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Of Collective Behavior and Trilobites

Reading scientific papers can be a daunting prospect. Even the titles can contain layers of jargon. On Past Time, we work diligently to break down the barriers of science to make the discoveries of science for audiences of all ages. In this episode, we experiment with a new method: breaking down every word in the title of a scientific paper. It might seem like a little task, but it is a way to introduce people to big ideas! This time, we introduce big ideas about trilobites!

For this episode, we delve into the journal Scientific Reports and the article “Collective behaviour in 480-million-year-old trilobite arthropods from Morocco.” by Jean Vannier of the Université de Lyon and his colleagues. This title doesn’t have a ton of jargon, but it presents a great chance to look at INVERTEBRATE animals…gathering into a conga line.

Two examples of Ampyx priscus lines from the Fezouata Shale of Morocco. Image modified from Figure 2 of Vannier et al. (2019).

Well, not an actual conga line…but the fossil trilobite fossils in this paper are definitely situated in a single-file lines. These specimens of the species Ampyx priscus come from an amazing fossil deposit in Morocco. They teach us about the anatomy of trilobites, but they preserve important clues about the behaviors of ancient animals. Join us as we learn how and why trilobites—and living invertebrates—gather together in collective behaviors.

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