“…a man who has to live in hell had better be drunk than sober”

24 06 2007

I came across this passage in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle last night and found it especially powerful. It is disheartening to see that in the century that has passed since the book was initially published, conditions for immigrant workers have not greatly improved, and after reading this book it seems that recent works like Fast Food Nation and the film Super Size Me have very much in common with Sinclair’s story. Anyway, in the scene I’m about to quote from, our protagonist Jurgis finds shelter from the cold inside a church as there is no where else to stay warm;

The evangelist was preaching “sin and redemption,” the infinte grace of God and His pardon for human frailty. He was very much in earnest, and he meant well, but Jurgis, as he listened, found his soul filled with contempt for him – he would have liked to stand up and hoot at him, to get up there and punch him. What did he know about sin and suffering – with his smooth, black coat and his neatly-starched collar, his body warm, and his belly full, and money in his pocket – and lecturing men who were struggling for their lives, men at the death-grapple with the demon powers of hunger and cold! He had managed to get the good things of life, somwhow – but why at least could he not go off and enjoy them, without coming to taunt the poor with their misfortune? – This, of course, was very disrespectful, even impious; but it was how Jurgis felt, and it was how the vast majority of the men felt, while they listened, held prisoners by the cold. There men were out of touch with the life they discussed; they were unfitted to solve its problems; nay, they themselves were part of the problem – they were part of the order established, that was crushing men down and beating them! They were of the triumphant and insolent possessors – they had a hall, and a fire, and food and clothing and money, and so they might preach to hungry men, and the hungry men must be humble and listen! They were trying to save their souls – and who but a fool could fail to see that all that was the matter with their souls was that they had not been able to get a decent existence for their bodies? They were preaching about vice – and why did a workingman have to live with low women, save that he could not afford to marry a decent girl? They were preaching about drunkenness – and what made workingmen drink but repulsive homes, expose and hunger, over-work and uncertain employment – the fact, in a word, that his life was a hell, and that a man who has to live in hell had better be drunk than sober.

Update the 1st; A number of hours after I finished The Jungle (the last 1/4 reading essentially being a socialist propaganda tract) I watched the 1999 film Instinct with my wife, which was inspired by the Daniel Quinn novel Ishmael. While the movie did not go as deeply into the topic as the book likely does (Ishmael now being on my summer reading list as well), it was interesting to think about Quinn’s concepts of “takers” and “leavers” in the context of what I had just been reading in Sinclair’s book as well as Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. For some reason I seem to jump from book to book that is somehow connected to one another, although this is certainly because I’m picking up on similar concepts that are fresh in my mind and making associations where things are similar.





Blister in the sun

23 06 2007

I don’t think I can muster up anything substantial today; my wife and I spent a few hours at the beach (we forgot sunscreen, so I am red as a lobster) and then went out for dinner, so I’m just about ready for my nap. I read the first 14 pages of The Beak of the Finch to my wife while we were down the shore, and even though the author uses one of my least favorite terms (“Darwinist”) here and there, it seems to be very well written and I am sure I will enjoy it. And now, to sleep…





Best Wife Ever

23 06 2007

My wifer truly know that books are the way to my heart; she picked up a copy of The Beak of the Finch for me yesterday while picking up some surprise 1st anniversary gift, and we’re probably headed back there soon as she spied some low-priced Stephen Jay Gould books too. I’m not sure if I should be allowed to visit a real used book store, however; I may try to come home with the entire science section.

And now it’s off to the beach…





More papers, argh!; Mammoths and Dinosaur Genomes

22 06 2007

This is what happens when I’m allowed access to scientific journals; I fill my brain up with tasty new information and then burn myself out. I’d really love to post about two other papers I came across in Current Biology (as well as another about lions in Conservation Ecology) but I doubt that I have the strength to do it. If you’re so inclined (and have access), check out “Genetic Structure and Extinction of the Woolly Mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius” and “Evolutionary Genomics: A Dinosaur’s View of Genome-Size Evolution.” For those who love big cats, check out the paper “Modeling the Effects of Trophy Selection and Environmental Disturbance on a Simulated Population of African Lions.





