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Offline Clarke

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The Grameozoic & The Ascogene: Post Apocalyptic Scenario
« on: January 02, 2011, 07:10:06 pm »
I have this project on another forum, but I'm pretty sure only myself and another member attend it regularly. So I figured I'd post it here? Not really sure about the etiquette in these situations!

Oh and by the way, the extinction is completely unrealistic, and so are the groups that survive! It's just a method to set up a scenario.

Earth in the Near Future

The apocalypse that was to establish the great orders of life for the rest of Earth's existence, like most other extinctions, was a series of smaller events punctuated by a great cataclysm. Whether it be the gradual shrinking of sea levels prior to the cosmic fury that ended the Cretaceous, or the numerous changes in climate leading up to the sudden increase in volcanism that marked the end of the Permian, extinctions have always been a slow decline leading up to "the straw that broke the camel's back". The only differences between these and the H-G disaster that ended the Holocene were the cause of the disaster and its severity. Of course, the disaster was caused by humans.

Tool using organisms, while rare, are more common than you would think. Certain octupi, crows and ravens, even otters can use tools. What marked the difference between them and humans was how they thought about tools. For all of those animals, tool use is a useful advantage and nothing more. Most use it to get slightly more food, or to provide shelter, but could easily live without it. For humans, tools became essential. As the great forests of northern Africa shrank, early hominids were forced out onto the grassland. They already used tools, but it was ingrained. A hammer used to crack nuts wasn't passed on from mother to child, but was an instinct. Shoved out into a hostile environment, however, tools became the only advantage the hominids had. And so they adapted. Their brain grew larger, and started to see connections between things in the natural and social worlds. Suddenly, a tool was something that could be refined, not through the slow process of natural selection, but through the far rapid process of innovation. Hominids blossomed, waves of adaptive primates radiating from their homeland, until the first anatomically humans lived, died, and innovated, causing havoc everywhere they went. Most animals larger than a human were extinct by the industrial revolution, and the destruction only grew. By 2010 C.E., the extinction event wrought by humans was already the sixth largest in Earth's history.

But there was hope for a turn-around. The internet and other information technology made the public aware of the global climate change and extinctions; groups rallied around saving the remaining large mammals and birds. A host of funding for new, "green" technologies led to a seemingly exponential growth rate of "renewable energy". Farmers markets and reusable tote bags seemed to be the new style, Hummers became even bigger objects of ridicule, and events such as the Gulf Oil Spill forced the government to make changes to environmental policy. The global population seemed on the verge of uniting humanity over environmental issues, and hope for the future overshadowed the problems that were sure to go away as long as mankind pushed against them.

Of course, it was not soon after when things started to become worse. Almost all energy still came from fossil fuels, transportation still released ludicrous amounts of CO2, and industrial meat farms still contributed up to a third of greenhouse gases. But far more sinister were the threats that were not being watched by man. They were aware that the ice caps were melting more and more rapidly, but expected a slight rise in sea levels to be the result. All but a few thought about the vast quantities of methane lodged underneath the caps in permafrost, and as large sections of ice gave way, things started to get ugly.

People were well aware that, if all the ice caps were to collapse, the sea level would rise considerably. They were not aware, however, that if all ice were to melt, the sea level would raise an astounding 100 meters. Of course this didn't happen at once. Indeed, by 2061, the total sea level rise was "only" 10 meters. Almost all coastal cities had had time to react, and had gradually transferred further and further inland. Already there were refugees, however. Almost all coral atolls had vanished, and the entire southern half of Florida had been covered in water. The reason 2061 is a significant date is that it was at that time the west antarctic ice sheet begun collapsing. By 2087, the world had hit the important 100 meter mark, and was completely different than the world today.

100 Meter Prediction

As you can see in the photo linked to above, the consequences would prove to be devastating. The four major population centers had become archipelagos, if not completely inundated at all, and almost all national capitols had been flooded. With a population of near 11.4 Billion, the world descended into near-anarchy. Corporations, growing in power since their creation, quickly imposed some order. Large, walled-in enclaves provided shelter for those workers higher up in the company hierarchy, about .4 percent of the total world population. The rest, the vast majority, experienced a type of poverty unmatched in current third-world countries. The land was stripped of almost all vegetation, and soon items such as "grass stew", "fried roach", and "boiled bark" became dietary staples of the world, and even the flora and fauna that composed those food items became progressively rarer and rarer. What remained of the rainforests(and, indeed, most forests period) were soon demolished. An aerial photograph of the earth would have seen the blue-green marble of today, but vast swaths of mud-colored land, seemingly bleeding into the sea as the topsoil was washed away. Massive farms consisting of genetically engineered corn were where the poor found their food, but we shall get to that later.

