New South Wales farmer finds ‘exceptional’ fossils | Avocado

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When NSW farmer Nigel McGrath hit large boulders while plowing a field, he didn’t realize he was sowing the seeds of a discovery that had been around for 15 million years. His discovery of a fossilized leaf embedded in rock opened the door to an extraordinary site that accelerates our understanding of prehistoric life in Australia. “Many of the fossils we find are new to science and include trap spiders, giant cicadas, wasps and a variety of fish,” said the Australian Museum and University of NSW paleontologist, the Dr Matthew McCurry. “Until now, it was difficult to say what these ancient ecosystems looked like, but the level of conservation of this new fossil site means that even small, fragile organisms like insects have turned into well-preserved fossils.” Over the past three years, Dr McCurry, his colleague Dr Michael Frese and a team of researchers have secretly excavated and analyzed McGraths Flat near Gulgong on the Central Tablelands, uncovering thousands of specimens, including rainforest plants. , spiders, fruiting bodies, fish and a bird. feather. Among the insects discovered were wasps, ants, cicadas, mayflies, beetles, flies and killer insects. The quality of the fossils also makes it possible to determine the interactions between species. The stomach contents of the fish have been preserved, allowing researchers to determine what was on the menu 15 million years ago. “We also found examples of pollen retained on the bodies of insects so that we could tell which species were pollinating which plants,” said Dr Frese. The fossils are of such exceptional quality that McGraths Flat joined the handful of Lagerstatte sites in Australia. The excavation itself is in the central highlands of New South Wales, about 25 kilometers northeast of Gulgong, a 19th-century gold rush town. It is also a short drive from another significant Australian fossil site, Jurassic-era Talbragar. But unlike his older cousin, McGraths Flat opens a window to the Miocene era, a time of immense change in Australia as the continent drifted north. When the Miocene began 23 million years ago, Australia was rich in diverse plant and animal life, but a sudden change in climate caused widespread extinctions around 14 million years ago. Scientists believe the discovery provides an important case study to determine which species can adapt to a changing environment and which are disappearing. “McGraths Flat’s plant fossils give us a window into the vegetation and ecosystems of a warmer world, one we are likely to experience in the future,” said Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria Scientific Director Professor David Cantrill. “The preservation of plant fossils is unique and provides important information about a period for which the fossil record in Australia is rather poor.” Dr McCurry believes the process that turned organisms into fossils explains why they are so well preserved. “Our analyzes suggest that fossils formed when iron-rich groundwater drained into a billabong, and a precipitation of iron minerals trapped organisms that lived or fell into the water,” a- he declared. The findings of Dr McCurry and his colleagues were published in Science Advances on Saturday. The fossils will be kept in the Australian Museum’s paleontology collection for further study. The study was partially funded by a descendant of Robert Etheridge, the museum’s first paleontologist. Associated Australian Press

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