A Real-Life “Big, Bad Wolf”

22 06 2007

Mexican Wolf
A Mexican Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), the most genetically-distinct subspecies of Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

One of the most famous stories in the history of paleontology is of how William Buckland, the noted 19th century geologist, determined that a pack of hyenas once inhabited Kirkdale Cave in Yorkshire, England by observing the markings living hyenas made on bones at the zoo. While the science of taphonomy would not fully emerge until the next century, it became clear that fossil bones could tell us about scavengers and predators as well as the preserved prey. It’s no surprise that hyenas especially would “make their mark” on so many bones, the extant Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta being well known for its jaw strength and ability to crack bone (which provides mothers with extra calcium for milk, and these hyenas nurse their young for a relatively long period of time as pups are not weaned until they are a year older or more). Now, a new study of various wolf remains reveals a Pleistocene predator distinct from the Grey Wolves in Yellowstone or anywhere else in North America. The abstract of the new Current Biology paper “Megafaunal Extinctions and the Disappearance of a Specialized Wolf Ecomorph” by Leonard, et al. states;

The gray wolf (Canis lupus) is one of the few large predators to survive the Late Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions. Nevertheless, wolves disappeared from northern North America in the Late Pleistocene, suggesting they were affected by factors that eliminated other species. Using skeletal material collected from Pleistocene permafrost deposits of eastern Beringia, we present a comprehensive analysis of an extinct vertebrate by exploring genetic (mtDNA), morphologic, and isotopic (d 13C, d 15N) data to reveal the evolutionary relationships, as well as diet and feeding behavior, of ancient wolves. Remarkably, the Late Pleistocene wolves are genetically unique and morphologically distinct. None of the 16 mtDNA haplotypes recovered from a sample of 20 Pleistocene eastern-Beringian wolves was shared with any modern wolf, and instead they appear most closely related to Late Pleistocene wolves of Eurasia. Moreover, skull
shape, tooth wear, and isotopic data suggest that eastern-Beringian wolves were specialized hunters and scavengers of extinct megafauna. Thus, a previously unrecognized, uniquely adapted, and genetically distinct wolf ecomorph suffered extinction in the Late Pleistocene, along with other megafauna. Consequently, the survival of the species in North America depended on the presence of more generalized forms elsewhere.

Unfortunately there are no photographs or illustrations of the skulls studied to reach these conclusions, but as with other mammals the condition and placement of the teeth is absolutely key. This extinct group of wolves had a much higher amount of tooth wear and fracture than modern wolves (or even other groups of extinct carnivores like Dire Wolves and Saber-Toothed Cats), as well as having a skull shape that would have granted them greater bite forces. These wolves also seem to have had a relatively deep (I assume we’re talking from top to bottom) jaws, characteristic of bone-crackers like hyenas and living wolves that take down large prey. This wolf was not particularly larger than wolves currently living in Alaska or fossil wolves from the La Brea Tar Pits, but the construction of its skull and tooth wear make it apparent that it certainly was an effective predator and scavenger.

The evolution of these wolves is also covered in the paper, and it seems that the bone-crushing wolves and extant wolves share a common ancestor that came from Europe or elsewhere in the Old World, the genetic tests showing that the “new” wolves were not the ancestors of modern Grey Wolves. Instead, it seems that the more robust wolves to the north were middle-weights as far as carnivore ecology (Dire Wolves being larger, Coyotes being smaller), and when Dire Wolves became extinct the Grey Wolves began to become adapted to taking larger prey and cracking bones. The authors of the paper suggest that being an overspecialized “hypercarnivore” may have ultimately done the wolf in, its more generalized southern cousins better able to adapt to changing conditions at the end of the Pleistocene. I’m not particularly sure about this argument, but I’m not expert enough to prove it incorrect either.

In any event, I hope more researchers dive into the mountains of fossil remains languishing in museums all over the world; I almost have to wonder if there are just as many species waiting in dusty cabinets as there are still waiting in the rock.





