Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Poisoning Solved After Millions Of Years: Did Death-dealing Cyanobacteria Cause The Mass Deaths Of Messel?

Date:
November 25, 2004
Source:
University Of Bonn
Summary:
The fossil site of Messel, near Darmstadt (central Germany) is a world heritage site; it is famous throughout the world for the fossils of animals and plants from a tropical landscape 47 million years ago, all of them excellently preserved. Among the mammals even the contents of the stomach are usually preserved. But how did these animals die?

Basic stute of Propalaeotherium from Messel.
Credit: Photo courtesy of University Of Bonn

The fossil site of Messel, near Darmstadt (central Germany) is a world heritage site; it is famous throughout the world for the fossils of animals and plants from a tropical landscape 47 million years ago, all of them excellently preserved. Nowhere else have so many bats and birds been found in lake deposits. Among the mammals even the contents of the stomach are usually preserved. But how did these animals die? The well-filled stomachs are not exactly an indicator of disease or fatal debility. Until recently the cause of death was assumed to be, inter alia, gases of volcanic origin which may have collected over the lake. This might explain why the animals suffocated. But such clouds of gas – if they indeed existed – must have dispersed rapidly, given the size of the lake. It is still a moot point whether, after hundreds of thousands of years, gas was still escaping from the volcanic subsoil which formed the extinct volcanic crater lake of Messel.

The University of Bonn palaeontologists on Professor Wighart von Koenigswald's team have proposed a new theory in the latest issue of the Paläontologische Zeitschrift which sheds light on the possible cause of death. While examining the fossils the researchers became aware that the deaths must have occurred at the same time of year in different years. The five pregnant mares which were found at completely different levels in the oil shale at Messel all died at the same time of year, as the foetuses were at the same stage of development. Among the tortoises there were also five pairs which died during copulation, i.e. during the breeding season.

One more piece of the puzzle was provided when the Bonn lecturer Dr. Andreas Braun noticed that there are lime deposits in the sedimentary structures of Messel. A very similar structure occurs in lake deposits which Professor von Koenigswald's doctoral student Thekla Pfeiffer discovered in Neumark-Nord. In deposits which were about 200,000 years old she was able to detect traces of the highly toxic microcystine, a poison which is produced by cyanobacteria. The researchers assume that the sedimentary structures in Messel are also due to these microbes, also known as 'blue-green algae'. The animals may therefore have died from microcystine poisoning due to the seasonal algal bloom caused by deadly cyanobacteria.

From Canada we know that during algal bloom cyanobacteria cause toxic foam to collect in the surface water. Anything that drinks this water collapses almost immediately. This is true of both land animals and birds. Observations have shown that even the tiny quantities of water drunk by bats when flying low over the water can be fatal. Many aspects of the fossil finds of Messel which were not previously understood can be explained by this theory of a seasonal growth of highly toxic cyanobacteria which was repeated year after year. The theory still awaits further confirmation. One difficulty, however, is already apparent: it will be very difficult to provide direct evidence of toxic agents after 47 million years.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Bonn. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Bonn. "Poisoning Solved After Millions Of Years: Did Death-dealing Cyanobacteria Cause The Mass Deaths Of Messel?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 November 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/11/041123172711.htm>.
University Of Bonn. (2004, November 25). Poisoning Solved After Millions Of Years: Did Death-dealing Cyanobacteria Cause The Mass Deaths Of Messel?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/11/041123172711.htm
University Of Bonn. "Poisoning Solved After Millions Of Years: Did Death-dealing Cyanobacteria Cause The Mass Deaths Of Messel?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/11/041123172711.htm (accessed August 27, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

40,000-Year-Old Mammoth Skeleton Found On Texas Farm

40,000-Year-Old Mammoth Skeleton Found On Texas Farm

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) — A mammoth skeleton was discovered in a gravel pit on Wayne McEwen's Texas farm back in May. It's now being donated to a museum. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pawn Shop Buys Lincoln Signature For $50, Worth $50,000

Pawn Shop Buys Lincoln Signature For $50, Worth $50,000

Newsy (Aug. 25, 2014) — The signature is one of a couple Lincoln autographs that have popped up recently. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Neanderthals Probably Died Out Earlier Than We Thought

Neanderthals Probably Died Out Earlier Than We Thought

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) — A new study is packed with interesting Neanderthal-related findings, including a "definitive answer" to when they went extinct. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

AFP (Aug. 19, 2014) — Malaysia's last "fish listeners" -- practitioners of a dying local art of listening underwater to locate their quarry -- try to keep the ancient technique alive in the face of industrial trawling and the depletion of stocks. Duration: 02:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:  

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile iPhone Android Web
    Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins