A new defence of the fossil Ida as a precursor to today’s primates, including humans, has emerged from the research team that last year bought and promoted the 47-million-year-old remains.
Ida, or Darwinius masillae, was described in 2009 by Jens Franzen at the Research Institute and Natural History Museum of Senckenberg in Frankfurt, Germany, and colleagues, who identified it as a haplorrhine, precursors to modern-day monkeys and apes. However, two studies by other groups since then citing evidence from a new fossil and an independent study of similar primate fossils concluded Ida was closer to the strepsirrhine branch, precursors to today’s lemurs, (see ‘Fossil primate challenges Ida’s place’). Continue reading
When a new species comes to light, its effect on the arrangement of its family tree might be better measured by statistics than by headlines. In a study of primates and flightless dinosaurs, researchers at Bristol University, UK, have found that the likelihood of any given find shaking up the family tree depends on how complete that tree was to begin with.
“What we’ve done is look at the two most intensively studied groups,” Tarver says, and highlighted differences between the relatively stable catarrhine family tree, and the less certain family history of the dinosaurs. He says that statistical analysis could help to indicate which areas in a given family tree are already well-sampled and which might yet reveal more influential finds.
See the rest of this news story on Nature News [html] [pdf]
Thanks to Ida the fossil primate I got out of the office last week, on Tuesday to see a screening of the documentary about Ida at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and on Wednesday to interview Ida’s other half Jørn Hurum at the studio that produced the film. I blogged about the screening and Nature ran an online question-and-answer story culled from my interview. Nature also ran a few choice quotes from the press juggernaut in the print magazine, along with an editorial, though I can’t take credit for the editorial. It’s trickier doing in-person reporting, but I really enjoy it and hope to include a little more of it in my work.
I also dashed off a quick blog on a US federal directive which halts road-building in about 50 million acres of US Forest Service land, a reversal of a Bush reversal of a Clinton rule. Not clear? Click here to read the whole thing.
Update: My interview with Jørn Hurum appeared on the Brazilian website terra.com.br on 2 June.
Jørn Hurum has accompanied the fossilized primate he nicknamed Ida on a world tour to fame and notoriety in the last week. The 47-million-year-old fossil is famous for its haunting completeness — the outlines of its fur and its last meal appear like a shadow around the intact skeleton. Yet Hurum has drawn fire for promoting the fossil and its potential links to human ancestors through a multi-platform media campaign alongside the release of a scientific paper that describes the fossil’s genealogy more modestly. Today, he and Ida paused in London to discuss the fallout of the publicity and the next scientific steps. Continue reading