Summer reading preview

22 06 2007

So much to read, so little time. For those of you who are interested in my rather lengthy amazon.com wish list (click the button to the right if), here’s a preview of what you can expect my opinion on in the coming days and weeks;

The Age of Reptiles by Edwin H. Colbert

Nothing like an old, lavishly illustrated book about tetrapods. It may be outdated, but it’ll give me some more background on the intellectual/cultural evolution of the “ruling reptiles.”

The Dechronization of Sam Magruder by G.G. Simpson

You might be familiar with G.G. Simpson’s books about evolution, horses, and penguins, but in this (his only fictional work, published in the 80’s) Simpson tells the tale of time-travelling scientist Sam Magruder, who vindicates Simpsons ideas about dinosaurs through direct observation. Sounds like beach reading to me.

Fatalis by Jeff Rovin

Saber-tooth cats in present day LA. ‘Nuff said.

The Ultimate Dinosaur by Various Authors

A collection of essays, short stories, and works of art by various scientists, authors, and artists.

Bring ’em Back Petrified by Lilian McLaughlin Brown

One of several books celebrated fossil-hunter Barnum Brown’s wife wrote about life married to the paleontologist.

A Primate’s Memoir by Robert Sapolsky

I’ve heard so many good things about this book I couldn’t put it off anymore; Sapolsky tells of his studies among baboons in Africa, including how he came to be in such a position in the first place.

The Dragon Seekers: How an Extraordinary Circle of Fossilists Discovered the Dinosaurs and Paved the Way for Darwin by Christopher McGowan

I enjoyed some of McGowan’s other writings, so I thought I would give this one a shot. Dinosaurs certainly shook things up in terms of geology, ideas about extinction, and evolution, but I know that some (like Richard Owen) tried very hard to make them seem like more-perfect ancient creations rather than products of evolution.

The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction by David Quammen

Another book that I simply could not put off any longer; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed some of Quammen’s articles and other books, and being that extinction is one of my favorite topics, how could I pass this one up?

The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan

I know, I know; shame on me for not reading it sooner.

Vertebrate Paleontology by A.S. Romer

I still don’t have enough scratch for Osteology of the Reptiles, but I figured this might be a good primer. I definitely need to broaden my background when it comes to vertebrates, and I figured Romer’s work might be a good place to start.

The Origin and Evolution of Birds by Alan Feduccia

Given my recent criticisms of Feduccia, it’s only fair that I read his book. This should be an interesting companion to Heilmann’s 1923 book The Origin of Birds, (as well as Romer’s discussion of bird origins in Man and the Vertebrates Vol. I) and I’m definitely interesting in seeing how much has and has not changed since that time.

I should polish off The Jungle within the next day, at which point I’m on to Green Rage by Christopher Manes (a book I was suppossed to read in freshman year of college, but I never got around to it) until the new stuff starts coming in.





Learning to fear predators, OR Ecologists have more fun

22 06 2007

One of the most well-known (albeit misunderstood) tales of extinction is that of the dodo; while the birds were capable of defending themselves if necessary, they generally did not fear sailors that came onto the islands. The dodos were beset by an invasion of men, pigs, rats, and other creatures they had no experience with, and the ecological degradation as well as their inability to consider man a predator led to the ultimate demise of the species. I can only wonder if the dodo would have persisted if their pressures upon it were not so acute; would it have learned to be wary of humans? That is a question that cannot be answered, but a new study by Dr. Joel Berger of the WCS has uncovered some surprising insights into predator-prey interactions, revealed in the new paper “Carnivore Repatriation and Holarctic Prey: Narrowing the Deficit in Ecological Effectiveness” in the journal Conservation Biology (and I just canceled my subscription due to lack of service too. Damn!)

Keystone predators have been nearly eradicated in their natural ranges all over the world, wolves, tigers, and brown bears being some of the most notable carnivores. In their absence, new generations of ungulates like moose and deer have never learned what a wolf howl or tiger growl sounds like, and so they have little response to the sounds and smells of predators. Using recordings (and perhaps even urine-soaked snowballs), Berger has found that prey animals typically do not react quickly to various stimulus that would indicate a predator they have no experience with. There have been efforts to reintroduce predators, however, and wolves were successfully brought back to Yellowstone in 1995. When Berger found was that the Bison in Yellowstone had learned to recognize wolf howls, responding even more strongly than bison in other areas that have had constant contact with wolves over many generations, showing that prey animals can indeed learn to fear predators again.