This arrangement, a total anarchy the likes of which the earth had never seen before, proved to be remarkably stable. Indeed, it lasted for over two hundred years. But already, things began to fall apart. Even now the very best genetically engineered corn could barely make a living on what pitiful, sandy soil remained, the oceans were polluted wastelands, and the poor began to mass riot as food became virtually nonexistent. As their great gates collapsed, the corporations scrambled to retain what scattered remains of their world order were left. This was perhaps the worst time for Yellowstone to erupt. Actually a great volcano, Yellowstone had been hibernating for millennium. Often the focus of doomsday scenarios, it is ironic that the time it chose to erupt was a time in which almost nothing else could have gone wrong. Then again, it had to be something. As the great clouds of gas choked the remaining photosynthetic life, and all infrastructure collapsed, the final corporations chose to lease their nuclear stockpiles, remnants of wars centuries past, on one another. The toxic cloud resulting from this made the short nuclear winter promised by the eruption magnitudes worse. As photosynthesis hibernated, the fauna of the world were left struggling with what little resources they had left. Cold reformed the icecaps, and cannibalism along with it and the pure toxicity of the environment started to kill the vast majority of humans still left. But still swarms remained, and these ravaged what little species were left standing. Gradually, these humans lost their trust in each other, lost their social nature, lost language, lost tools. We can only imagine what the last human left alive felt, gazing at a flat landscape covered in toxic snow and devoid of all life but himself. Perhaps he didn't comprehend what he saw, as some argue language is the key to consciousness, and language had been lost generations ago. What he certainly couldn't have realized that out of this disaster would emerge a completely different order of life, one in which would seem eerily familiar and disturbingly alien at the same time.



Offline Clarke

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Re: The Grameozoic & The Ascogene: Post Apocalyptic Scenario
« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2011, 07:10:18 pm »
Kingdom Plantae Survivors

The plants that would survive the H-G extinction were to have a profound effect on the evolutionary history of Earth. Indeed, the Grameozoic is named after the dominant group of plants of that era - grasses. Grasses were already beginning to displace other angiosperms before the H-G extinction. While the traditional human image of "wilderness" conjured up images of dense forest, ridden with thick vines and undergrowth, this was actually a creation of humans. Pre-humans, the landscape was dominated by large herbivores, their size suited to host large stomachs capable of breaking down the cellulose in their diet of grass. The adaption that made grass so successful was that their stems were actually contained underground - what was visible were the leaves of the plants. This allowed them to withstand both the trampling of large mammals and those same organism's constant eating, as it is much easier to regrow leaves than stem. The herbivores also found small saplings to their liking, and so trees found it hard to encroach on habitat dominated by grass. For a time before the evolution of humans, much of the world was dominated by a mixture of grasslands and forests. To an observer looking back at those times, it might appear that the grasses were poised to dominate the world just like angiosperms had done in a world of gymnosperms, and gymnosperms in a world of ferns and horsetails, and so on. Perhaps they would be correct in that assumption. However, time didn't lend the grasses favor. Ironically, as grasses reduced the coverage of forests a certain group of early hominids were pushed out of their native habitat and forced into a hostile and alien world, spurring brain development. It was not long before these over-hunted many large animals in Africa and almost all animals larger than themselves elsewhere; with no large mammals to cut down saplings the trees began to spread once more. This was just a brief respite, though, as soon man was burning down the forests to provide nutrients and room for grasses they had selected for their own use; corn, rice, wheat, and barley were grown to feed rapidly rising populations, and domesticated grazers such as cows and goats soon required pastures to feed. Genetics produced better strains of these crops, and as humanity entered into its final death throes they remained some of the last survivors of the plant kingdom. Thick-trunked strains of bamboo had long ago replaced hardwoods in wood farms, as they were both hardy and grew at ridiculous rates that were sure to turn a profit even in the weak soil that was left. Corn had been engineered to more resemble "common" grasses - plants could originate from runners, and after farmers had cut them down-selling the corn to be processed into raw materials for food industries and the plant itself for use as fuel-the corn could regrow from its roots. "Common" grasses were among the only plants left in the wild, and better and better drought and pollution resistant strains were being produced frequently.

Ginkgoesand ferns were another story. All three survived because of humans, one way or another. Ferns became popular houseplants, and often became invasive species in some areas. Engineered to become hardier than their natural ancestors, a fern's leaves could die back during a drought and regrow from the base when rain fell. Ginkgo became the choice tree in those same communities; already used frequently in cities before the flood because of their hardiness and resistance to pollution, genetically engineered strains only further developed those abilities.

Not surprisingly, the plants that survived the extinction were all genetically modified. All managed to survive the centuries of darkness because of the hardiness of the plants, much of which was imparted to them by human engineers. The grasses and fern's roots managed to survive, most perishing to decay but a few surviving the apocalypse, not the least because of their natural resistance to bacteria and the environment's toxicity to even microbes. One or two stands of Ginkgo out of thousands also managed to miraculously survive, all leaves falling off but a few bits of stalks remaining, poking up through the snow.

