Ancient bird feathers reveal secrets of Cretaceous environment

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 Ancient bird feathers reveal secrets of Cretaceous environment

Paleontologists have analyzed five samples with varying degrees of preservation of the feathers of birds Sapeornis chaoyangensis that lived in the early Cretaceous period, about 125-120 million years ago.

We are talking about birds that lived in the famous Jehol Biota in China.

The scientists analyzed the sediments to determine what organic material surrounded the bird remains and how the environment changed the preservation of the soft tissues.

unique fossils that preserve soft tissues such as skin, organs, feathers and fur.

"Jehol Biota is the most informative source for understanding Mesozoic ecology. A better understanding of the diversity of terrestrial vertebrate taphonomy at Jehol could help us finally better understand the past and future of biological evolution,” — said study author Dr. Yang Zhao, from the Institute of Geology and Paleontology, Linyi University.

Not all fossils are equally well preserved, and understanding the paleoenvironment is critical to understanding the differences, according to the researchers. Without this information, it is difficult for scientists to assess preservation of soft tissues.

In the study, Dr. Zhao and his team examined five fossils from the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Natural History. They all retain a complete and articulated skeleton. One specimen, designated STM 15-36, retains feathers in striking detail. Three deposits were also collected from different sections of each specimen.

The surrounding organic material on specimen STM 15-36 was found to be primarily from terrestrial plants, not lacustrine algae like the other four birds. The climate then was warmer and wetter, and the environment in which it was placed was more anoxic, which prevented the feathers from rotting before they were fossilized.

According to the researchers, there are two possible explanations for the rapid burial STM 15-36 – volcanic activity or heavy rainfall. The most likely explanation, related to the fact that fossils in pyroclastic flows do not preserve soft tissues well, is that the bird was swept away by the rainstorm and buried at the bottom of the lake. The remains were preserved in stone for millions years.

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