Exceptional fossils may need a breath of air to form

Some of the world's most exquisite fossil beds were formed millions of years ago during time periods when the Earth's oceans were largely without oxygen.

That association has led paleontologists to believe that the world's best-preserved fossil collections come from choked oceans. But research led by The University of Texas at Austin has found that while low oxygen environments set the stage, it takes a breath of air to catalyze the fossilization process.

"The traditional thinking about these exceptionally preserved fossil sites is wrong," said lead author Drew Muscente. "It is not the absence of oxygen that allows them to be preserved and fossilized. It is the presence of oxygen under the right circumstances."

The research was published in the journal PALAIOS on November 5.

Muscente conducted the research during a postdoctoral research fellowship at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences. He is currently an assistant professor at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. The research co-authors are Jackson School Assistant Professor Rowan Martindale, Jackson School undergraduate students Brooke Bogan and Abby Creighton and University of Missouri Associate Professor James Schiffbauer.

The best-preserved fossil deposits are called "Konservat-lagerstätten." They are rare and scientifically valuable because they preserve soft tissues along with hard ones - which in turn, preserves a greater variety of life from ancient ecosystems.

"When you look at lagerstätten, what's so interesti....

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