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Science

Giant Marine Fossils Discovered In Trans-Saharan Seaway

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Stony Brook University
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Maureen O’Leary, professor of Anatomical Sciences at the Renaissance School of Medicine, with fossil finds.";

The Sahara – the world’s largest desert – was once underwater. Now a 20-year study led by a Stony Brook University professor has profiled the aquatic animals that once lived there.

Maureen O’Leary, with Stony Brook University, led three expeditions to Africa to collect fossils from animals that lived there millions of years ago.

“Only because these ocean waters actually washed onto the African continent in the past did these fossils get left behind for us to pick up and study.”

She found dinosaurs and early mammals, along with crocodiles, catfish and sea snakes. One thing she noticed – a lot of these fossils were really big.

“Maybe there was some kind of equivalent of what’s called island gigantism – that some species when they are isolated on an island, tend to get very large.”

But that hasn’t really been explored in islands of water like the inland seas that once stretched across Mali, where O’Leary and her team did their research.

“This sea that was crossing Africa was expanding and shrinking, and as a result maybe that created a similar phenomenon, a closed environment where resources and competition was restrained and maybe allowed some of these animals to grow really large.”

O’Leary says it’s now up to other researchers to take a closer look at the fossils and see if they can piece together how the Sahara’s aquatic animals got so huge.

 

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