Anatomical evidence plays an important role in elucidating the relationships of plant fossils and in the ways in which plants grew and functioned -physiology. Silicification of plant tissues results in the most faithful preservation of cellular detail and occurs in two principal ways, within volcaniclastic deposits by precipitation of silica dissolved from ashes or as silica supersaturated waters flow from hot springs. The latter is particularly important because eruptions cause flooding of vegetation in the vicinity of vents and thus not only engulfs growing plants but also animals and microbes, even whole ecosystems in situ. Such occurrences are rare in the fossil record, but provide unique snapshots of past life. Perhaps the best known hot spring deposit is the Lower Devonian Rhynie Chert of Aberdeenshire, Scotland. However, studies of present-day vegetation growing in the vicinity of hot springs e.g. Yellowstone, USA and Iceland, demonstrate that the plants (and associated ecosystems) that are most likely to be flooded are usually hydrophytes or tolerant of flooding and are capable of withstanding normally high and potentially toxic levels of salt, heavy metals and pH extremes. Indeed similar plant and animal associations are found around brackish water associated with coastal marshes or ephemeral evaporation dominated inland water bodies (e.g. salt lakes). This suggests that fossiliferous hot spring deposits such as the Rhynie Chert do not reflect the most common vegetation but are highly specialised. However testing of such an hypothesis at Rhynie is highly unsatisfactory because we have no fossils from contemporaneous rocks in coastal or lacustrine settings, the Rhynie Chert plants are dominated by soft tissues unlikely to be preserved unless permineralised and, apart from a lycophyte, they have no living relatives, the evolution of the remaining lineages of vascular plants having occurred in the intervening 400 million years. Exploration by gold mining companies has identified numerous, more-recent (Tertiary & Mesozoic) plus one earlier Silurian, hot spring deposits with potentially fossiliferous silica sinters and associated wetland environments. By far the most extensive are confirmed richly-fossiliferous Jurassic (c. 200Ma) deposits within the Deseado Massif, Patagonia. Preliminary results indicate that unlike the Rhynie Chert, some of the Patagonian fossils can be related to living forms e.g. the monkey puzzle conifer family, and further there are richly-fossiliferous rocks recording the vegetation peripheral to the hot springs, bordering lakes and rivers, plus in stressed environments such as coastal fringes. A major component of the proposed project will be to reconstruct the Jurassic hot spring ecosystem including plants, bacteria, fungal decomposers, algae and animals. Building on this, following plant identification with assistance of Argentine colleagues, we will compare diversity (species list) from the various types of rock and estimate the degree to which the hot spring ecosystems are typical of either 'normal' dry-land/wetland, or salinity stressed wetland ecosystems. Following detailed anatomical description we will detect any modifications at the cellular level which are indicative of adaptation to water stress/physiological drought, or are connected with withstanding heavy metal toxicity. Similar but probably less rigorous analyses, due to time constraints, will be applied to Carboniferous, Cretaceous and Miocene hot springs, to attempt to demonstrate convergence in anatomical and physiological responses in disparate plant lineages. Particularly exciting is the prospect of the discovery of 3-dimensionally preserved angiosperms at the Chinese locality, Dongfanghong, part of an extensive gold field situated within the same Lower Cretaceous province and close to localities that have yielded the earliest semiaquatic angiosperms plus birds and feathered dinosaurs.
New World primates live in the tropical regions of Central and South America, and include such well-known and charismatic species as spider monkeys, howler monkeys, marmosets and capuchins. Today, there are more than 170 species known in five families, which collectively exhibit a broad range of different body sizes, diets and activity. Remarkably, all this diversity originated from a single common ancestor that reached South America from Africa 35-45 million years ago, probably by being transported over sea on a raft of vegetation. Why and how did this ancestor give rise to all the varied species that make up modern New World primate radiation? What were the drivers leading to the diversification of the different families? Were abiotic factors like changes in climate, the uplift of the Andes mountains, and the development of the Amazon river, or were biotic factors (competition with other mammals) more important in driving diversification? Can we identify when and why there were changes in body size, diet and activity pattern in different New World primate groups? Our proposed project will attempt to answer these questions. To do so, we will combine two very different, but complementary, types of data: genomic data, which provides detailed information on living species, and fossil data, which provides (often very incomplete) information on past diversity. Previous studies have usually used either genomic data or fossil data, but ours will combine the two, to take advantage of their different strengths and to compensate for each other's weaknesses. Firstly, we will examine the genomes of different New World primate species to see if we can identify genes relating to traits like diet, body size and activity pattern. By doing so, we will be able to infer how these traits have changed through time in the different New World primate groups. Secondly we will produce a new evolutionary tree (phylogeny) of all the living New World primate species, using large amounts of genomic data and sophisticated methods to produce the most complete and accurate phylogeny of the group, and we will use "molecular clocks" to infer divergence times for when different lineages split from one another. With our new phylogeny and divergence times, we will examine how the rate of diversification has varied through time, and whether very high or low rates of diversification coincide with periods of environmental change. We will also identify previously unrecognised species and reassess the taxonomy of all known species. This information will be key to conservation efforts, by helping identify the species most in need of protection to conserve maximum biodiversity. Thirdly, we will use data from the fossil record to model how living and extinct lineages of New World primates have diversified through time. This data can be compared with the pattern of diversification indicated by the phylogeny of living New World primates, to see if they are broadly similar. If they show major differences, this suggests that extinction has played a key role in New World primate evolution. We will also use the fossil record to test the hypothesis that New World primates outcompeted superficially "primate-like" mammals (actually, relatives of modern marsupials) that were already present in South America when the New World primate ancestor arrived from Africa. Our project will massively increase our understanding of New World primate evolution, shed new light on diversification and evolutionary processes in general, and help identify those New World primates most vulnerable to extinction. In doing so our findings will be of interest to a wide range of scientists, including evolutionary biologists, genomicists, ecologists and palaeontologists. Because our project, by rigorously clarifying NWP species numbers and boundaries, our results will also have broader practical utility for conservation practitioners and policy makers in governmental and non-governmental agencies.
Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.
A diverse, complex, and poorly characterised community of microorganisms lies at the heart of the wine – an industry worth over €220 billion globally. These microorganisms play key roles at all stages of the viniculture and vinification processes, from helping plants access nutrients from the soil, driving their health through protection against pathogens, to fermentation processes that transform the must into wine with its complex array of aromas and flavours. Given this importance, an improved understanding of the microbial community and its interplay will have significant effects on the industry. In recent years, 'Next Generation' DNA sequencing has revolutionised many areas of biology, including microbiology, through conferring the ability to characterise microbes on the deep community scale, through both ’shotgun’ and ’deep amplicon’ sequencing approaches. To exploit this power for the benefit of the wine industry, we propose MICROWINE, a 15 ESR Marie Curie Actions European Training Network. The network is constructed as a close collaboration between industry and academic partners, around the theme of the microbial community’s role in the wine production process. Through combining microbial metagenomic sequencing with powerful computation analyses, with metadata generated using techniques such as metabolomics and geochemistry, we will study the action of microbes from the plant protection and nutrition, through to wine fermentation process, using samples collected from both Europe and beyond. We will further train the ESRs across a wide range of relevant disciplines, and maximise information transfer through multiple host and academic-industry cosupervision and secondments. In this way, we anticipate contributing to the strength and scientific progress of the wine industry through training of a cohort of leading, interdisciplinary and tightly interconnected scientists at the forefront of modern microbiological, genomic, computational and related techniques.