General, Research, Technology

Taxa of Lazarus - How Did Scientists Find "Living Fossils"?

Agree, the plot is about a fearless explorer,who walks through the woods and stumbles upon an ancient organism millions of years old, may form the basis for a science fiction story. But sometimes something else happens in life: in July 1943, while traveling through eastern China, a forestry official named Zhan Wang heard stories about a mysterious tree that no one could identify. Zhan changed his travel route in Hubei province to find the mysterious tree, and, as usual, found it. After making a few cuts, Zhan collected a few branches and buds according to standard botanical protocol and hit the road. The plant's anatomy reminded him of a Chinese swamp cypress, but the fine details of leaves, branches and cones were wrong. As it turned out later, Zhan discovered a real living fossil.

Due to poachers, by 1987, the California condor was on the verge of extinction, but the population was preserved.

Living fossils

Our planet is 4.5 billionyears old. During this time, a lot of things happened on it: science knows about at least five mass extinctions of wildlife. The most famous of these is the fall of the asteroid Chicxulub, which most researchers believe contributed to the death of the dinosaurs.

Today there is a lot of data,confirming the beginning of the sixth mass extinction. This time, however, the extinction is happening much faster - and largely thanks to us. Unfortunately, many species simply cannot quickly adapt to a rapidly changing environment and have suffered the same fate as dinosaurs.

Fossil remains of dinosaurs.

In fact, determine whether that other species is extinctor simply missing in any area is extremely difficult. Fortunately, there are several cases in history where species that were thought to be extinct (sometimes for millions of years) were rediscovered. Today, such discoveries are called the "Lazarus effect," after the biblical story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

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The species that "rose from the dead"

So back to our brave travelernamed Zhan Wang. A year has passed since he delivered the branches and cones of the mysterious tree to the National Central University in Chongchin. It was then, looking through the herbral collections of the university, that the botanist Zhong-Lun Wu stumbled upon them. Zhang's mysterious cypress tree, which looked unusual, caught his attention.

Further study of the samples was the reasondiscussions and controversies among Chinese botanists and dendrologists, who eventually came to the startling conclusion: the tree was not a new species for science. Surprisingly, the mysterious branches belonged to the existing species of Metasequoia - "dawn redwood", which came to be called "living fossil". Whether this term is appropriate or not depends on how much the tree has changed over the past five million years or so.

A fossil branch of Metasequoia, discovered before the rediscovery of living trees.

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But there is another term that definitely applies to such discoveries. Metasequoia is taxon of Lazarus... Recall that in the New Testament Lazarus of BethanyIs the person Jesus raised from the dead. Although the miracle of discovering Metasequoia was a matter of science, not religion, paleontologists Carl Flessa and David Jablonski coined the term "Lazarus taxon" for organisms that reappear after their supposed extinction.

In fact, there are many others in the worldexamples of Lazarus taxa. The most famous of these is the coelacanth, an ancient fish that was thought to have died out more than 66 million years ago. Not yet found in the South African fish market. The taxa of Lazarus also include the genus of ants, first discovered in amber, the midwife toad, and a whole group of marine invertebrates called monoplakophores.

Here is the Celacanth: it was considered extinct for millions of years. Until he was re-discovered safe and sound.

According to National Geographic, initiallyThe "taxon of Lazarus" was coined for organisms - ranging from one species to an entire group - that appear to have disappeared in one of five mass extinctions, only to reappear in the fossil record. This is because "petrification minima" seem to immediately follow mass extinctions, when, for one reason or another, not many organisms are trapped in stone.

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Nevertheless, today in the world there arefossils that have not yet felt the gaze of curious paleontologists. Moreover, many specimens go unnoticed, not to mention that recognizing living Lazarus taxa is an interdisciplinary endeavor that requires paleontologists and field biologists to keep abreast of what their peers are up to. It is also important that Lazarus taxa are extremely rare, and over the past hundred years, many more species have become extinct than one might think.