January 25, 2007

This week in natural history

Posted by: Rebecca Durkin

Split-level Dino – A Texas researcher proposed this week that 125 million years ago, a feathered dinosaur known as Microraptor gui may actually have had an upper and lower set of split-level wings, just like the Wright Bros. biplane (as opposed to tandem wings, like a dragonfly). And though it worked for the Wright Bros., it looks like the biplane approach was likely an evolutionary dead-end in the dino world.

Mega-‘roos – It wasn’t the climate, it was us. According to new research that examined ancient fossil and climate evidence in Australia, the mass extinction of Australia’s mega-mammals can be pinned primarily on humans. The next question, of course, is "How did we do it?” Changing the ecosystems? Over-predation? The research continues.

The Shire Reopens – Researchers who discovered a potential new hominin species, delightfully referred to as a “hobbit” because of its diminutive size, have finally been granted permission to dig around in an Indonesian cave-site in search of other hobbits. With a renewed start, the scientists are hoping to determine whether the hobbit truly is a unique species, how it lived, what it was like, and how it fits into the pattern of human evolution.

- Rebecca