The Guardian Palaeontology Blogs – Diverse Enough?

Back in October, the Guardian Science blog network called for palaeo bloggers to apply to join a team of experts writing about this fascinating subject. Readers were clamouring for more posts on palaeontology, yet they only had Dave Hone supplying anything palaeo related, mostly writing about dinosaurs and pterosaurs. The article noted that “palaeontology covers a wealth of other areas of prehistory – the Earth’s autobiography also includes significant chapters on plants, mammals, and invertebrates. And let’s not forget museums; just as important as finding out the story of life on Earth, is understanding how we present that rich and amazing for all to see.” They have recently announced who their new bloggers are and which subjects they cover, but there’s a bit of a diversity issue. I’m not talking about racial diversity (though they are lacking in that), and the new bloggers are mostly women (fantastic news), but the subjects they cover.

There are five bloggers in all, which perhaps was their limit. Naturally, Dave Hone remains their dinosaur and pterosaur guy, discussing those spectacular beasties from the Mesozoic and what it’s like to work on them. Ticking the box for museum insight is Mark Carnall, who has a strong background in museum work and an interest in public outreach. Susannah Lydon is an excellent choice, as she studies Mesozoic plants and environments – plants often get overlooked for the more public-friendly subjects, yet they are hugely important. Hanneke Meijer is the bird expert, mostly more recent birds such as the dodo, but birds do go back to the Mesozoic. And to round it off is Elsa Panciroli, the mammal expert, particularly those from the Mesozoic. All good choices, I’m particularly looking forward to reading more about early mammals – they are some of the most exciting fossils for anyone interested in evolution.

Aside from the plants (and who knows which fossil groups Mark Carnall will cover), all of the fauna covered are vertebrates from the Mesozoic onwards. There’s no fish expert, no experts in any of the many, many invertebrate groups which span from the Precambrian to the present; vertebrates might be popular, but they are the minority when it comes to the fossil record. The entire Palaeozoic has been overlooked, except perhaps for plants (though Susannah Lydon has studied mostly Mesozoic plants), even though it lasted longer than the Mesozoic and Cenozoic combined. There will be posts on Palaeozoic palaeobiology and some of the ostensibly overlooked groups – Elsa Panciroli recently wrote about early tetrapods from the late Devonian and early Carboniferous but expect these forays to be few and far between. There’s going to be some great stuff, but I want more…

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