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Paleontologists at work at the dinosaur site of Lo Hueco (Cuenca, Spain).

Vertebrate paleontology is a large subfield to paleontology seeking to discover the behavior, reproduction and appearance of extinct animals with vertebrae or a notochord, through the study of their fossilized remains. It also tries to connect, by using the evolutionary timeline, the animals of the past and their modern-day relatives.

The fossil record shows aspects of the meandering evolutionary path from early aquatic vertebrates to mammals, with a host of transitional fossils, though there are still large blank areas. The earliest known fossil vertebrates were heavily armored fish discovered in rocks from the Ordovician Period about 500 to 430 Ma (megaannum, million years ago). The Devonian Period (395 to 345 Ma) brought in the changes that allowed primitive air-breathing fish to remain on land as long as they wished, thus becoming the first terrestrial vertebrates, the amphibians.

Amphibians developed forms of reproduction and locomotion and a metabolism better suited for life exclusively on land, becoming more reptilian. Full fledged reptiles appeared in the Carboniferous Period (345 to 280 Ma).

The reptilian changes and adaptations to diet and geography are chronicled in the fossil record of the varying forms of therapsida. True mammals showed up in the Triassic Period (225 to 190 Ma) around the same time as the dinosaurs, which also sprouted from the reptilian line.

Birds first diverged from dinosaurs between 100 Ma and 60 Ma.[1]

History[edit]

One of the people who helped figure out the vertebrate progression was French zoologist Georges Cuvier (1769–1832), who realized that fossils found in older rock strata differed greatly from more recent fossils or modern animals. He published his findings in 1812 and, although he steadfastly refuted evolution, his work proved the (at the time) contested theory of extinction of species.[2]

Thomas Jefferson is credited with initiating the science of vertebrate paleontology in the United States with the reading of a paper to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia in 1797. Jefferson presented fossil bones of a ground sloth found in a cave in western Virginia and named the genus (Megalonyx). The species was ultimately named Megalonyx jeffersonii in his honor.[3][4][5] Jefferson corresponded with Cuvier, including sending him a shipment of highly desirable bones of the American mastodon and the woolly mammoth.[6]

Paleontology really got started though, with the publication of Recherches sur les poissons fossils (1833–1843) by Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz (1807–1873). He studied, described and listed hundreds of species of fossil fish, beginning the serious study into the lives of extinct animals. With the publication of the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin in 1849, the field got a theoretical framework. Much of the subsequent work has been to map the relationship between fossil and extant organisms, as well at their history through time.

In modern times, Alfred Romer (1894–1973) wrote what has been termed the definitive textbook on the subject, called Vertebrate Paleontology.[7] It shows the progression of evolution in fossil fish, and amphibians and reptiles through comparative anatomy, including a list of all the (then) known fossil vertebrate genera. Romer became the first president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in 1940, alongside co-founder Howard Chiu. An updated work that largely carried on the tradition from Romer, and by many considered definitive book on the subject was written by Robert L. Carroll of McGill University, the 1988 text Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution. Carroll was president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in 1983. The Society keeps its members informed on the latest discoveries through newsletters and the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Paleontological Vertebrate Classification[edit]

Classical spindle diagram of the evolution of the vertebrates at class level.

The 'traditional' vertebrate classification scheme employ evolutionary taxonomy where several of the taxa listed are paraphyletic, i.e. have given rise to another taxa that have been given the same rank. For instance, birds are generally considered to be the descendants of reptiles (Saurischian dinosaurs to be precise), but in this system both are listed as separate classes. Under phylogenetic nomenclature, such an arrangement is unacceptable, though it offers excellent overview.

This classical scheme is still used in works where systematic overview is essential, e.g. Benton (1998), Hildebrand and Goslow (2001) and Knobill and Neill (2006).[8][9][10] While mostly seen in general works, it is also still used in some specialist works like Fortuny & al. (2011).[11]

