Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan and Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) have followed fossilized footprints to a multi-legged predator that ruled the seas of the Cambrian period about half a billion years ago.
"Short of finding an animal at the end of its trackway, it's really very rare to be able to identify the producer so confidently," said Nicholas Minter, lead author of the article on the study, which appears in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Minter is a postdoctoral research fellow in the U of S department of geological sciences.
The research team worked with samples gathered from the Burgess Shale, famed for its exquisitely detailed fossils from the Cambrian Explosion, a time when life underwent a dramatic change with the appearance of all the modern groups of organisms and some bizarre creatures. Located near the village of Field in Canada's Yoho National Park in British Columbia, the Burgess Shale is an international treasure, providing an unparalleled window into the distant past.
Fossils from the Burgess Shale record not only the animals themselves exceedingly rare because most of them had soft bodies but also the trackways they left behind while hunting on the sea floor.
"Most researchers have focused on the body fossils of the Burgess Shale," said study co-author Gabriela Mngano, who co-leads the ichnology research group in the U of S geological sciences department with colleague Luis Buatois. "By studying its trackways, trails and burrows, we may dramatically impact our understanding of these ancient ecosystems."
Key to the research were trackways collected during a field expedition in 2008 led by ROM curator Jean-Bernard Caron.
"I spotted a portion of the largest trackway, which is over three metres in length, in 2000," he said. "At that time we left most of it behind us. We could not carry the pieces safely down slope from this remote site without helicopter support."'/>"/>
|Contact: Michael Robin|
University of Saskatchewan