Also of importance is the area in which the prey is located when confronted with signs of a predator; snow depth and distance from cover may make a difference as to how prey reacts. Unfortunately I don’t have access to the whole article, but it sounds absolutely amazing. I can only imagine what it must have been like to undertake such a study; visiting locations all over the world in order to quiet fears that predators will decimate prey populations if introduced. So, I can has grant to continue research?

Paper abstract;

The continuing global decline of large carnivores has catalyzed great interest in reintroduction to restore populations and to reestablish ecologically functional relationships. I used variation in the distribution of four Holarctic prey species and their behavior as proxies to investigate the pace and intensity by which responses are lost or reinvigorated by carnivore repatriation. By simulating the presence of wolves (Canis lupus), tigers (Panthera tigris), and brown bears (Ursus arctos) at 19 transcontinental sites, I assayed three metrics of prey performance in areas with no large terrestrial carnivores (the polar islands of Greenland and Svalbard), extant native carnivores (Eastern Siberian Shield, boreal Canada, and Alaska); and repatriated carnivores (the Yellowstone region and Rocky Mountains). The loss and reestablishment of large carnivores changed the ecological effectiveness of systems by (1) dampening immediate group benefits, diminishing awareness, and diminishing flight reaction in caribou (Rangifer tarandus) where predation was eliminated and (2) reinstituting sensitivity to carnivores by elk (Cervus elaphus) and moose (Alces alces) in the Yellowstone region to levels observed in Asian elk when sympatric with Siberian tigers and wolves or in Alaskan moose sympatric with wolves. Behavioral compensation to reintroduced carnivores occurred within a single generation, but only the vigilance reaction of bison (Bison bison) in Yellowstone exceeded that of their wolf-exposed conspecifics from boreal Canada. Beyond these overt responses by prey, snow depth and distance to suitably vegetated habitat was related to heightened vigilance in moose and elk, respectively, but only at sites with carnivores. These findings are insufficient to determine whether similar patterns might apply to other species or in areas with alien predators, and they suggest that the presumed excessive vulnerability of naïve prey to repatriated carnivores may be ill-founded. Although behavior offers a proxy to evaluate ecological effectiveness, a continuing challenge will be to understand how naïve prey respond to novel or introduced predators.





You Want This Cat

22 06 2007

Beatrice

Just in case you all were wondering, we’re still fostering Beatrice, a lovely little tortie who needs a home. If you’re in or around central NJ (or even within a 2 hour drive or so) and are interested in adopting her, please let us know. Beatrice is two years old, she’s been spayed, she’s had all her shots, she gets along well with other cats (she used to be feral and lived with other cats), and she does not act aggressively towards people at all. If you’d like to know more, you can e-mail me at evogeek AT gmail DOT com.

Tracey & B





I’m going to have to card you…

22 06 2007

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

Mingle2Online Dating

Why? “This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

* hell (7x)
* sex (4x)
* kill (3x)
* murder (2x)
* dangerous (1x)”

I didn’t know that even the word “dangerous” is illicit, and (much like I did in 5th grade) I still maintain that “Hell” is not a curse (if that’s true the Bible must be rated XXX, cannibalism aside [i.e. Jer. 19:9 “I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh during the stress of the siege imposed on them by the enemies who seek their lives.”])

It looks like the rating only scans the front page though, so on any other day I’m sure I could get anywhere from a G to NC-17.

