Messel – An Ancient Greenhouse Ecosystem

Krister T. Smith, Stephan F. K. Schaal, Jörg Habersetzer (Ed.)

is an exquisitely illustrated book by 28 internationally renowned specialists who present a synopsis of the current state of understanding of the climate and structure of the Eocene Messel ecosystem.

The information is derived from studying the rocks, animal and plant fossils of the Messel Pit. The Messel Pit represents an ancient maar lake situated in the archipelago that Europe was in the Eocene, close to present-day Frankfurt, Germany.
This title is also available in a German language version.

The exceptional state of preservation of Messel fossils has enabled researchers, in many cases for the first time, to identify minute functional details of the plants and animals of the Messel ecosystem about 48 Million years ago: plants, insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fishes.

Introductory chapters treat Messel, its formation as a maar lake, the conditions of burial and preservation of the fossils, and history of work since discovery of the first fossil there in 1876.

The Messel flora and individual fossils groups are discussed in detail in seven following chapters, discussing both paleontological and evolutionary details obtained from the Messel fossils and by comparison with other fossil locations.

A final chapter summarizes all previous research and presents a synopsis of ecosystem conditions (climatic, environmental, biota, producers and consumers, occupation of ecospaces, niches) of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems at Messel, derived from studying of the Messel samples.

This hitherto most comprehensive treatment of the fossil Messel ecosystem will make this book the standard reference work on Messel to scientists, while the lush illustrations of flora and fauna will captivate everyone from fossil enthusiasts to interested laypersons.