Kingdom Animalia

Terrestrial Animals:

Only three species of vertebrates survived the mass extinction. One was created by humans, one was modified by them, and the last was almost killed by them. In 2010, there was almost 8 billion chickens in cultivation. By the end-days, this number had more than doubled, with 18 billion being grown and raised in battery farms the world over. Chickens were ideal fodder for intensive cultivation, and were not modified as heavily as some other meat animals, beyond  the introduction a high egg laying rate. Once the apocalypse hit, the chickens were free, released unto the harsh post-apocalyptic  landscape. Almost all died, obviously, but by the second or third generation they had managed to acclimate to their new surroundings. Being able to run quickly and fly for short distances, most evaded the human masses. Underground roots, insects, and dead bodies managed to provide food for a few populations until the sun started to shine once more and things started to grow.

Rats, on the other hand, were not grown by humans. Indeed, they did their best to exterminate them. But after the apocalypse hit, there were still plenty alive to adapt to their new environment. While those aboveground were soon picked off by humans, and even chickens, some remained underground, digging burrows and eating rotting vegetation and insects, and ultimately surviving until the skies cleared.

Now, the final surviving vertebrate is one which, at first glance, should have had no chance at surviving. Indeed, amphibians were the first vertebrate class to be driven to extinction in the wild. However, that does not mean that all went extinct. A strain of frog was developed from the genetic code of the Wallace's Tree Frog. Termed "flutterfrogs" by the marketing team of the company that produced them, they were sold as pets and were remarkably successful. The company increased the thickness of the skin and increased the efficiency of the organism's pulmonary respiration so that the frogs would not need to be constantly moist. They spliced in genes for amniotic eggs, and drastically changed the mating rituals of the species. They heavily modified the bone structure, reducing the length of the legs to almost nil, and at the same time increasing the size of their web-shaped feet. For these new organisms, walking was difficult, having to fold in their wings and walk on the tips of their middle fingers. Thankfully they didn't have to walk much, as their new stance granted them the ability to fly, and relatively efficiently to boot. Soon they began to modify them further to serve as insectivores for dirty communities, bats and most birds having died out quite a while ago. To this effect they added in the ability to hibernate for long periods when food was scarce and temperatures cold. Introduced to communities all over the world, a few managed to survive using this ability, emerging scrawny and weak to find new life beginning, ready to take advantage of the new world and make it their own. While it seems incredibly unlikely such a misfit species should not only survive but succeed in a new world, one must remember the thousands of genetic "toys" humans had created that perished with their creators.

Marine Animals:

The primary driving force behind marine life was phytoplankton. Whether they be free-floating or symbiotic with corals, they provided the ultimate base of the marine food chain. When photosynthesis effectively became impossible, however, the phytoplankton either perished or formed endospores. Death quickly worked its way upwards, until all that survived was the scavengers, and even these died out rather quickly after an initial population spike. For nearly two hundred years, a hypothetical observer would have proclaimed the sea dead. However, this hypothetical observer must have only viewed the surface. Indeed, specialized animal life still clung on to its existence at the bottom of the sea. The abyssal plains and whale-falls were dead, starved by the lack of food, but some life still clung along near hydrothermal vents. Even these had suffered their own mass extinction as a brief spike in volcanism killed off much of the upped food chain, but still some annelids, crustaceans, and gastropods clung on. They had their own world to reclaim, though it would take longer because of their highly specialized nature.

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Re: The Grameozoic & The Ascogene: Post Apocalyptic Scenario
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2011, 07:19:36 pm »
+150 M.Y. Map


Offline Clarke

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Re: The Grameozoic & The Ascogene: Post Apocalyptic Scenario
« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2011, 07:20:10 pm »
The Terrestrial Sea - East African Rainforest - +150 M.Y.

The Canopy:

The world one hundred and fifty million years in the future is different than the one left by humans. Far from being the toxic wasteland of the near future, this new world is a wet and tropical hothouse. With humanity's release of the carbon which had been trapped underground for eons, and the flooding of panama increasing ocean circulation, the cycle of glaciation that had persisted throughout the Quaternary ended. And as thousands of years grew into millions, the continents continued to slide across the globe, and the species spared by the extinction began to adapt to new roles. In the heyday of the Grameozoic, +150 M.Y. in the future, a new supercontinent has formed, Novopangea, encompassing all continents except for the half-flooded Antarctica. Africa met Western Eurasia, sealing the last vestiges of the Tethys Sea, North America drifted westward to contact Eastern Eurasia even as the divided Australia produced by the flood slid north-west into the Yellow Sea, and South America moved north-west to collide with North America once again.

