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Old 11-01-2013, 08:09 PM   #1
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Paleo Aquarium

As a student of paleontology, I have been musing on the idea of creating a “paleo aquarium.” The idea here would be to gather representatives of the groups that were prevalent at a point in ancient history and create a scene that mimics, as closely as possible, the fauna of the time. This is not an easy project, and this is certainly a long-term plan. This post is kind of an opportunity for discussion with people who may have experience with some of these uncommon groups – and who know how to get them. I also hope some people might find it interesting, possibly modifying the concept a bit to put in a take on different times in history (and environments). There are a lot of factors that have to be considered here, and it is a very complex concept. I’m ok with the fact that this will be a VERY high-maintenance tank.

The Idea:
The Carboniferous (about 358 to 298 million years ago) was an interesting time in the development of marine systems. Emerging modern groups were mixed in with the dominant groups of the day, most of which are either extinct or marginalized in comparison to their former diversity. On land, the earliest reptiles competed with giant arthropods in enormous “coal swamps.” Shallow seas dominated by crinoids, brachiopods, and bryozoans covered much of North America, and primitive ray-finned fishes were beginning to evolve. Naturally, the primary problem with creating an aquarium from this time is that many of the modern groups without which a reef aquarium is unimaginable either did not exist or existed in a rare, primitive state.

Some Problem Animals:
Firstly, just about all corals (from SPS to mushrooms to polyps) belong to a group known as the scleractinia. This presents a huge problem, as scleractinians did not evolve until tens of millions of years after the Carboniferous. Also missing were virtually all modern fish, bivalves, crustaceans, and polychaete worms (including feather dusters). Gastropods are a kind of hit-or-miss game; some groups were very common, others nonexistent.

Carboniferous Groups:
Here are some extant groups (even if rare) that one would find if transported to the Carboniferous. Naturally, some are more suited to the aquarium than others.

Sessile Animals
Crinoids (feather or basket stars)
Brachiopods (lamp shells)
Bryozoans (moss animals)
Sponges
Octocorals (gorgonians or sea fans and true soft corals, among others)
Tunicates
Sea anemones

Motile Animals
“Archaeogastropods” (including Turbo snails)
Limpets
Nautiloids (represented today by Nautilus)
Ostracods and copepods
Horseshoe crabs
Sea spiders
Mantis shrimp
Isopods
Lancelets
Chimaerae

The Setup:
As far as replicating how a reef of the Carboniferous was built, the bulk of the “reef” should consist of crinoids, brachiopods, and bryozoans. All three of these groups are represented today, if not common. The trick is populating an aquarium with them. Crinoids are notoriously difficult, so I could let it slide not having a carpet of them across the bottom (however, I could not, in good conscience, put together a Carboniferous – the “Age of Crinoids” – aquarium without at least one crinoid). The other two come more as byproducts of collection than as specimens, but I’m sure they could be found from someone willing or on a handy piece of live rock. The other sessile animals should be more marginal in their role, and sponges should be the most common of these.
Keeping the tank “interesting” with active animals proves to be even more of a challenge (as is shown by the list here). No really available fish are options, so things will be more crawling than swimming. Turbo snails seem to be a must-have, since they are about the only commonly available thing on this list. This is the part where I probably need the most help finding animals.

This will certainly be a heavy suspension-feeding tank; just about everything is a filter feeder. In any case, this is a big challenge to design, but I think the payoff will be more than worth it. Especially when a full reef aquarium is set up next to an excellent fossil display!
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Old 11-01-2013, 08:44 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jude.odell View Post
As a student of paleontology, I have been musing on the idea of creating a “paleo aquarium.” The idea here would be to gather representatives of the groups that were prevalent at a point in ancient history and create a scene that mimics, as closely as possible, the fauna of the time. This is not an easy project, and this is certainly a long-term plan. This post is kind of an opportunity for discussion with people who may have experience with some of these uncommon groups – and who know how to get them. I also hope some people might find it interesting, possibly modifying the concept a bit to put in a take on different times in history (and environments). There are a lot of factors that have to be considered here, and it is a very complex concept. I’m ok with the fact that this will be a VERY high-maintenance tank.

The Idea:
The Carboniferous (about 358 to 298 million years ago) was an interesting time in the development of marine systems. Emerging modern groups were mixed in with the dominant groups of the day, most of which are either extinct or marginalized in comparison to their former diversity. On land, the earliest reptiles competed with giant arthropods in enormous “coal swamps.” Shallow seas dominated by crinoids, brachiopods, and bryozoans covered much of North America, and primitive ray-finned fishes were beginning to evolve. Naturally, the primary problem with creating an aquarium from this time is that many of the modern groups without which a reef aquarium is unimaginable either did not exist or existed in a rare, primitive state.

Some Problem Animals:
Firstly, just about all corals (from SPS to mushrooms to polyps) belong to a group known as the scleractinia. This presents a huge problem, as scleractinians did not evolve until tens of millions of years after the Carboniferous. Also missing were virtually all modern fish, bivalves, crustaceans, and polychaete worms (including feather dusters). Gastropods are a kind of hit-or-miss game; some groups were very common, others nonexistent.

Carboniferous Groups:
Here are some extant groups (even if rare) that one would find if transported to the Carboniferous. Naturally, some are more suited to the aquarium than others.