(Hat-tip to Pharyngula and Cocktail Party Physics)





The Lazarus Dinosaurs of James Fassett

21 06 2007

Here and there I had heard rumors of dinosaur fossils found above the K/T boundary, and I even remember one children’s book hypothesizing about dinosaurs that could survive in the cold, “nuclear winter” conditions that would have followed the asteroid impact which devastated life on earth. The thought that most dinosaurs made it into the Paleocene is a romantic notion, especially because dinosaurs were the “ruling reptiles” for so long, but there doesn’t seem to be much of anything to back up the idea. Still, some paleontologists, especially James Fassett, would beg to differ, and he has a new paper out entitled (*deep breath*) “The documentation of in-place dinosaur fossils in the Paleocene Ojo Alamo Sandstone and Animas Formation in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico and Colorado mandates a paradigm shift: dinosaurs can no longer be thought of as absolute index fossils for end-Cretaceous strata in the Western Interior of North America” in the journal New Mexico Geology (the link is only for the sake of completeness; the paper isn’t there). John Wilkins of Evolving Thoughts was kind enough to reproduce the abstract for us;

Extensive geochronologic studies of the rocks adjacent to the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) interface in the San Juan Basin have now provided compelling data attesting to the Paleocene age of the dinosaur-bearing Ojo Alamo Sandstone in New Mexico and the Animas Formation in Colorado. These data consist of radiometric age determinations for Cretaceous strata underlying the K-T interface and palynologic, paleomagnetic, and geochemical evidence attesting to the Paleocene age of the strata above the K-T interface. The identification of the paleomagnetic normal interval – C29n – in the dinosaur-bearing lower part of the Ojo Alamo Sandstone in the southern San Juan Basin at multiple localities allows for the precise dating of the last occurrence of Paleocene dinosaurs at the top of chron C29n at 64.432 Ma.

The conventional wisdom (entrenched dogma) among most geologists, and especially among vertebrate paleontologists has been, for more than 100 years, that all dinosaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous. Thus, dinosaur bone found in place in a formation provided indisputable evidence that the formation was Cretaceous in age. Now, with the discovery of Paleocene dinosaurs, the paradigm of Cretaceous-only dinosaurs must shift. Let us hope that this paradigm-shift will be a smooth and placid lateral-slip along planar fault blocks rather than a grumbling, rumbling, herky-jerky sliding of jagged-edged, opposing sides past each other. Science must always be conservative and accept such paradigm shifts only on the basis of the most solid evidence, however, when the data do finally speak, the shift must be accepted by all of us who follow the data in the noble pursuit of finding out how the world was made.

The first part wasn’t so bad, but the 2nd half is awfully cranky; maybe because Fassett has been trying to prove the existence of Paleocene dinosaurs for some time. He claims that scientists must be conservative and work from evidence, but apparently is very upset that other scientists have not yet accepted his evidence, playing the “they’re all dogmatic fundamentalists” card that is reminiscent of arguments by ID advocates and those who deny birds evolved from dinosaurs. Indeed, creationists have latched on to Fassett’s papers as proof that paleontologists don’t know what they’re doing, and while I am in no way suggesting that Fassett is a creationist or sympathetic to them, creationists clearly enjoy any findings that would seem to discredit the evolutionary biologists. Likewise, it is unlikely that all dinosaurs made it into the Paleocene, so forcing this issue is unproductive; we can only work from what we’ve got, not what we wish to be true.

In any case, Fassett’s hypothesis deserves at least a look; it certainly would be dogmatic of me to say that no dinosaurs survived 1 million years into the Paleocene “because I said so”. First, though, we need to take a look at some of the other supposed “Paleocene dinosaurs,” as this is not the first time the issue has come up. In 1987, Rigby Jr., et al. published the paper “”Dinosaurs from the Paleocene Part of the Hell Creek Formation, McCone County, Montana,” and the abstract (I don’t have access to the paper itself) states;

Dinosaur remains have been recovered from six localities in the uppermost part of the Hell Creek Formation, McCone County, Montana, which on the basis of stratigraphic placement and contained fossil pollen can be shown to be of Paleocene age. This modifies the argument that an extraterrestrial impact event at the Cretaceous / Tertiary (K/T) boundary caused dinosaur extinction (L. W. Alvarez et al., 1984; Alvarez et al., 1980). The occurrence of dinosaurs in sediments younger than the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary (Rigby, 1985; Rigby and Sloan, 1985; Sloan et al., 1986; and others) supports the argument that dinosaurs survived the impact event.

