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The Frozen Garden of Eden: Vertebrate Paleontology in Antarctica

Photo: Thomas Mörs

Base camp during field work on Antarctica 2016. Photo: Benjamin Bomfleur

Summary

The Antarctic continent exposes Permian to Miocene strata, allowing a keyhole view into the evolution of Antarctic biota and ecosystems. It is an important place to understand the crucial biogeographic faunal turnover at the K/T (K/Pg) mass extinction.

The Antarctic Peninsula is also important as the dispersal corridor between South America and Australia. It is also the place to find more information about Antarctic biodiversity and paleoecology before, during, and after the dramatic Late Eocene cooling.

The goal of this project is to explore Triassic, Jurassic and Late Cretaceous to Eocene deposits for fossils, with a focus on vertebrates.

During the SWEDARP 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13 and 2014/15 expeditions and the GANOVEX IX 2015/16 and 2018/2919 expedition we collected thousands of vertebrate fossils as well as invertebrates and plants. As a result, the Swedish Museum of Natural History today houses one of the largest collections of Antarctic fossils. There have been several new scientific results based on this material:

This research is funded by the Swedish Research Council (VR, 2010 – 2015), Riksmusei vänner (2016), Ymer-80 (2017-2019) and the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat

External Project Participants

Division Paleontologia de Vertebrados, Museo de La Plata, Argentina

Department of Paleontology, University Vienna, Austria

Palaeobotany Research Group, Institut für Geologie und Paläontologie, University of Münster, Germany

Institute of Biology, University of Bialystok

Polish Geological Institute-National Research Institute, Poland 

Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe, Hannover, Germany

Subdepartment of Evolution and Development, Department of Organismal Biology, Uppsala University, Sweden

Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Ambiente e Vita, University of Genova, Italy

Sir John Walsh Research Institute, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Otago, New Zealand

Instituto Patagónico de Geología y Paleontología, Puerto Madryn, Argentina

JURASSICA Museum, Porrentruy, Switzerland

Selected Publications

Mörs, T., Niedzwiedzki, G., Crispini, L., Läufer, A. & Bomfleur, B., 2019. First evidence of a tetrapod footprint from the Triassic of northern Victoria Land, Antarctica. Polar Research, 38. https://doi.org/10.33265/polar.v38.3438external link

Buono, M.R., Fernandez, M.S., Reguero, M.A., Marenssi, S.A., Santillana, S.N. & Mörs, T. 2016, Eocene basilosaurid whales from the La Meseta Formation, Marambio (Seymour) Island, Antarctica. Ameghiniana, 53 (3): 296-315. external link

Loch, C., Buono, M., Kalthoff, D.C., Mörs, T. & Fernandez, M., 2019. Enamel microstructure in Eocene cetaceans from Antarctica (Archaeoceti and Mysticeti). Journal of Mammalian Evolution. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10914-018-09456-3external link

Gelfo, J.N., Mörs, T., Lorente, M., Lopez, G.M. & Reguero, M., 2015. The oldest mammals from Antarctica, early Eocene of La Meseta Formation, Seymour Island. Palaeontology, 58 (1): 101-110. DOI: 10.1111/pala.12121

Schwarzhans, W., Mörs, T., Engelbrecht, A., Reguero, M. & Kriwet, J., 2016. Before the freeze: Otoliths from the Eocene of Seymour Island, Antarctica, reveal dominance of gadiform fishes (Teleostei). Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. external link

Engelbrecht, A., Mörs, T., Reguero, M. & Kriwet, J. 2016. Revision of Eocene Antarctic carpet sharks (Elasmobranchii, Orectolobiformes) from Seymour Island, Antarctic Peninsula. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14772019.2016.1266048external link

Engelbrecht, A., Mörs, T., Reguero, M. & Kriwet, J., 2017. New carcharhiniform sharks (Chondrichthyes, Elasmobranchii) from the early to middle Eocene of Seymour Island, Antarctic Peninsula. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, e1371724external link.

Jadwiszczak, P. & Mörs, T. 2016. First report on quill pits in early penguins. Antarctic Science, 28 (3): 217-218.external link

Jadwiszczak, P. & Mörs, T., 2019. First partial skeleton of Delphinornis larseni Wiman, 1905, a slender-footed penguin from the Eocene of Antarctic Peninsula. Palaeontologia Electronica, 22 (2): 22.2.34A 1-31. https://doi.org/10.26879/933external link

Bomfleur, B., Mörs, T., Ferraguti, M., Reguero, M.A. & Mcloughlin, S. 2015. Fossilized spermatozoa preserved in a 50-Myr-old annelid cocoon from Antarctica. Biology Letters, 11: 20150431. external link