Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Lake-bed trails tell ancient fish story

Date:
May 6, 2010
Source:
Emory University
Summary:
The wavy lines and squiggles etched into a slab of limestone found near Fossil Butte National Monument are prehistoric fish trails, made by Notogoneus osculus as it fed along a lake bottom, according to experts.

Photo of N. osculus body fossil.
Credit: Arvid Aese, U.S. National Park Service.

Is it possible to track the movements of an extinct fish in a long-gone lake? It is if you are Emory paleontologist Anthony Martin. He's found that wavy lines and squiggles etched into a slab of limestone found near Fossil Butte National Monument are prehistoric fish trails, made by Notogoneus osculus as it fed along a lake bottom.

He led a detailed analysis, published in PLoS One, that gives new insights into the behavior of the extinct N. osculus, and into the ancient ecology of Wyoming's former Fossil Lake.

"We've got a snapshot of N. osculus interacting with the bottom of a lake that disappeared millions of years ago," Martin says. "It's a fleeting glimpse, but it's an important one."

Fossil Lake, part of a subtropical landscape in the early Eocene Epoch, is now a sagebrush desert in southwestern Wyoming, located in Fossil Butte National Monument and environs. The region is famous for an abundance of exquisitely preserved fossils, especially those of freshwater fish.

Trails left by these fish, however, are relatively rare. The National Park Service had identified about a dozen of them and asked Martin to investigate. Martin specializes in trace fossils, including tracks, trails, burrows and nests made by animals millions of years ago.

One of the fish trace fossils especially intrigued Martin. In addition to apparent fin impressions of two wavy lines, it had squiggles suggesting oval shapes. "The oval impressions stayed roughly in the center of the wavy lines and slightly overlapped one another. I realized that these marks were probably made by the mouth, as the fish fed along the bottom," Martin says.

He then deduced that the trace was likely made by N. osculus -- the only species found in the same rock layer whose fossils show a mouth pointing downward.

Martin brought his detailed notes, photos and sketches of the trace fossil back to Atlanta, where he enlisted the aid of disease ecologist Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec and geographer Michael Page, two of his colleagues in Emory's Department of Environmental Studies.

Vazquez-Prokopec, who does digital spatial analyses of geographic patterns of diseases and pathogens, applied similar techniques to the trace fossil data. The results showed a mathematical correlation between the trace impressions and the mouth, tail, pelvic and anal fins of an 18-inch N. osculus.

"This provides the first direct evidence of N. osculus bottom feeding," Martin says. "Not only that, the fish was bottom feeding in the deepest part of the lake. Previous research had suggested that the bottom of the lake had such low levels of oxygen that it was hostile to life. Our analysis indicates that, at least seasonally, some fish were living on the lake bottom."

The scientists were also able to calculate how the fish was moving, and the pitch and yaw of its swimming motion. "The trace fossil lines look simple, but they're not so simple," Martin says, explaining that even the gaps in the lines carry information. "As the British say, 'Mind the gap.'"

"All three of us believe in making scientific data as open and assessable as possible," Martin says, adding that he thinks it may be the first collaboration between a paleontologist, a disease ecologist and a geographer. "This opens up a new technique for studying trace fossils that we hope other people will try and test."


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Anthony J. Martin, Gonzalo M. Vazquez-Prokopec, Michael Page, Andrew Allen Farke. First Known Feeding Trace of the Eocene Bottom-Dwelling Fish Notogoneus osculus and Its Paleontological Significance. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (5): e10420 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010420

Cite This Page:

Emory University. "Lake-bed trails tell ancient fish story." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 May 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100506121854.htm>.
Emory University. (2010, May 6). Lake-bed trails tell ancient fish story. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100506121854.htm
Emory University. "Lake-bed trails tell ancient fish story." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100506121854.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) A 380-million-year-old fish may be the first creature to have copulative sex - and it was side by side with arms linked, like square dancers. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) With Sweden on the look-out for a suspected Russian sub, a lot of people are talking about the Cold War, but is it an apt comparison? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) Researchers believe an extinct kangaroo species weighed 500 pounds or more and couldn't hop. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
1000-Year-Old Viking Treasure Hoard Found in Scotland

1000-Year-Old Viking Treasure Hoard Found in Scotland

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 14, 2014) A hoard of Viking artifacts dating back over 1,000 years is discovered by a treasure hunter with a metal detector in Scotland. Elly Park reports. Video provided by Reuters
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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