U of C sci­en­tist dis­cov­ers an­cient fish

Edmonton Journal - - CITY -

A species of fish that lived 350 mil­lion years ago has been dis­cov­ered in Nova Scotia, cast­ing new light on a little-un­der­stood time pe­riod.

The dis­cov­ery was made in 2015 by Ja­son An­der­son, a ver­te­brate pa­le­on­tol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­sity of Calgary, at Blue Beach, N.S., and an­nounced Wed­nes­day.

Chris Man­sky, fos­sil re­searcher and cu­ra­tor of the Blue Beach Fos­sil Mu­seum, says An­der­son lo­cated the skull of the early Car­bonif­er­ous fish and was able to com­pare it to the fam­ily tree of better-known rel­a­tives of the fish.

Man­sky says the re­search of An­der­son and his team show the fish’s lin­eage ap­pears to be a sur­vivor of the Devo­nian ex­tinc­tion, which con­tra­dicts the no­tion that the ex­tinc­tion wiped out that group.

The species — Avonichthys man­skyi — was named after the nearby Avon River and for Man­sky, in hon­our of his years of col­lect­ing and ex­hibit­ing the fos­sils of Blue Beach.

The find­ings were pub­lished Wed­nes­day in the United King­dom’s peer-re­viewed Royal So­ci­ety Open Sci­ence jour­nal.

Man­sky said the fish is unique, and the dis­cov­ery means that re­searchers may start look­ing at evo­lu­tion dif­fer­ently.

“It paves the way for future re­searchers. It gives us new the­ory and it up­sets the old the­ory,” he said.

“The old pol­i­tics of the Devo­nian ex­tinc­tion is very much in de­bate. This is es­sen­tially a road map of new op­por­tu­ni­ties for young re­searchers who can work at this for many years ... The ac­tual shape and pat­terns of evo­lu­tion are not so clear. To gain an un­der­stand­ing of how it re­ally was, we still have a lot of work.”

An­der­son said he came across the spec­i­men by chance dur­ing a stroll on Blue Beach.

“There’s noth­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary about that mo­ment at all. I was just lit­er­ally walk­ing along look­ing at the ground, kick­ing rocks, and I found one that was the shape of a bone. I didn’t even know it was a fos­sil,” said An­der­son from a con­fer­ence in Ot­tawa.

“It wasn’t un­til a few months later that I ac­tu­ally put it un­der a mi­cro­scope.”

An­der­son said there are many lin­ger­ing ques­tions, in­clud­ing how many of th­ese fish species sur­vived the ex­tinc­tion.

“Or is it an ar­ti­fact of preser­va­tion, the fact that we just don’t have very many fos­sils of this age? Now that we’re ac­tu­ally ac­tively ex­plor­ing, will we start fill­ing in more of th­ese lin­eages? Or is this one real lucky one that man­aged to squeak through?” he said.

“We need to get a better idea of what other fish lived at that time, and in other places at the same time, and that will tell us more about how se­verely ver­te­brates were im­pacted by the mass ex­tinc­tion.”

He said that re­search has al­ready taken him back to Blue Beach.

The site where the fos­sil was lo­cated is on the Bay of Fundy’s Mi­nas Basin, which has the high­est tides in the world. The sea has eroded into the shore­line, un­cov­er­ing 350-mil­lion-year-old fos­sils.

“This highly dy­namic en­vi­ron­ment, over four kilo­me­tres in length, cre­ates unique op­por­tu­ni­ties for dis­cov­er­ies that would oth­er­wise be very dif­fi­cult to make,” said Man­sky.

“Na­ture does the dig­ging here.” Man­sky said his mu­seum has a col­lec­tion of roughly 10,000 fos­sils, weigh­ing roughly 100,000 pounds. He de­scribed it as “bust­ing at the seams,” mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for re­searchers to ex­am­ine and cat­a­logue the ma­te­rial prop­erly.

“Th­ese were find­ings and a pa­per gen­er­ated from a sin­gle fos­sil, so we can only imag­ine how much more there is to be learned in the up­stairs of Blue Beach Fos­sil Mu­seum,” said Man­sky.

“There needs to be a new pa­le­on­tol­ogy cen­tre de­vel­oped here to es­tab­lish a per­ma­nent foothold for this fos­sil col­lec­tion. It’s a world­class col­lec­tion and right now we have a pri­vate home-based, maand-pa mu­seum. The col­lec­tion has out­grown its home.”

Con­rad Wilson and Ja­son Pardo were also au­thors of the ar­ti­cle pub­lished Wed­nes­day.


A species of fish that lived 350 mil­lion years ago has been dis­cov­ered at Blue Beach on Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy, shed­ding new light on a shad­owy time pe­riod. The fos­sil was found by Ja­son An­der­son, a pa­le­on­tol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­sity of Calgary, in...

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