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One fossil locality, eight days, 513 rocks, 757 photographs and thousands of plant fossils

Figure 1: Bolzano covers the floor of intersecting alpine valleys defined by stunning dolomite peaks (upper left). Check out the local GAP for the latest in dirndl fashion (lower left). Cin and Ivo inspect a big slab with Late Permian conifer branches (right).

This summer we headed to the Italian Alps to work on fossils from a newly discovered Late Permian plant locality in the incredibly scenic Bletterbach gorge. This research is part of a larger project, which tries to quantify the hits that the terrestrial ecosystem took during the end-Permian world-wide biotic crisis. Back in those days Europe and North America were connected and part of one and the same floral realm, not surprisingly called Euramerica. Euramerica was tropical and semi-arid, and its floras were characterized by conifers and seedferns. Floral remains from this area and time interval are few and far between and notoriously incomprehensive, and thus also is our understanding of the floras. The discovery in the north Italian Dolomites of a specimen (as well as taxon-rich macrofossil flora some years ago) therefore means a big leap forward. Last year a multidisciplinary team was assembled to make an inventory and study the various plant groups and reptilian ichnofossils collected at the site. We were there to study and photograph the conifer remains and sample them for preserved leaf cuticles.

Truckloads of fossiliferous material had already been collected by volunteers over the last few years and were ready to be worked on. As a result, the field part of our expedition was reduced to sampling cuticle bearing sediment layers - sitting right on top of the Butterloch waterfall in Geoparc Bletterbach. The remaining time was spent digging the museum collection.

The collection is housed in the natural history gem Naturmuseum Südtirol in Bolzano - or Bozen as the German speaking South Tyroleans call it. The museum in turn is housed in a beautiful respectfully converted historic building from the latest 1400s in the “Bozner Altstadt”. So - just like last year - we spent the hottest part of the European summer up on the attic of yet another natural history museum.

Our counterpart, curator Dr. Evelyn Kustatcher, turned out to be a fabulous cook as well as a wonderful host. That, together with daily macchiatos and apiretivos on café terraces, and the stunning natural beauty of the area made Bolzano a particularly difficult place to leave.

We will be back...

Figure 2: Sampling the cuticle-rich layer close to the waterfall (upper left). Our host Evelyn Kustatcher (red shirt) explains geo-tourist spectators what we are doing (lower left). A look into the Butterloch-Bletterbach Gorge from above (right).