The East African Peninsula is a sight of peak biodiversity. Separating from Africa much as Madagascar had done, East Africa collided with Southern Eurasia around the same time that Western Africa met Western Eurasia, and around the same time that the flooded Island-Continent of India re-met Southern Eurasia. The three continents were the creators of the Afro-Eurasian Mountains, the largest in Novopangea. Separated from the rest of Novopangea by the Afro-Eurasian mountains, the East African Peninsula is completely covered in a rainforest whose volume and height is the largest the Earth has ever seen. This rainforest is not composed of the thick-stemmed hardwoods of modern Earth, but bamboos. Or, rather, bamboo. For you see, a hypothetical arboreal animal could cross the entire length of the subcontinent above-ground without ever having to jump over a gap. This owes to the structure of the of the plant. A bamboo growing up on the outskirts of the rainforest(if their were any, that is), would extend side-braches out at a relatively young age. These would wander out blindly until they came in contact with another bamboo. The stem of the older bamboo would actually fuse with the branch, and provide nutrients for the younger bamboo until it had reached a height in which it could start producing nutrients for the others. This system spans the sub-continent, and other rainforests in other continents, and has evolved over millions of years in a relationship similar to the ones in which the first cell colonies began to aggregate. A region of bamboo that experience less-than average rain that year can count on fluids being imported from other regions, and fluids can be exported when the bamboo have a greater-than average rainfall. The relationship also help in reproduction; small, vine-like structures grow around the stem connecting the bamboos, originating from both plants. These meet in the center and extend flowers which press against each other, forming berry-like structure which in turn form a ring of bright blue around the circumference of the stem. The interconnected nature of the bamboo also keeps individuals from toppling over, but this alone does not explain their tremendous height. The bamboo forests extends upwards of an astounding 200 meters(650 feet). But it is not their structure alone that allows them to grow this high; under normal conditions they would be unable to transport all the required water upward past around 120 meters. But they don't need to. Near the top of the forest, the bamboo stems begin to grow leaves, and the canopy itself seems to be a single floor of green. But besides the growth of leaves, the stems also begin to shape themselves in such a way that if one were to take a cross section of the stem, it would appear U-shaped. When heavy rains start, the leaves automatically stiffen, funneling water into the stem, which then funnels it into the cup-shaped base of the stem. These provide much of the water from which both the bamboo and the other organisms of the canopy live off of.

The organisms that live in the canopy are a diverse sort. Airplants are common, and their brightly colored flowers, fruit, and leaves provide life to the forest. A group of species descended from corn have found this niche, rooting themselves in the pools of water produced by the bamboo (and tapping into the bamboo itself for nutrients) and forming a base of large leaves, all the while sending out vines from the base that produce compound fruit that look remarkably like a mix between an ear of corn and a raspberry. These and the bamboo's fruits provide food for a remarkable variety of herbivores. Mammals with squat bodies and large, powerful hind-legs jump from tree to tree, grasping upon a branch with their long forearms and squatting down on their haunches to pluck at berries with their elongated fingers, useful for more than simply grappling through the forest. Large, flat teeth grind up the seeds inside as they chew, but a few survive long enough to be deposited in their feces, helping the plant. The rodent begins to emit a sound, a long, screeching noise that is quickly repeated by others nearby. It quickly jumps away, swinging and hopping through the branches, moving towards the rest of its herd. Other berries seem prey to a multitude of brightly colored flutterfrogs, swooping at them and gripping onto the composite fruits by wrapping their arms around them, eating their prize by plucking off one kernel at a time. Other, larger flutterfrogs, around the size of an outstretched hand, glide above the canopy with wide mouths, picking off the swarms of flying insects common in the rainforest. Still larger prey on their brethren, swooping down from the sky to grab a frog, and retreating to a branch, folding their hind and fore webs so that they can stand, and picking through the carcass with a narrow snout filled with sharp teeth and eyes located on a raised brow for stereoscopic vision. Further along, we can see a strange gray structure situated on the side of a bamboo trunk. Small, white insects move outwards to complete various tasks, the barely changed decedents of termites. Their nest isn't composed of dirt; there is none in the canopy. Instead, special workers chew up leaves, the termite's saliva acting as a glue, and spit out and craft a papery material that comes to form the hive. Nearby, in another pool of water created by the bamboo, these same termites tend clumps of fungi which will be later harvested for sustenance. Or would have, however, if their day had not been interrupted. A bright-red head pokes out from behind the trunk, signaling the arrival of an insectivorous bird. The bird's wings serve a similar purpose as its distant ancestor, which lived in a similar environment, providing limited flight to travel between trees. At the ends, though, the bird's single finger is exposed, a single vicious spike used, among its primary function, to help fight against predators if cornered. But here they serve their primary function. Only twice the size the size of the nest, it approaches it, its elongated toes wrapping around the narrow bamboo branch. Moving its wings downwards, it punctures the nest with its sharp fingers, then holds them up to its mouth and licks them clean of the termites which now cover them. It does this over and over again, then uses its fingers to tear open the nest and let its long, pointed beak clean up the rest. However it is not the primary consumer in the rainforest. A strange bird moves quickly through the forest. Scaled on both its hind-legs and its wings, it uses its pointed fingers to stab at branches to get a grip, releasing as inertia carries it away. These wings are not wings anymore. Devoid of feathers, covered in scales, and grossly elongated, this predator uses them to swing from bamboo stem to bamboo stem, moving along at speeds much greater than could be achieved by navigating through the thicket with wings designed for flight. However, like the wings of the previously mentioned termite-killer, these pointed limbs serve a second purpose. Dropping through the trees, the predator lands on a bamboo stem and moves its arm through one of the aforementioned rodents, all in a single, fluid motion. Its face has also adapted to both a predator and an arboreal lifestyle; two eyes face forward on the side of its beak, providing stereoscopic vision, while its beak is thick and curves slightly downward. As the rodent writhes, only half the size of the predator, it plunges its head into its side, eyelids closing around its eyes and its scaled head coming into play. After it has taken its fill, it raises its head upwards and emits a shrill sound, calling others of its kind over to partake in the kill.