While I am no expert on the subject and could very well have missed some finds, most of the alleged fossils are bone fragments and teeth (teeth being especially durable), fossils that easily could be exhumed and reburied (=”reworked.” “Transport” means travelling some distance away from the original site and only sometimes is such material reworked) in Paleocene deposits (thus being buried with Paleocene-age pollen). To the best of my understanding, there are no Paleocene dinosaur tracks, no articulated Paleocene dinosaur skeletons (which means there was little disturbance/no reworking), no Paleocene dinosaur skulls, no Paleocene dinosaur nests, or anything that would absolutely rule out reworking in some form or another. One of the prominent locales at which this reworking occurs is the Hell Creek Formation of Montana, and the subject has already been dealt with at length in the literature. From the 1990 Lofgren, et al. paper “Reworking of Cretaceous dinosaurs into Paleocene channel, deposits, upper Hell Creek Formation, Montana“;

Dinosaur teeth from Paleocene channel fills have been interpreted as indicating dinosaur survival into the Paleocene. However, enormous potential for reworking exists because these records are restricted to large channel fills that are deeply incised into Cretaceous strata. Identification of reworked fossils is usually equivocal. This problem is illustrated by the Black Spring Coulee channel fill, a dinosaur-bearing Paleocene deposit in the upper Hell Creek Formation of eastern Montana. In this example, the reworked nature of well-preserved dinosaur bones is apparent only after detailed sedimentological and palynological analysis.

Because of the potential for reworking, dinosaur remains derived from Paleocene fluvial deposits should not be assigned a Paleocene age unless they (1) are found in floodplain deposits, (2) are articulated, (3) are in channels that do not incise Cretaceous strata, or (4) are demonstrably reworked from Paleocene deposits. To date, reports of “Paleocene” dinosaurs do not fulfill any of these criteria. Thus, the proposal that dinosaurs persisted into the Paleocene remains unsubstantiated.

[Although it is truncated, more details on Lofgren’s analysis can be found here]

Likewise, Buck et al. reports similar findings regarding dinosaur bone and egg shell fragments in the paper “‘Tertiary Dinosaurs’ in the Nanxiong Basin, Southern China, Are Reworked from the Cretaceous.” The report concludes;

Reworking of Cretaceous fossils carried in debris and mudflows deposited during the Tertiary can account for the mixed Cretaceous and Tertiary fossils. On the basis of previous paleontological data and our sedimentological data, we conclude that controversy regarding the presence of dinosaur fossils in Tertiary rocks is the result of sedimentological processes not previously recognized.

Fassett’s dinosaurs, however, are from a different place. In a two page paper from the “Catastrophic Events Conference” called “COMPELLING NEW EVIDENCE FOR PALEOCENE DINOSAURS IN THE OJO ALAMO SANDSTONE, SAN JUAN BASIN, NEW MEXICO AND COLORADO, USA,” Fassett et al. arrive at the following conclusion about a hardosaur femur found in the Ojo Alamo Sandstone;

We suggest that this animal lived in Tertiary time and died near the place where this silicified femur was found. As the corpse decayed, river currents disarticulated the skeleton, dispersing the lighter elements, and leaving this large massive bone behind to be quickly buried and silicified.

According to the researchers, the bone was far too heavy to be transported any distance and hence it’s unlikely it was reworked, so by the very virtue of its location it must have belonged to the Paleocene age. On top of that, pollen associated with the fossil only existed in the Paleocene and rare earth element (REE) analysis is cited as upholding the Paleocene distinction of the fossil. These claims have not gone without criticism, however. In a 2003 GSA presentation titled “NO PALEOCENE DINOSAURS IN THE SAN JUAN BASIN, NEW MEXICO,” Robert Sullivan determined that the pollen associated with some lignite found near the same level as the dinosaur fossils contained pollen that came from the latest Cretaceous (and a few from the K/T boundary), with no Paleocene pollen in sight. With this finding, the status of the hadrosaur fossil being genuine became even more dubious. Furthermore, David Fatovsky and Peter Sheehan responded directly to Fassett two years ago in an issue of GSA Today;

Fassett is wrong: Fassett cites two instances of pollen-dated dinosaur material, as well as magnetostratigraphic evidence. The first instance, an isolated femur, is likely reworked. In the second, re-analysis of pollen from the same locality indicates a Maastrichtian age (Sullivan et al., 2003). This is concordant with the recovery, in the same deposits, of Maastrichtian mammalian index taxa (Weil and Williamson, 2000).

