Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scientists find how amber becomes death trap for watery creatures

22.10.2007
Shiny amber jewelry and a mucky Florida swamp have given scientists a window into an ancient ecosystem that could be anywhere from 15 million to 130 million years old.

Scientists at the University of Florida and the Museum of Natural History in Berlin made the landmark discovery that prehistoric aquatic critters such as beetles and small crustaceans unwittingly swim into resin flowing down into the water from pine-like trees. Their findings are published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The resin with its entombed inhabitants settled to the bottom of the swamp was covered by sediment and after millions of years became amber, a bejeweled version of the tar pits that trapped saber-toothed tigers in what is now California, said David Dilcher, a UF paleo-botanist and one of the study’s researchers.

“People never understood how freshwater algae and freshwater protozoans could be incorporated in amber because amber is considered to have been formed on land,” said Dilcher, who works at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “We showed that it just as well could be formed from resin exuded in watery swamp environments. Later the swamps may dry up and the resin hardens.”

Dilcher and Alexander Schmidt, a researcher at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, replicated the prehistoric demise of the water bugs by taking a handsaw to a swamp on Dilcher’s property near Gainesville in north Central Florida. After they cut bark from some pine trees, the resin flowed into the water and they collected the goo and took it back to Dilcher’s lab on campus.

Stuck in the sticky sap were representatives of almost all the small inhabitants of the swamp ecosystem, Dilcher said. “We found beautiful examples of water beetles, mites, small crustaceans called ostracods, nematodes, and even fungi and bacteria living in the water,” he said.

The discovery not only solved the mystery of how swimming bugs could have been entombed in sticky sap from high up in a tree but could lead to new information about prehistoric, maybe even Jurassic, swamps, Dilcher said. Studying organisms that were trapped for millions of years in amber may help scientists to recreate prehistoric water ecosystems and learn how these life forms changed over time, he said.

While no one is claiming that the entombed bugs will be brought back to life through genetic splicing, the discovery may give clues about the evolution of microorganisms, he said.

“We all think of horses, elephants and people as having changed a great deal through time,” he said. “Have amoeba and other microscopic organisms changed much? Or have they found a niche or what we call a stasis in which their evolutionary lineage persists for many hundreds of millions of years? We don’t have the answers to those questions until we look at the fossil record.”

Insects such as bees, spiders, tics and fleas that become embedded in amber have received a great deal of attention because they are so abundant, Dilcher said. “Unfortunately, people have overlooked the little things while searching for the big bugs and the flowers in amber,” he said.

Microorganisms are important because they form relationships with higher organisms, making them the foundation of the pyramid of life, Dilcher said. “To understand more about their evolution adds an important step in our understanding of life itself,” he said.

Gene Kritsky, editor of the journal American Entomologist and a biology professor at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, said Dilcher has performed a great service in answering a question that has long puzzled scientists, the seemingly contradictory aspect of finding aquatic insects in tree resin.

“It’s been one of the strange things mentioned by biologists and entomologists for decades – how do you account for aquatic insects and organisms in what seemed to be an ancient terrestrial environment,” Kritsky said. “Dilcher examined this contradiction by creating the conditions that would cause sap deposits to flow into water to see what would happen. The results demonstrated that aquatic insects can be trapped in resin without leaving their aquatic world. Thus, the presence of aquatic organisms in amber is the result of a simple natural process.”

David Dilcher | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Value from wastewater
16.08.2017 | Hochschule Landshut

nachricht Species Richness – a false friend? Scientists want to improve biodiversity assessments
01.08.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Gold shines through properties of nano biosensors

17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Greenland ice flow likely to speed up: New data assert glaciers move over sediment, which gets more slippery as it gets wetter

17.08.2017 | Earth Sciences

Mars 2020 mission to use smart methods to seek signs of past life

17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>