Offline Clarke

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Re: The Grameozoic & The Ascogene: Post Apocalyptic Scenario
« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2011, 07:21:08 pm »
The Terrestrial Sea - East African Rainforest - +150 M.Y.

The Understory:

Viewing the understory, one can see why the East African Rainforest, and indeed most rainforests, have the nickname "terrestrial seas". Not only because of the amount of volume the biome contains, but because of both the way it is structured and the organization of the ecosystem. For the understory is dark, darker than any understory that came before it. Both because of the size of the bamboo, and its interconnected nature, below 130 meters photosynthesis becomes effectively impossible. During the day the light is the equivalent of a night with a full moon, and during the night itself it becomes much darker. Because of this, like in the ocean, the bottom is dependent on the profits of the top. The carcasses of animals, droppings, dead flora, and various other leavings filter down toward the bottom, accumulating on the floor. But they do not stay there for long. The floor is covered in visible mats of hyphae, the mycelium of the mushrooms which also dot the floor. Feeding on the steady fall of food from the canopy, these immobile heterotrophs let their food come to them. But fungi are not the only multicellular organisms living in the understory. Plants manage to live here, in their way. Relatives of the airplants of the canopy, and distant decedents of corn, have become heterotrophic. Parasitic, their seeds need to land near the roots of bamboo to prosper. Moving their roots around and into the roots of the bamboo, these plants, unlike their relatives above the understory, do not need large leaves, as they receive all the sugars they need by digging into an entire forest's worth of glucose. Reproduction isn't as easy, though. Most grasses are pollinated by wind, which might have been a bonus after the demise of most pollinating insects, but has turned into a disadvantage in a thick understory which quickly dampens any winds which might form. Fortunately, the plants and fungi aren't alone in the understory. The parasitic plant, like its relatives in the canopy, puts out numerous vines. But instead of climbing the bamboo, the parasitic plant's vines crawl many feet along the floor of the rainforest before releasing the numerous, thread-like, female flowers characteristic of corn and its decedents. At the same time, the male flowers releases pheromones similar to the ones the mushrooms of the understory produce. These attract termites, which move underneath the long tassels of the male flower before scuttling off into the distance. The pollen is designed to stick to the legs and feet of the termites until forcibly rubbed off. This happens when one of those same termites walks over the female flowers of a different individual. The tassels of the flower, lying flat against the floor and looking remarkably like the mycelium that coats the floor floor of the forest, receive the pollen coating the legs of the termites, and those few that become fertilize grow fruits, the individual kernels swelling while other tassels remain receptive. But the destiny of the newly formed fruits can wait, as I have left unexplained why the mushrooms of the forest floor would produce pheromones attractive to the termites.

The termites of the forest floor are closely related to the ones in the canopy, and like those, they form a symbiotic relationship with fungus. They do not cultivate it, though, but spread its spores. The mushrooms of basidiocarps are not the main body of the fungus, but the reproductive organ. A loss of the mushroom does not hurt the fungus so far as removing the resources expended on it. As such, it is not surprising that without wind to spread their spores, they, like the parasitic corn, have adapted new reproductive techniques. The mushrooms of the understory fungi are not large like their modern brethren. Indeed, they do not seem to grow past the point in which a normal fungi would unfold from the immature bud, forming the distinctive umbrella shape of a basidiocarp. These small buds mature sexually, though, growing the spores but keeping them firmly anchored to the gills. They then release the pheromones attractive to the termites, drawing them in from a distance despite the darkness of the forest floor. The termites remove the mushroom from the mycelium, dragging it back toward the nest(built underground, unlike their relatives in the canopy) where it will be consumed, the poisons contained which would normally kill any organism attempting to eat it neutralized by specific chemicals within the termite's saliva. The spores are hardy, though, and will be redistributed in the feces of the termites. This symbiotic relationship allows the fungi(and, indirectly, the parasitic corn) to reproduce efficiently, and the termites to have a steady food source.