Kingdom Animalia

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hackett, S.J., Kimball, R.T., Reddy, S., Bowie, R.C.K., Braun, E.L., Braun, M.J., Chojnowski, J.L., Cox, W.A., Han, K-L., Harshman, J., Huddleston, C.J., Marks, B.D., Miglia, K.J., Moore, W.S., Sheldon, F.H., Steadman, D.W., Witt, C.C. and Yuri T. (2008) A phylogenomic study of birds reveals their evolutionary history. Science. 320: 1763-1768.
  2. ^ Rudwick, Martin. Georges Cuvier, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes, (Chicago: Chicago University Press), 1997.
  3. ^ Jefferson, Thomas, "A Memoir on the Discovery of Certain Bones of a Quadruped of the Clawed Kind in the Western Parts of Virginia", Read before the American Philosophical Society, March 10, 1797. The "certain bones" consisted of three large claws and associated smaller bones. He theorized that they were the remains of an extinct lion which he named Megalonyx ("giant claw"). In 1799, Dr. Caspar Wistar correctly identified the remains as belonging to a giant ground sloth. In 1822 Wistar officially named it Megalonyx jeffersonii.
  4. ^ Jefferson, Thomas (1799), "A Memoir on the Discovery of Certain Bones of a Quadruped of the Clawed Kind in the Western Parts of Virginia", Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 4 pp. 246-260.
  5. ^ Wistar, Caspar (1799), "A Description of the Bones Deposited, by the President, in the Museum of the Society, and Represented in the Annexed Plates", Transactions, pp. 526-531, plates.
  6. ^ Rice, Howard C, Jr., "Jefferson's Gift of Fossils to the Museum of Natural History in Paris," Proceeding of the American Philosophical Society, 95 (1958): 597-627.
  7. ^ Smith, C.H. (2005): Romer, Alfred Sherwood (United States 1894-1973), homepage from Western Kentucky University
  8. ^ Benton, M. J. (1998) The quality of the fossil record of vertebrates. Pp. 269-303, in Donovan, S. K. and Paul, C. R. C. (eds), The adequacy of the fossil record, Fig. 2. Wiley, New York, 312 pp.
  9. ^ Hildebrand, M. & G. E. Goslow, Jr. Principal ill. Viola Hildebrand. (2001). Analysis of vertebrate structure. New York: Wiley. p. 429. ISBN 0-471-29505-1. 
  10. ^ Neill, J.D. (ed.) (2006): Knobil and Neill’s Physiology of Reproduction, Vol 2, Academic Press, 3rd edition (p. 2177)
  11. ^ Fortuny, J., Bolet, A., Sellés, A.G., J. Cartanyà, J. & À. Galobart, À. (2011): New insights on the Permian and Triassic vertebrates from the Iberian Peninsula with emphasis on the Pyrenean and Catalonian basins. Journal of Iberian Geology no 37 (1): pp 65-86 doi:10.5209/rev_JIGE.2011.v37.n1.5

Further reading[edit]

  • Anderson, Jason S.and Sues, Hans-Dieter (eds.) (2007). Major Transitions in Vertebrate Evolution. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253349265. 
  • Carroll, Robert L. (1997). Patterns and Processes of Vertebrate Evolution. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521478090. 

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vertebrate_paleontology — Please support Wikipedia.
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The River City News

The River City News
Sat, 30 Aug 2014 17:56:15 -0700

In the early 1700s, fossilized remains of mastodons, wooly mammoths, and ground sloths were discovered here, and the park is known as the “Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology.” In addition, it's been discovered that Delaware and Shawnee ...
 
The Edwardsville Intelligencer
Fri, 29 Aug 2014 08:45:00 -0700

The Linda Hall Library Fall Lecture Series will transport attendees to the Panama Canal, tropical reefs and outer space, educating and entertaining along the way. As the world's foremost independent research library devoted to science, engineering and ...

CALIFORNIA

CALIFORNIA
Wed, 20 Aug 2014 16:10:16 -0700

“Some are sitting in open wooden shelving, others are in cardboard file boxes, and the rest are in old storage cases,” says Bob Dundas, department chair and associate professor of vertebrate paleontology at Cal State Fresno, who led a major curatorial ...
 
Christian Science Monitor
Wed, 27 Aug 2014 15:30:00 -0700

In the process, dragon fish may become the latest poster child for a feature of biology known as developmental plasticity, adds Hans Larsson, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Vertebrate Paleontology at McGill University's Redpath Museum in ...
 
Finger Lakes Times
Sun, 24 Aug 2014 05:00:00 -0700

Thomas R. Holtz Jr., a senior lecturer in vertebrate paleontology at the University of Maryland, responded that he believed the rock was actually a very worn specimen of a horn coral, or rugosan, which was common during the middle parts of the ...
 
Darien Times
Sun, 24 Aug 2014 06:52:30 -0700

Ingrid Lundeen, who is returning to the University of Michigan to study vertebrate paleontology, also studied physical anthropology at Tulane University. She studied abroad in Madagascar and Kenya. In Madagascar ,she designed and executed a research ...
 
Rapid City Journal
Tue, 19 Aug 2014 10:48:45 -0700

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National Geographic

National Geographic
Wed, 06 Aug 2014 05:00:00 -0700

The last participant was paleontologist Patrick Druckenmiller from The University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he has the same position as I have in Norway (head of vertebrate paleontology collections). The site was spectacular, remote and cold, with the ...
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