blogpost by Emanuela Di Martino & Mali H. Ramsfjell
Visit our lab at the Natural History Museum in Tøyen, you will be struck by the number of boxes populating the shelves of our office. Opening a box is like opening a window into the past 2.5 million years of bryozoan diversity in the Wanganui Basin, on New Zealand’s North Island. Our paleontological ‘treasures’ in boxes are the result of two previous WABO (Wanganui Bryozoan project in Oslo) expeditions undertaken in 2014 and 2017. After three years of curation and specimen-based research, it was time to hunt fossil bryozoans again in Hobbit country.
The 2020 WABO team was led by Kjetil L. Voje and consisted of a European party (us from Oslo, and Paul D. Taylor from London) and a kiwi-squad (Seabourne Rust, Dennis P. Gordon, and Diane Yanakopulos).
Our first port was Christchurch and our purposes, manifold. Jetlag recovery, a Canterbury Museum visit (for their lovely bryozoans of course), the Australarwood meeting, topped by a visit to Miocene limestone quarries that Paul and Dennis remembered to be extremely rich in Celleporaria and other bryozoans.
CANTERBURY MUSEUM. Paul Scofield was our host and Uttley’s material was the cream on top of a great collection of both fossil and extant bryozoans. As Microporella fanatics, to find the type specimen of M. discors, a species living today in New Zealand waters but also common in our fossil samples, made our day!
AUSTRALARWOOD. The 9th edition of this meeting took place at the University of Canterbury with 13 attendees who, except us, were all from Australia and New Zealand. Everyone talked about bryozoans (of course)….lovely!
WHITEROCK QUARRY. The day-visit to the early Miocene Whiterock Quarry at Loburn in the Waipara Valley was exploratory. We hoped that visiting these ‘older’ localities would yield fruitful material for some future studies we are planning. Unfortunately, those large Celleporaria colonies richly encrusted by Microporella that Paul and Dennis collected many years ago were no longer exposed. We could not hide our disappointment but as paleontologists we know that mining sites are a ‘dynamic environment’.
WABO III. With the team fully assembled in Wellington, we headed towards Wanganui, our basecamp for a week of fossil hunting. Wanganui cliffs are heaven! And the extensive shellbeds great for some bryozoan science (check out our papers!).
As before, we sampled like crazy, but our sampling strategy was slightly different from WABO I and II. We focused on some key-taxa, namely Steginoporella and Microporella, in order to boost our sample sizes to investigate detailed evolution of these very successful genera. We were not disappointed. Kjetil and Dennis even found a new species of Steginoporella in the Tanui Shellbed (0.4 million years)!
We also found the first fertile colony of Microporella rusti named after our beloved local guide, Seabourne. We thought we would never find ovicells after looking at hundreds of colonies when we described this species (paper). And they cannot be overlooked, they are huge! We were elated! Virgin birth mystery solved!
One week of wind, sun and sand went pretty fast. In addition to tons of bryozoans, highlights included stunning views, bumpy off-road tracks, four-wheel driving along the beach, mud pits, delicious strawberry ice-creams, long evenings wrapping thousands of fossils topped with Paul’s artfully made G&Ts!
We shipped two jumbo boxes full of kiwi bryozoans back to Oslo just before the previous world order went awry. Arriving in Europe, we were forced to quarantine followed by social distancing thanks to Covid-19. Our fossils are in the lab, but we are not. Hang in there bryozoans, we will soon be home to unwrap you and unravel your mysteries!