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Presented By: Earth and Environmental Sciences

Smith Lecture: Exceptional Preservation of Tropical Marine Invertebrates and the Emergence of Novel Forms

Javier Luque, Harvard University

Extraordinary fossils transform our understanding of evolutionary history, particularly when they fill major gaps in space and time. Unfortunately, the origins and phylogenetic relationships of several groups are often obscure because (i) early fossils tend to be rare and/or poorly preserved, (ii) few early-splitting branches have left living descendants, (iii) intermediate forms are scarce, and (iv) there is a considerable collection bias towards fossil-rich deposits in modern mid-to-high latitudes. Such biases affect the ways that major spatio-temporal, phylogenetic, and evolutionary questions are addressed. Can we predict the occurrence of evolutionary novelties based on phylogenetic relationships? Do similar forms correlate with similar function, biology, and ecology? What role have mega-diverse areas, like the tropics, played in the emergence of different groups through time?

In this talk I will present new fossils and fossil-rich localities with exceptional preservation of marine invertebrates from the Cretaceous of the Neotropics. These tropical Konservat-Lagerstätten give us access to larval, juvenile, and adult organisms, preserving in great detail soft to lightly-biomineralized tissues such as guts, muscles, sexual organs, antennae, mouthparts, gills, eyes, and neural tissues. Such features—seldom preserved in the fossil record—are crucial to assess the phylogenetic relationships across extinct and extant groups, and to investigate the evolution of key traits leading to the emergence of novel forms. My results, the product of active fieldwork, paired with museum collection-based work and laboratory studies, challenge the paradigm of a high-latitude origin for several taxa, bridge the gaps between their predicted molecular divergences and the fossil record, and highlight the role of ecology and development in the evolution of convergent and novel forms, through the lens of exceptional preservation in past and present tropical settings.


Those wishing to attend remotely should log in to Zoom ID#989 8458 7392

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