But this happy relationship is interrupted. The walls of the underground hive begin to cave in. As the walls around them collapse, the dirt is scooped into an awaiting mouth. The dirt will pass through the predator's digestive system, the termites and other nutrition removed, and the castings dumped out as waste. This organism is a distant decedent of the brown rat. Half a meter tall, this rat is more spherical than the elongated shape of than its distant ancestor. Largely immobile, the rat subsists on the organisms which reside within the rich loam of the rainforest. Using it forearms, whose fingers have become flattened to form a scoop-shaped hand to shovel dirt, it scoops dirt out of the ground, digests it, and releases casts. Moving only to escape predators and to find new dirt, the trails of trenches and nutrient-rich feces which follows it can be seen meandering about, tracing the path between areas where termite nests used to be, picked up by its sensitive nose. The rat decedent is not slow when it needs to be, though, and it suddenly increases its speed many fold as it picks up the scent of a predator stalking its trail. The predator is just as fast, though, and a flurry of sound becomes apparent as the two trace their way between the tightly spaced trunks of the bamboo. The predator is better adapted to a mobile lifestyle, though, and it quickly catches the rat. The predator is a bird. At two meters tall, the bird is the apex predator of the understory, coming from a long lineage of bipedal avian predators whose members are the apex predators of most other biomes, as well. Its feathers, coating all of its body besides its beak, stick together using small hooks at the end of each filament, providing a remarkably aerodynamic body shape. Its bones have renounced the hollow structure of its distant ancestors, and their structure has changed to provide much forward momentum while in motion. Its face has also changed remarkably. Two eyes, facing forward, have become massive to see in the low light of the understory. Its beak has changed- thick and wide, it is studded with teeth quickly regained from ancestral genes. It now uses that same beak to clutch at the rat, but then unexpectedly releases it. Badly injured, the rat tries to scurry away at only a fraction of its former speed. But the predator does not seem to care, instead simply watching as its prey moves slowly away. The reason for this becomes apparent, however, as the predators two chicks catch up to their mother, and pursue the rat, toying with it before ripping it to shreds. It is only by sticking with their mother on hunts that the chicks can learn how to hunt when they become adults themselves. Further away, we rejoin the story of the parasitic corn. A small flutterfrog, only 5 or so centimeters long, spies the corn with its large eyes. It lands, consuming the few fruits that have developed before flying off, leaving the rest of the long female flowers to be pollinated, and with seeds inside the fruit the frog ate spreading with the frog's feces. As it heads away, something l jumps off of a horizontal bamboo stem, landing on top of the frog and it to the ground. A distant decedent of the rat, it lives as a small predator, dropping on small flutterfrogs. Its body is different from that of a rat - large flaps of skin drape between its outstretched limbs, and its entire body is flattened. It will drop onto one of its prey, grasping on with its teeth as it spreads its legs out to slow its fall. Its eyes have migrated, actually beginning to approach the underside of its face, which helps it see where its going. Its snout is elongated and filled with pointy teeth, and is flexible to allow it to reach under its underside. Grasping its prey in its mouth, it scuttles off as a large cracking sound is heard.

The understory does not always remain dark. More frequently than in a modern rainforest, the bamboo trunks fall. Not accidentally, as it happens. The flow of nutrients is monitored by the other plants; if the nutrient flow begins to drop off, either because the organism becomes too old, becomes too shaded by other bamboo, or even because too many parasitic plants are feeding off of it, they sever the connections between them and the plant. The thin trunk of the bamboo, unable to stand on its own, topples. Its segmented trunk is actually designed to snap as it falls through the canopy, breaking in many pieces to save the lives of other nearby plants. This, however, leaves a hole in the canopy. The organisms that live here have evolved to grow rapidly, as already bamboo seeds are beginning to send up shoots. With the help of of others, the first bamboo shoot to make a connection to the others of the forest grows far more rapidly than the others, and chokes out its competition. Because of the selection pressures inherit in this, bamboo have evolved to grow more rapidly than their ancestors, already remarkably fast growers. So the non-bamboo plants have to grow just as fast while the hole in the canopy letting light in persists. Growing from rhizomes, the various grasses put out shoots and grow to full height within a week, their large fruits being eaten by various canopy flutterfrogs before entering hibernation once again as the light slowly diminishes. But this is not the only opening in the forest. Various large rivers flow through the sub-continent, their width prohibitive to the connective stems of the bamboo. In this place the decedents of Ginkgoes thrive, once again flourishing in the habitat they evolved for. Rooting in stream banks, their habit of bolting, growing quickly before putting out many leaves, serves them well as they grow diagonally toward the middle of the river, displaying their distinctive fan-shaped leaves to the crack of sun beneath the bamboo. Smaller branches actually descend into the water, facilitating the water-borne reproductive strategy that is characteristic of ginkgoes. Strange creatures inhabit these waters, but their description will come at a later time.

