Fossils feed scientific imagination about the future like no other

Fossils and Las Hoyas

This unique fossil site records the ecological structure of a Lower Cretaceous wetland  (Barremian, 124-129 My) with unprecedented biological fidelity. The vegetal and animal fossil diversity is huge and the  preservation quality of soft tissue in the fossils is simply astonishing. There are myriads of organisms (plants and animals), including the earliest angiosperms, large and small predatory and herbivore dinosaurs, early birds, small sharks, and mammals. Besides fieldwork and the study of several fossils, I have been involved in the description of new species of vertebrates, such as Pterosaurs (Europejara), and a new triconodont mammal, Spinolestes.

Take a look at the Las Hoyas book

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Isolated feathers of Las Hoyas

(Marugán-Lobón and Vullo, 2011)

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Spinolestes xenarthrosus

(Martin et al., 2015)

Europejara

(Vullo et al., 2013)

Fossil skulls, dinosaurs and avian evolution

The emergence of an avian skull encompassed quite complex evolutionary processes. A great part of my research has been devoted to study avian skull evolution at macroevolutionary scales using shape analysis (Geometric Morphometrics). Much of the focus has been both in skull and brain organization, the assessment of their interplay, and developing hypotheses about how development might be underlying these macroevolutionary patterns.

3D landmarks in the avian brain

(Marugán-Lobón et al., 2016)

The evolution of the avian skull

(Buhllar et al., 2012)

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Fossil Birds and the evolution of life histories

Confuciusornis sanctus

Confuciusornis is the most abundant of all the fossil birds unearthed from the Lower Cretaceous Jehol biota in Liaoning Province (China). Actually, it is estimated that nearly a thousand of specimens have been unearthed since its discovery in the late 90's. Using large samples of these fossils, Dr. Chiape at the Dinosaur Institute of the NHM (Los Angeles, CA) and I, have unveiled intriguing features of the life history of this primitive birds.  For instance, we showed that this bird's growth was prolongued, entailing that populations encompassed individuals of multiple sizes, quite unlike modern birds. We were able to determine that the long tail feathers of several specimens were secondary sexual characteristics, and we are now studying its unique beak.

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Couple of C. sanctus (male & female)

Size distribution of known C. sanctus

(Marugán-Lobón et al., 2011)

Connectivity structure of the human skull

(Esteve-Altava et al., 2013)

Fossils, macroevolution and complexity

 

Together with my dear colleagues at the Theoretical Biology lab at the University of Valencia (and at the Institute de Biología Evolutiva, Barcelona) we devised the early steps of the AnNA (Anatomical Netowrk Analysis), a methodological and conceptual framework to study the evolution of morphology  via complex network analysis (i.e., graphs)

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Human skull bone connectivity graph

(Esteve-Altava et al., 2013)

Biological form and shape analysis

 

Using Geometric Morphometrics, we've studied multiple aspects of the evolution of organisms, such as assessing the effect of feeding behavior in the evolution of the avian beak shape.

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Morphospace of raptor skull shape evolution

(Brght et al., 2016)

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Complex interations between ecology, shape variation and biomechanics shaping the avian beak

(Navalón et al., 2018)