GAINESVILLE, Fla. Shiny amber jewelry and a mucky Florida swamp have given scientists a window into an ancient ecosystem that could be anywhere from 15 million to 130 million years old.
Scientists at the University of Florida and the Museum of Natural History in Berlin made the landmark discovery that prehistoric aquatic critters such as beetles and small crustaceans unwittingly swim into resin flowing down into the water from pine-like trees. Their findings are published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The resin with its entombed inhabitants settled to the bottom of the swamp was covered by sediment and after millions of years became amber, a bejeweled version of the tar pits that trapped saber-toothed tigers in what is now California, said David Dilcher, a UF paleo-botanist and one of the studys researchers.
People never understood how freshwater algae and freshwater protozoans could be incorporated in amber because amber is considered to have been formed on land, said Dilcher, who works at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. We showed that it just as well could be formed from resin exuded in watery swamp environments. Later the swamps may dry up and the resin hardens.
Dilcher and Alexander Schmidt, a researcher at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, replicated the prehistoric demise of the water bugs by taking a handsaw to a swamp on Dilchers property near Gainesville in north Central Florida. After they cut bark from some pine trees, the resin flowed into the water and they collected the goo and took it back to Dilchers lab on campus.
Stuck in the sticky sap were representatives of almost all the small inhabitants of the swamp ecosystem, Dilcher said. We found beautiful examples of water beetles, mites, small crustaceans called ostracods, nematodes, and even fungi and bacteria living in the water, he said.
The discovery not only solved the myste
|Contact: David Dilcher|
University of Florida