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Re: The Grameozoic & The Ascogene: Post Apocalyptic Scenario
« Reply #5 on: January 02, 2011, 07:21:24 pm »
The Feathered Grassland - Central Novopangean Savanna - +150 M.Y.

The basic ecological form of the grasslands of Novopangea is not all that different than today. The individual species and their habits are quite different though, down to the grass itself. Not even the most successful species persist in the same form forever, though. Quickly spreading throughout the globe once again after the start of the Grameozoic, they soon found that the only viable competitor for the niche they occupied were themselves. What chance does a single individual, surrounded by others of its kind closely packed in for miles around, have to survive? Some individuals soon found that by further developing their stolons to reach over other plants, they could anchor into the soil and push the existing plants out. Sure, the new root was sure to be quickly nipped off by any one of the new herbivores that were beginning to evolve, but so what? Its genes had been passed on, its ability to reproduce enhanced. It wasn't long before the grasses began to spread out thin blades on the sides of the of the stolons, shading out others of its kind and reaping massive photosynthetic gains for a brief period of time. But this time period could also not be as brief, and putting a grass under shade for six months could have negative effects on a plant adapted to making use of the harsh sunlight that was common on the grasslands. Soon plants began to respond to the stimuli of extended shade, stretching stolons over that of their competitors. The savannas of 150 million years in the future are the inevitable result of that arms race. A theoretical human observer walking on the ground would not see the cropped, near-vertical blades that are the hallmark of today's grasses, but a vast carpet of horizontal blades each originating from a central, horizontal stolon. Walking on it would not produce the semi-softness of today's grass, but instead feel like walking upon a sponge, or perhaps a peat bog. For the ground is a tangle of stolons, many feet long in most cases, and in some areas this mat extends down to two feet deep.

But in many places, it does not extend that far down. The grass is cut down by herbivores, filling their stomachs with the tough roots and blades of grass. But they are not the spiritual decedents of the large mammals of modern earth, or the megafauna of prehistoric times. Indeed, these herbivores can trace their ancestor back to the common chicken. And they are larger than the megafauna hunted to extinction by humans. These herbivores are the runners-up to the great sauropods of the mesozoic in terms of largest land animals to have ever lived - the largest of species can reach an astounding 25 tons. This is not only the result of the thick air; the sauropods managed to gather enough oxygen to support their size by modifying their pulmonary system to utilize air sacks - the avians already had this adaption. But there were other obstacles to overcome before the avians reached their current position. As the bamboo forests spread across the continent in wake of the apocalypse, some of the chickens which had managed to survive found a diet of nutritious bamboo shoots to their liking. Quickly adapting to digest first bamboo leaves and then common grasses, their crops and proventriculi grew as large as their gizzards, which became larger as well. The entire organism grew in size to compensate - driven by the low quality of their food to become larger and larger, they soon encountered troubles with their weight, even after giving up the hollow bones characteristic to avians. Over tens of millions of years, they began utilizing their wings to support their weight, until eventually arriving at the same bone structure of their distant ancestors. However, one can readily tell of their ancestry. While their legs are thick and covered in scales, kept to ward off predators which might go after their thighs, one can tell by their feet that they are descended from avian rather than reptilian stock. Their back feet possess four digits - arranged almost symmetrically, except for three positioned slightly more towards the front. These are short and blunt, lacking any claws. Their front feet are different, though. Possessing only two digits, the anterior is large, relatively wide and flat, and blunt. The posterior is similar, but smaller and carrying less weight. But these strange front legs are far from the only giveaway. In fact, the body structure as a whole looks different than that of a sauropod. While sauropod's bodies were adapted to grazing on leaves high up on trees, their necks long and positioned in an "S"-shape reminiscent of swans, the avian's bodies are adapted for grazing. Short necks mount heads seemingly always pointed downward and grazing. A bright orange crest on the males runs from the base of the beak to the neck, splayed upward to attract females and warn off other males. A large, flat beak oddly similar to the duck fans out from the end of the head. At its end the beak curves inwards and widens, providing a surface for the removal and grinding of grass blades and stolons. The avian, like its distant ancestor, has hardly any post-anal tail, not relying on it to counteract a long neck. The entire body, asides from the legs, are covered in tan colored feathers. These can be splayed outward to help radiate heat, but can be fluffed up to keep it in, as well as providing a deterrent to parasites.

