Synchrotron Reveals Odd Bedfellows in 250-Million-Year-Old Fossilized Burrow

Synchrotron imaging has revealed an ancient odd couple - 250 million years ago, a mammal forerunner and an amphibian shared a burrow (synchroton image at left shows contents of fossilized burrow). Scientists from South Africa, Australia, and France have discovered a world-first association while scanning a 250-million-year-old fossilized burrow from the Karoo Basin of South Africa. The burrow revealed two unrelated vertebrate animals nestled together and fossilized after being trapped by a flash flood event. Facing harsh climatic conditions subsequent to the Permo-Triassic (P-T) mass extinction, the amphibian Broomistega and the mammal forerunner Thrinaxodon cohabited in a burrow. Scanning shows that the amphibian, which was suffering from broken ribs, crawled into a sleeping mammal's shelter for protection. This research suggests that short periods of dormancy, called aestivation, in addition to burrowing behavior, may have been a crucial adaptation that allowed mammal ancestors to survive the P-T extinction. The results of this research were published online in an open-access article in PLoS ONE on June 21, 2013. The international team of scientists was led by Dr. Vincent Fernandez from Wits University, South Africa and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France. The other authors from Wits University included Professor Bruce Rubidge (Director of the newly formed Palaeosciences Centre of Excellence at Wits), Dr. Fernando Abdala, and Dr. Kristian Carlson. Other authors include Dr. Della Collins Cook (Indiana University); Dr. Adam Yates (Museum of Central Australia), and Dr. Paul Tafforeau (ESRF).
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