Quest to prove Australia–Siberia fossil connection
9 June 2009
Deakin University paleontologist Professor Guang Shi leaves for Siberia later this week to determine whether marine fossils from that region share biological similarities with similar fossils from Australia of the same era – research which may be relevant to the climate change debate and the work of Charles Darwin.
As part of a trip to Russia, China and Japan, Professor Shi will visit several Russian geological research institutes and spend a week in the field in northeast Siberia.
"I will be examining marine invertebrate fossils from Siberia that are between 250 and 300 million years old to verify their biological similarities with similar fossils from Australia of the same geological age.
"The 'bipolar similarities' of high-latitude fossils from Australia and Siberia have been reported for at least 70 years in open literature, but few people have specifically examined the fossil material to verify the alleged biological similarities and it is my understanding no one has collected field geological evidence to back up these claims," Professor Shi said.
In this instance the term bipolar means species found in the middle to high latitudes of both hemispheres, but not in the intervening tropical regions. He believes his findings could have global implications.
"The outcome of my field trip and planned research is highly relevant to the current global debate about climate change and its impact on faunal migration at a global scale."
Professor Shi will have a number of questions in mind during his trip.
"For instance, if the claimed bipolar biological similarities of these shallow-water marine fossils are confirmed, why haven't these fossils been found in the regions between Siberia and Australia such as China and Southeast Asia?
"And if Darwin was right in believing that all identical species must have originated from the same location, how did these bipolar species migrate from one hemisphere to another without leaving much trace of their migration in the tropics? How and when did this migration happen and why? By analogy to modern marine biogeography, it is quite possible that the fossil similarities between Australia and Siberia were driven by climate change and/or the flow of ocean currents, but the details of this model require further work," he said.
The trip may also shed light on a long-standing scientific mystery.
"We know many living marine species including sea worms and shore fishes demonstrate similar bipolar patterns in their global distribution. Scientists have been puzzled by this for over 100 years and are still struggling to find a satisfactory answer. I hope my research will shed light on this scientific mystery," he said.
Professor Shi's trip and research is supported by an ongoing ARC Discovery grant.
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