The Annual Address will be given on Thursday 19th December at 16.00.
Not just skin deep: probing the secrets of fossil melanin using taphonomic experiments and analytical chemistry
Dr Maria E. McNamara
University College Cork, Ireland
The research landscape in palaeobiology has been transformed in recent years by the recovery of evidence of melanin in diverse fossil taxa from the Carboniferous to the Pliocene. This has facilitated the first evidence-based interpretations of the original hue and/or pattern of integumentary tissues in ancient organisms, with important implications for the evolution of behaviour and ecology in key animal groups. Studies of fossil melanin have also yielded somewhat unexpected insights into the taxonomic affinities, physiology and internal anatomy of fossil animals, confirming that ancient melanin has broad applications beyond reconstructions of original colour. New advances in this developing field are underpinned by a strong analytical and multidisciplinary approach, including data from modern analogues of fossil taxa and controlled laboratory experiments investigating the taphonomy of melanin. Despite intense interest in this rapidly expanding field, certain fundamental aspects of melanin biology, preservation and evolution are incompletely understood. Here I will review progress and challenges in the study of fossil melanin, incorporating a synthesis of best practise in study design and an emerging model for melanin evolution.