Lecture: First Footfall: the Colonisation of Land

Speaker: Dr. Ken McNamara, Sedgwick Museum, University of Cambridge

Entry Fee

Members: Free

Visitors: £5.00

Date and Time

19:00 -

Location

Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 16-18 Queen Square, Bath BA1 2HN


Lecture Description

The colonisation of land and the establishment of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems was one of the most important events in the evolution of life. Yet we have a poor understanding of the identities of the colonisers, how they interacted with one another and even exactly when it happened. The early Silurian (about 430 million years) Tumblagooda Sandstone in the Southern Carnarvon Basin in Western Australia contains a rich trace fossil fauna that has the potential to shed much light on the identities of the first colonisers of land. Deposited before vascular plants had evolved on land, the extensive fossil trackways and burrows comprise a range of trace fossils attributed mainly to arthropods, but their exact identity remains enigmatic.

The arthropod tracks range in size from a few millimetres to more than 30cm in width; some extendfor many metres. These larger forms must have been made by animals well in excess of 1 metre in length. Candidates for these first colonizers include the giant scorpion-like eurypterids, euthycarcinoids and synziphosurids.

A number of different types of burrows have been described that have been interpreted as dwelling, feeding and hunting burrows. Study of the associations of different burrow types is enabling the trophic structure of this early terrestrial ecosystem to be established. Finally, in this talk I will also describe how the Tumblagooda Sandstone provides evidence for oldest known land animal and the earliest evidence for the presence of vertebrates on land.



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