Published: Tue, June 12, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Fossil reveals early tetrapods lived within the Antarctic Circle

Fossil reveals early tetrapods lived within the Antarctic Circle

The remains found in southern Africa, in the town of Waterloo farm, which in the Devonian period, there were approximately 70 South latitude in the Antarctic region.

Africa during the Devonian was part of a super-continent called Gondwana that also encompassed South America, India, Australia and Antarctica.

When they have studied the fossils, the scientists have concluded that the Umzantsia and Tutusius are said to be four-legged creatures, and the body has resembles the alligators and a tail which resembles fishes.

Although the fossils are incomplete, these creatures appear similar to other Devonian tetrapods, according to the study jointly conducted by South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand and Sweden's Uppsala University.

Palaeontologist pioneer from the Albany Museum Dr Rob Gess made the revolutionary discovery in rocks from Waterloo Farm, an exceptional fossil site just outside Grahamstown which preserved a wide range of fish, plant and invertebrate fossils from 360 million years ago. It was about a meter long and was named in honor of South African Anglican cleric Desmond Tutu.

"Whereas all previously found Devonian tetrapods came from localities which were in tropical regions during the Devonian, these specimens lived within the Antarctic circle", highlighted Dr. Robert Gess, the lead author of the study.

The real importance of Tutusius and Umzantsia lies in where they were found, he said.

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Until now nearly all of the sparse records of Devonian tetrapods came from the other large Devonian continent, Laurussia, which comprised what is now North America, Greenland and Europe.

Gess explained that Devonian tetrapod fossils are found in widely scattered localities; however, if the continents are mapped back to their Devonian positions, all previous finds are from rocks deposited in Laurussia, a supercontinent that later fragmented into North America, Greenland and Europe. This was found in Eastern Australia which was on the extreme northern tropical coast of Gondwana.

The conditions in Devonian tropical lakes and estuaries therefore seemed to hold the key to understanding the causes of this pivotal macroevolutionary transition.

Now, the most puzzling thing about finding tetrapod remains in this region is that, during the Devonian Period, South Africa (or the southernmost part of Gondwana) resided within the Antarctic Circle. Abundant plant fossils show that forests grew nearby, so it wasn't frozen, but it was definitely not tropical and during winter it will have experienced months of complete darkness. But in the late Devonian-early Carboniferous period, the climate became more severe and occurred in the past.

Newly-discovered fossils found in South Africa suggest some of the first animals to leave water and walk on land came from Antarctica.

"There is probably not another country that so fully documents the long and dramatic evolutionary history of our own lineage", Gess said.

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