December 11, 2009

Burke curator studies new species from Antarctica

A new species that is a distant relative of mammals has been identified by Christian A. Sidor, Burke Museum curator of vertebrate paleontology, along with Jörg Fröbisch and Kenneth D. Angielczyk of the Field Museum. Kombuisia antarctica, a plant eater about the size of housecat, is part of a group of extinct mammal relatives called anomodonts. The Kombuisia antarctica’s name is tribute to where the pre-mammal lived, and by inhabiting Antarctica, the species was able to survive one of the most treacherous times on Earth.

The illustration shows the geographic location of Kombuisia antarctica in Antarctica with a reconstruction of how the animal probably looked like in life. (Credit: Jörg Fröbisch, Kenneth D. Angielczyk, and Christian A. Sidor)

About 252 million years ago, at the end of the Permian Period, the world went through the largest known mass extinction in history. Scientists are debating what exactly caused the mass extinction to occur, but one of the likely causes is global warming as a result of major volcanic activity in Siberia. During this tumultuous time for the Earth’s living creatures, Antarctica was actually one of the safest places to be.

It may seem odd to think of Antarctica as a good place to live, but during the Permian Period, the continent was vastly different from the way it is today. The continent was further north, and therefore was warmer and did not have glaciers.

Although Antarctica may have been an inhabitable place for Kombuisia antarctica millions of years ago, scientists today face extreme weather conditions. However, scientific findings and discoveries like Kombuisia antarctica are well worth the expeditions. Sidor’s discovery fills gaps in the fossil record and gives us a better understanding of vertebrate survival throughout Earth’s history.

To learn more about Kombuisia antarctica, click here.

Posted By: Andrea Barber, Communications