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Dedication  V
Forewords  VII
Preface  X
Chapter 1 Messel – Eventful Past, Exciting Future   1
Chapter 2 The Formation of the Messel Maar   7
The volcano and the maar at Messel   8
What did the Messel Maar look like?   12
The crater’s history   13
Chapter 3 Paleoclimate – Learning from the Past for the Future   17
Pollen and spores – A means for documenting climate fluctuations   18
Varves – “Annual rings” in the lake sediment   20
The oil shale – A unique Eocene climate archive   21
Chapter 4 Joined in Death – the Burial Community of Messel   25
Distortion in the course of time   26
The mystery of the bats   28
Fossil color preservation   30
Cause of death: Unknown   32
Chapter 5 Messel Research – Methods and Concepts   35
Excavation, conservation, preparation   35
Examination by means of X-ray techniques and electron microscopy   37
Taxonomy and Phylogeny   38
Species diversity, viewed mathematically   40
Chapter 6 The Fossil Flora of Messel   43
History of study   43
Systematics of the flora   48
The vegetation surrounding the maar lake   59
Chapter 7 Jewels in the Oil Shale – Insects and Other Invertebrates   63
Sponges (Porifera)   64
Mollusks (Mollusca)   65
Arthropods (Arthropoda)   66
Crustaceans (Crustacea)   69
Insects (Insecta, Hexapoda)   70
Paleobiogeography of the insects in Messel   101
Chapter 8 Actinopterygians – the Fishes of the Messel Lake   105
Range of species   105
Paleobiology   109
Paleogeography   110
Chapter 9 Amphibians in Messel – in the Water and on Land   113
Frog fauna   113
Salamanders   117
Chapter 10 Amniotes – Mammals, Birds and Reptiles   121
Chapter 10.1 Lizards and Snakes – Warmth-loving Sunbathers   123
The Messel gecko   123
Ornatocephalus   124
Lacertiformes: the early success   125
Iguanidae: Immigrants from the New World   132
Creepers in the underbrush   134
Eurheloderma: an early Gila Monster   136
The semi-aquatic shinisaurs   138
Necrosaurs: the “death lizards”   139
Small and large boas   140
Palaeopython   144
The squamate community   145
Chapter 10.2 Turtles – Armored Survivalists   149
Palaeoemys messeliana   151
Neochelys franzeni   153
Allaeochelys crassesculpta   154
Palaeoamyda messeliana   154
Chapter 10.3 Crocodyliforms – Large-bodied Carnivores   159
Diplocynodon darwini   159
Diplocynodon deponiae   160
Hassiacosuchus haupti   160
Asiatosuchus germanicus   164
Tomistominae – Gharials in Europe   164
Boverisuchus – the “hoofed” crocodyliform   165
Bergisuchus – a southern immigrant   166
The crocodyliform community   167
Chapter 11 Birds – the Most Species-rich Vertebrate Group in Messel   169
Large ratites and other terrestrial species   170
Bird life at water’s edge   181
The aerial insect hunters   182
Nightjars and allies   182
Swifts and early relatives of the hummingbirds  185
The arboreal birds of the Messel forest   188
Mousebird diversity   190
Parrots and passerines   194
Trogons and Coraciiformes   199
Several mystery birds   204
Biogeographic connections   206
Messel birds and tropical avifaunas   209
What remains to be discovered   211
Chapter 12 Mammalia – Another Success Story   215
Chapter 12.1 Marsupials – a Surprise in Messel   217
Anatomy and morphology   217
Paleoecology   219
Evolution and biogeography of the marsupials from Messel   221
Chapter 12.2 Four Archaic Yet Highly Specialized Mammals   223
The remarkable adaptations of Leptictidium   224
The piscivore Buxolestes   277
The tree-climbing Kopidodon macrognathus   229
The long-fi ngered Heterohyus nanus   231
Paleobiogeography   232
Chapter 12.3 With and Without Spines – the Hedgehog Kindred from Messel   235
A fish-loving hedgehog   236
Macrocranion tenerum
: the smallest lipotyphlan from Messel   237
A spiny, strong-headed, and scaly-tailed hedgehog   238
Paleobiogeography and Paleoenvironment   239
Chapter 12.4 Primates – Rarities in Messel   241
The first discoveries   242
Ida, the little diva of Messel   244
Further discoveries   246
Chapter 12.5 Bats – Highly Specialized Nocturnal Hunters with Echolocation    249
The bats at the Messel Lake   249
Wing shapes and hunting modes   250
Stomach contents   251
What the cochlea reveals   254
The evolution of echolocation   257
Summary of Eocene bats worldwide   261
Chapter 12.6 Rodents – Gnawing Their Way to Success   263
Systematics   263
The large leaf-eater Ailuravus   265
The short-legged climber Masillamys   266
Hartenbergeromys: a still enigmatic rodent   267
Eogliravus: The oldest dormouse   267
Paleobiogeography and paleoenvironment   268
Chapter 12.7 Ferae – Animals that Eat Animals   271
Systematics of Carnivoraformes and Pholidotamorpha    271
Lesmesodon: the Messel hyaenodontan   272
Paroodectes feisti: an agile climber   274
Messelogale kessleri: a small predator   276
Eomanis waldi: the oldest pangolin   277
Euromanis krebsi: the headless anteater   279
Eurotamandua joresi
: a doubtful South American   281
Paleogeography   283
Chapter 12.8 The Advent of Even-toed Hoofed Mammals   285
Messelobunodon: a primitive even-toed ungulate   285
Aumelasia: a cousin from France   287
Eurodexis: the smallest artiodactyl from Messel   288
Masillabune: a robust browser    289
Paleobiogeography and Paleoenvironment    290
Chapter 12.9 Odd-toed Ungulates – Early Horses and Tapiromorphs    293
The early horses (Equoidea)   293
The tapir-like animals (Tapiromorpha)    299
Chapter 13 The Messel Ecosystem   303
Topography and lake chemistry   303
The aquatic ecosystem   305
The shore and possible tributaries   305
The terrestrial ecosystem   309
Reasons for the great species diversity in Messel   309
The role of niches   311
Future prospects    313
References  315
List of Authors  339
Index  343
Acknowledgments and Image Credits  349