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Royal Sask. Museum research finds insect changes may have set stage for dinosaurs' extinction

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Research by the Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM) shows that ecological changes were occurring in insects at least a million years before dinosaur extinction.

Papers published in the scientific journal, Current Biology, describe the first insect fossils found in amber from Saskatchewan and the unearthing of three new ant species from an amber deposit in North Carolina, according to a release from the province.

The amber deposit from in the Big Muddy Badlands of Saskatchewan, which was formed about 67 million years ago, preserved insects that lived in a swampy redwood forest about one million years before the extinction of dinosaurs.

"Fossils in the amber deposit seem to show that common Cretaceous insects may have been replaced on the landscape by their more modern relatives, particularly in groups such as ants, before the extinction event," Elyssa Loewen, curatorial assistant, said.

The research team was led by Loewen and Dr. Ryan McKellar, the RSM’s curator of paleontology.

"These new fossil records are closer than anyone has gotten to sampling a diverse set of insects near the extinction event, and they help researchers fill in a 17-million-year gap in the fossil record of insects around that time," Dr. McKellar said.

The three ant species discovered in North Carolina also belonged to extinct groups that didn’t survive past the Cretaceous period.

"When combined with the work in Saskatchewan, the two recent papers show that there was a dramatic change in ant diversity sometime between 77 and 67 million years ago," Dr. McKellar said in the release.

"Our analyses of body shapes in the fossils suggests that the turnover was not related to major differences in ecology, but it may have been related to something like the size and complexity of ant colonies. More work is needed to confirm this."

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