Rare duck-bill was from Dixie
Researchers have identified and named a new species of dinosaur that is the most complete, primitive duck-billed dinosaur to ever be discovered in the eastern United States.
They named it Eotrachodon orientalis, which means “dawn rough tooth from the east.”
This duck-bill – a Hadrosaurid – was probably 20 to 30 feet long as an adult, mostly walked on its hind legs though it could come down on all four to graze on plants with its grinding teeth, and had a scaly exterior. What set it apart is that it had a large crest on its nose.
The skeletal remains of this 83-million-year-old were discovered by a team of amateur fossil enthusiasts alongside a creek in Montgomery County, Ala., in marine sediment. The bones were removed and cleaned by scientists from McWane Science Center, in Birmingham, Ala., and studied by an international team of researchers.
Dinosaurs from the South are extremely rare. A set with a complete skull is an even more extraordinary find.
During the late Cretaceous Period, roughly 85 million years ago, North America was divided in half by a 1,000-mile ocean that connected the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. The land to the east became present-day Appalachia.
“For roughly 100 million years, the dinosaurs were not able to cross this (water) barrier,” said McWane’s Jun Ebersole. “The discovery of Eotrachodon suggests that duck-billed dinosaurs originated in Appalachia and dispersed to other parts of the world at some point after the seaway lowered, opening a land corridor to western North America.”
The findings were described in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Earthworms may be threat to biodiversity
The humble earthworm may be a threat to plant diversity in natural ecosystems, says a study by researchers from Canada’s Laval University and the University of Sherbrooke. Their work found an association between the presence of these European-introduced invertebrates and reductions in the abundance of certain tree and other plant species in the understory of sugar maple forests in southern Quebec.
The researchers visited 40 parcels in five sugar maple forests in the Eastern Townships, finding earthworms in half of all the sites. Their analyses uncovered a correlation between the number of earthworms and the abundance and diversity of certain understory species. New shoots of red maple, striped maple, American beech, and two fern species became more rare as earthworm populations increased. The presence of earthworms does however seem to be good for ash trees and grasses.
“The most likely explanation is that the earthworms consume organic matter in forest litter,” suggested Line Lapointe, a professor at Laval and the study’s lead author. “This results in soils that can’t hold as much moisture, and that in turn interferes with seed germination and the ability of some species’ plantlets to survive.”
The study was published in Forest Ecology and Management.
Lecture: How animals handle hibernation
You may deal with winter weather by donning long johns and pouring a snifter of brandy. But animals that hibernate conserve energy by chilling out: Their body temperatures drop and their heart rates slow; some can go up to 15 minutes without taking a breath. As part of its “Extreme Mammals” series, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences will feature Duke University’s Sheena Faherty speaking on “Chill Out! Hibernation as a ‘Cool’ Way to Survive the Winter” at 7 p.m. Thursday. Faherty, who is finishing her Ph.D. in biology at Duke, is a guest blogger for Scientific American. The lecture ($10) takes place at the museum, 11 W. Jones St., Raleigh.
Warm up an hour earlier, when educators from the Duke Lemur Center will also be on hand for an hour to share photos and stories of their resident lemurs, as well as information on their lemur conservation efforts on the East African island of Madagascar.