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A picture is worth a thousand miles not traveled to measure the fossil of an ancient sea creature

(Blacksburg, Va.) -- The body size of ancient creatures, bivalves and brachiopods, could tell geoscientists a lot about the creatures' life history and about the ecology of the times in which they lived. However, traveling the world to measure these creatures' fossils would take several life-times and more travel funds than scientists usually have.

Since the same creatures have also become abundant in scientific literature since the mid 1800s, a team of Virginia Tech researchers is determining whether measuring photos of fossils collected worldwide would be a reliable way to compile body size data. Richard A. Krause Jr. of Greenfield, Wis., a PhD. student in the Department of Geosciences at Virginia Tech, will report on his assessment of this nontraditional approach at the joint meeting of the Northeastern and Southeastern Sections of the Geological Society of America, to be held March 25-27 in Tysons Corner, Va.

Bivalves (i.e. clams) are common today while brachiopods, which look like clams but have a different biology, were most common in ancient oceans. Both types of organism have been around for over 500 million years and still exist today, which makes them good subjects for an assessment of long-term body size trends. Changes in body size could reveal whether an organism evolved and became more efficient or whether environmental changes had an impact. "But no one has compiled a list of how body size changed for a group of animals over long time periods," Krause says. He and colleagues want to look at two time periods from 500 million to 300 million years ago and from 200 million to 25 million years ago.

"Since paleontology became a science, people have been publishing papers on new species from all over the world. With the advent of photography, authors began to provide volumes of photographic plates that document everything they thought was important about a species. If we could find a way to get size data from t
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Contact: Susan Trulove
strulove@vt.edu
540-231-5646
Virginia Tech
27-Mar-2004


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