Marine plankton found in amber

Nov 13, 2008
Foraminifer found in amber

(PhysOrg.com) -- Marine microorganisms have been found in amber dating from the middle of the Cretaceous period. The fossils were collected in Charente, in France. This completely unexpected discovery will deepen our understanding of these lost marine species as well as providing precious data about the coastal environment of Western France during the Cretaceous.

This work was carried out by researchers at the Géosciences Rennes laboratory (CNRS/Université de Rennes 1), together with researchers from the Paléobiodiversité et Paléoenvironnement laboratory in Paris (CNRS/Muséum national d'histoire naturelle/Université Pierre et Marie Curie) and the Centre de Géochimie de la Surface in Strasbourg (CNRS/Université de Strasbourg 1). It was published in the 11 November 2008 issue of PNAS.

Amber is a fossil resin with a reputation for preserving even the most minute details of insects and other terrestrial arthropods (spiders, scorpions, mites) that lived in resiniferous trees. The forest-based provenance of amber in theory makes it impossible for marine animals to be trapped in the resin.

Nonetheless, researchers from the Géosciences Rennes laboratory have discovered various inclusions of marine plankton in amber from the Mid-Cretaceous (100 to 98 million years BP). These micro-organisms are found in just a few pieces of amber among the thousands that have been studied, but show a remarkable diversity: unicellular algae, mainly diatoms found in large numbers, traces of animal plankton, such as radiolaria and a foraminifer, spiny skeletons of sponges and of echinoderms.

Carried out together with researchers at the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle, the study of diatoms pushed back by 10 to 30 million years the known date for the appearance of certain marine forms of this type of algae. This new information, taken together with recent data on molecular phylogeny, marks a huge advance in our understanding of the complex evolutionary history of diatoms.

The presence of these marine organisms in the amber is an ecological paradox. How did these marine species become stuck and then trapped in the conifers' resin? The most likely scenario is that the forest producing the amber was very close to the coast, potentially shrouded by plankton-bearing mist or flooded by sea water during storms.

The preservation of marine organisms in amber is an exceptional asset, allowing us to deepen our understanding of these lost species and to have a clear idea about the coastal environment of Western France during the Cretaceous.

Citation: Evidence for marine microfossils from amber, V. Girard, A. R. Schmidt, S. Saint Martin, S. Struwe, V. Perrichot, J-P. Saint Martin, D. Grosheny, G. Breton and D. Néraudeau, PNAS, 11 November 2008.

Provided by CNRS

Explore further: New hadrosaur noses into spotlight

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study ties groundwater to human evolution

Sep 10, 2014

Our ancient ancestors' ability to move around and find new sources of groundwater during extremely dry periods in Africa millions of years ago may have been key to their survival and the evolution of the human ...

Recommended for you

New hadrosaur noses into spotlight

Sep 19, 2014

Call it the Jimmy Durante of dinosaurs – a newly discovered hadrosaur with a truly distinctive nasal profile. The new dinosaur, named Rhinorex condrupus by paleontologists from North Carolina State Univer ...

Militants threaten ancient sites in Iraq, Syria

Sep 19, 2014

For more than 5,000 years, numerous civilizations have left their mark on upper Mesopotamia—from Assyrians and Akkadians to Babylonians and Romans. Their ancient, buried cities, palaces and temples packed ...

New branch added to European family tree

Sep 17, 2014

The setting: Europe, about 7,500 years ago. Agriculture was sweeping in from the Near East, bringing early farmers into contact with hunter-gatherers who had already been living in Europe for tens of thousands ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

wawadave
1.8 / 5 (4) Nov 13, 2008
tree may have fallen in rive washed down to sea.reason may have landed in river washed into the sea.
More likely things flow from land to sea then sea to land.
KB6
not rated yet Nov 16, 2008
Very cool discovery. And yes, anyone who's been anywhere that forests meet the sea can see how it could have happened.
kuczman
not rated yet Nov 16, 2008
Just as recent studies duplicated how these minute organisms get into fresh water submerged liquid resin. Done in Florida's swamp forests to see how amoebas and other organisms could possibly get trapped in amber.