Sessile Animals
Crinoids (feather or basket stars)
Brachiopods (lamp shells)
Bryozoans (moss animals)
Sponges
Octocorals (gorgonians or sea fans and true soft corals, among others)
Tunicates
Sea anemones

Motile Animals
“Archaeogastropods” (including Turbo snails)
Limpets
Nautiloids (represented today by Nautilus)
Ostracods and copepods
Horseshoe crabs
Sea spiders
Mantis shrimp
Isopods
Lancelets
Chimaerae

The Setup:
As far as replicating how a reef of the Carboniferous was built, the bulk of the “reef” should consist of crinoids, brachiopods, and bryozoans. All three of these groups are represented today, if not common. The trick is populating an aquarium with them. Crinoids are notoriously difficult, so I could let it slide not having a carpet of them across the bottom (however, I could not, in good conscience, put together a Carboniferous – the “Age of Crinoids” – aquarium without at least one crinoid). The other two come more as byproducts of collection than as specimens, but I’m sure they could be found from someone willing or on a handy piece of live rock. The other sessile animals should be more marginal in their role, and sponges should be the most common of these.
Keeping the tank “interesting” with active animals proves to be even more of a challenge (as is shown by the list here). No really available fish are options, so things will be more crawling than swimming. Turbo snails seem to be a must-have, since they are about the only commonly available thing on this list. This is the part where I probably need the most help finding animals.

This will certainly be a heavy suspension-feeding tank; just about everything is a filter feeder. In any case, this is a big challenge to design, but I think the payoff will be more than worth it. Especially when a full reef aquarium is set up next to an excellent fossil display!
Not to be a downer but this task has a lot of leaps that have not been accomplished in the hobby yet. The first would be keeping any crinoid alive, feather stars have the worst track record in captivity and are an animal that IMO shouldn't even be sold. Secondly in order to deal with the massive amounts of food being dumped in continuously to feed the filter feeders you will need an equally massive filtration system. If you can make it happen by all means do it but it will be very expensive and a lot of time. If you scratched the crinoids I'd say it is a lot more doable.
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Old 11-16-2013, 09:27 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jude.odell View Post
As a student of paleontology, I have been musing on the idea of creating a “paleo aquarium.” The idea here would be to gather representatives of the groups that were prevalent at a point in ancient history and create a scene that mimics, as closely as possible, the fauna of the time. This is not an easy project, and this is certainly a long-term plan. This post is kind of an opportunity for discussion with people who may have experience with some of these uncommon groups – and who know how to get them. I also hope some people might find it interesting, possibly modifying the concept a bit to put in a take on different times in history (and environments). There are a lot of factors that have to be considered here, and it is a very complex concept. I’m ok with the fact that this will be a VERY high-maintenance tank. The Idea: The Carboniferous (about 358 to 298 million years ago) was an interesting time in the development of marine systems. Emerging modern groups were mixed in with the dominant groups of the day, most of which are either extinct or marginalized in comparison to their former diversity. On land, the earliest reptiles competed with giant arthropods in enormous “coal swamps.” Shallow seas dominated by crinoids, brachiopods, and bryozoans covered much of North America, and primitive ray-finned fishes were beginning to evolve. Naturally, the primary problem with creating an aquarium from this time is that many of the modern groups without which a reef aquarium is unimaginable either did not exist or existed in a rare, primitive state. Some Problem Animals: Firstly, just about all corals (from SPS to mushrooms to polyps) belong to a group known as the scleractinia. This presents a huge problem, as scleractinians did not evolve until tens of millions of years after the Carboniferous. Also missing were virtually all modern fish, bivalves, crustaceans, and polychaete worms (including feather dusters). Gastropods are a kind of hit-or-miss game; some groups were very common, others nonexistent. Carboniferous Groups: Here are some extant groups (even if rare) that one would find if transported to the Carboniferous. Naturally, some are more suited to the aquarium than others. Sessile Animals Crinoids (feather or basket stars) Brachiopods (lamp shells) Bryozoans (moss animals) Sponges Octocorals (gorgonians or sea fans and true soft corals, among others) Tunicates Sea anemones Motile Animals “Archaeogastropods” (including Turbo snails) Limpets Nautiloids (represented today by Nautilus) Ostracods and copepods Horseshoe crabs Sea spiders Mantis shrimp Isopods Lancelets Chimaerae The Setup: As far as replicating how a reef of the Carboniferous was built, the bulk of the “reef” should consist of crinoids, brachiopods, and bryozoans. All three of these groups are represented today, if not common. The trick is populating an aquarium with them. Crinoids are notoriously difficult, so I could let it slide not having a carpet of them across the bottom (however, I could not, in good conscience, put together a Carboniferous – the “Age of Crinoids” – aquarium without at least one crinoid). The other two come more as byproducts of collection than as specimens, but I’m sure they could be found from someone willing or on a handy piece of live rock. The other sessile animals should be more marginal in their role, and sponges should be the most common of these. Keeping the tank “interesting” with active animals proves to be even more of a challenge (as is shown by the list here). No really available fish are options, so things will be more crawling than swimming. Turbo snails seem to be a must-have, since they are about the only commonly available thing on this list. This is the part where I probably need the most help finding animals. This will certainly be a heavy suspension-feeding tank; just about everything is a filter feeder. In any case, this is a big challenge to design, but I think the payoff will be more than worth it. Especially when a full reef aquarium is set up next to an excellent fossil display!
It seems extremely difficult, but if you could pull it off it'd be amazing. Keep updating of you decide to progress.
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