With the biostratigraphy unresolved, the assignment of normal and reversed magnetic polarity zones in the SJB to global magnetochrons remains tenuous. The issue is further complicated by the likelihood of post-Paleocene remagnetization (Butler, 1985). We thus cannot rule out the possibility that the stratigraphy proposed by Fassett is flawed.

Fassett is right: Consider an analogy by paleontologist Peter Dodson (1993, personal commun.): we might see a Model T on the road, but we would never conclude that the car was part of a modern automotive (metaphorical) ecosystem. Even if a few dinosaurs survived a million years past the K-T boundary, dinosaurs were casualties of an extinction that, the best evidence suggests, was geologically instantaneous.

As Sheehan and Fatovsky rightly point out, even if Fassett’s bone was not reworked and belonged to a genuine Paleocene dinosaur, it does not prove that all dinosaurs jumped the boundary or that the K/T impact didn’t kill the dinosaurs. If Fassett’s analysis is accurate, then the last dinosaurs seem to have been remnants that died in the instant after their relatives; in the perspective of deep time, such dinosaurs would have died a split second after those killed because of the K/T impact. How likely is it that any dinosaurs survived the impact, though? If dinosaurs were to persist into the Paleocene, then there has to be a reason they survived and others did not. Fassett has some rather odd thoughts on this subject. Quote a 2001 GSA paper by Fassett;

It is suggested that these “Lazarus” dinosaurs may have survived the short period of maximum devastation, immediately following the impact, as eggs laid shortly before the impact occurred. Even though all mature dinosaurs were probably killed by the impact and the ensuing period of global darkness, their recently laid eggs would have provided a survival sanctuary for some of the developing dinosaur embryos for from one to two years. The San Juan Basin’s Paleocene dinosaur fauna is named the Alamoan fauna for the Ojo Alamo Sandstone, the formation in which these dinosaur fossils have been found.

Fasset even extends his hypothesis to state that frequent volcanic activity in North America prior to the end-Creataceous impact even selected dinosaurs who could survive ash-falls and other events associated withe eruptions. In a GSA presentation, Fassett argued;

Assuming even a modest compaction ratio of 10:1 for fresh-volcanic-ash/devitrified clay it is clear that these ash falls were meters thick – as much as 5.5 m for the thickest ash observed in these rocks! If we assume that the 7 dated ashes represent one-tenth of the eruptions that occurred during the 2.72 m.y., seventy such eruptions could have occurred during that time interval resulting in a frequency of one of these devastating events every forty-thousand years or so! These events, and their inevitable evolutionary consequences, must clearly have prepared the dinosaurs for the much more devastating end-Cretaceous event allowing some of them to live on into the Paleocene.

Granted, I have not read the actual papers, but this doesn’t make much sense to me. Dinosaur eggs that somehow were preserved hatched out into a world devastated (essentially deep-fried, if you will) by a meteor impact and persisted for another million years before vanishing for some undisclosed reason. Given what we have been learning about dinosaurs and the way they cared for their young, it is highly unlikely this scenario would have panned out; the eggs would need care and the young would likely need some amount of assistance as well, and there would be no adults (as per Fassett’s hypothesis) to do it. I find it equally unlikely that volcanic eruptions every 40,000 years ago created “eruption-resistant dinosaurs” through natural selection, so the mechanism by which Paleocene dinosaurs would have persisted is still unknown.

As I stated before, however, I have not yet seen the new paper and I am indeed very interested in it. I am skeptical (and there’s no reason why I should not be), but if Fassett’s find is as significant as he suggests then it is certainly something of note and requires more attention. Still, I am a little put-off by the title and abstract of the new paper; the author comes off as self-righteous and as looking for a smooth acceptance of his own ideas rather than argument. Right or wrong, the paper will not pull the rug out from underneath paleontology, but rather add to our understanding of how whole groups of animals go extinct, be it with a bang or a whimper.

(Hat-tip to Evolving Thoughts & Pondering Pikaia)