-known fossil group of extinct marine arthropods was likely able to venture into very shallow water of the upper portion of ancient tidal flats.

"Discoveries like this are so important because they are at the core of our understanding of early evolutionary breakthroughs," said Professor Gabriela Mángano, from the Department of Geological Sciences at the U of S.

Mángano and her colleagues from the U of S, Universidad Nacional de Cordoba in Argentina and the University of Western Alabama, found that rock deposits from ancient tidal flats reveal that trilobites moved closer to the land during the Cambrian explosion some 540 million years ago. This period is when almost all modern groups of animals appeared for the first time in the fossil record and the tidal flats likely served as a rich area for the creatures to forage food and for nesting activities.

The team discovered fossilized tracks of trilobites in rocks from the Appalachian Mountains. The rocks also showed signs of cracks from periodic drying, suggesting prolonged exposure to subaerial conditions.

Trilobites are distantly related to crabs, scorpions and beetles and were once widely distributed. This makes them useful tools to compare the ages of rock strata in different parts of the world, said Mángano

The paper titled "Trilobites in early Cambrian tidal flats and the landward expansion of the Cambrian explosion" was co-authored by Luis A. Buatois (U of S), Ricardo Astini (Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, Argentina) Andrew K. Rindsberg (University of Western Alabama, USA)


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Jennifer Thoma

Media relations

University of Saskatchewan

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