But parasites are not the only organisms determined to make a meal of the avians. Another group of organisms, also descended from birds, stalks the avians, moving silently through the thick mass of stolons. Their aim is not to engage an adult avian. No, that would be dangerous for even a group double the present, rather average-size, group of ten. Instead, they focus on a young one, incautiously straying behind the others. Suddenly, the savanna erupts in chaos, disturbed by these predators, the top of the food chain in the Central Novopangean Savanna. Related to the predators in the understory of the rainforest, these follow a similar body plan, but are larger. Two forward facing eyes, feathers with hooks that latch on to others for an extremely aerodynamic surface, a bone plan adapted to running, and two modified wings, the single digit protruding, used to tear at the flesh of their prey. But when confronted by a pack of these predators, the avians do not scatter. Instead, they seem to organize into a  semicircle, the adults facing forward while their young shore up behind them. Here a secondary purpose of the feathers comes into play, as they are raised and lowered rapidly to reveal and hide their brilliantly patterned undersides, confusing the predators as the lines between individual organisms blur. A bold predator runs forward, attempting to throw itself through the scaly legs of the avian only to be brutally clubbed by the blunt side of an avian's massive bill. Seeing their comrade tumble to the floor, the other predators pack a hasty retreat. The only attack style effective against so massive a prey is that of surprise, after all, and once the predators have disappeared the avians go on with their lives, leaving the broken body of the courageous predator behind.

Of course, no food is wasted on the savanna. After she is sure that the other animals are gone, a lone creature emerges from the thick undergrowth. Long and slim, this organism's body plan looks more like a dachshund than a rat, its distant ancestor, with the size of the long-extinct dog to match. Its body shape allows it to quickly slip through the tangled stolons that cover the savanna, moving towards the scent of fresh kills that its powerful nose can detect from far away. It quickly digs into the the carcass, its gut expanding to fill itself with as much as an organism ten times its size as possible. Once it has taken as much as can fit, it fills its cheeks and heads back to its nest. Made of compacted stolons and indistinguishable from the surface, it is home to both the female rodent and her spawn, two youngsters that have only just out grown their mother's milk. The mother chews the meat in her mouth thoroughly, then spits it out in front of her two children, who make quick work of the meal. Even after a hundred and fifty million years, the basic family pattern of the rodents remains the same. Of course, not all the predators do. Their world is quickly disrupted as a body only the mother's size bursts into the nest. This predator discovered the nest while the mother was away, and has waited patiently for her too return. Bristling in spikes derived from an ancient ancestor's hair, this organism is a non-avian predator, a mid-level consumer which feeds on smaller animals like the rodent family. The bristling spikes are for contending with not only hostile prey but higher predators, the killing of its prey is the proprietary of the jaws, a wicked triangle-shaped organ which quickly dispatches the family. In many ways the organism maintains the overall shape of a rat, no matter how different some parts of its body have adapted.

In the distance, a lone tree grows out of the mat. With a thick, bulging lower stem and sparse leaves, one would have to come closer to view the distinctive fan-shaped leaves that marked it as a distant decedent of the Ginkgo tree. Adapting to use wind pollination rather than water pollination, the Ginkgoes have been rather successful in the aptly named Grameozoic, although constituting a very clear minority. Clusters of flutterfrogs nest here, eating both the "fruit" of the Ginkgo and the insects that are beginning to gather in swarms as dusk gathers. This gathering of a plant and an animal, one unbelievably ancient and one relatively newly created, are a potent reminder of the strange new world time can create as selective pressures sharpen dull adaptions and forge new designs out of old.

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Re: The Grameozoic & The Ascogene: Post Apocalyptic Scenario
« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2011, 07:21:43 pm »
The Shaded Wasteland - Afroeuropean Desert - +150 M.Y.

The Afroeuropean Desert is the largest desert to have formed during the Grameozoic. Located North of the central third of the Afroeurasian mountains, its dry state is the result of the massive mounts of that same mountain range, of which some exceed the heights of the modern-day Everest. Even so, its size is only half to a third that of the Sahara, with the world being a much wetter place today. But the desert itself is not dry, and the organisms that have come to live there have had to adapt to suit its uncompromising climate. Selective pressures more intense than in most areas of the world have led to plants strangely divergent from their kin. A squat form, looking like a thick, rounded cylinder poking out of the sand, is one of these.the apparent scales that cover it give off that impression, although its rounded shape doesn't hurt. But looking closely at the plant one would notice how the "scales" are actually fan-shaped leaves, the thick part pointing downward and overlapping the skinny parts of the leaves below, distinctive to Ginkgophyta. These plants are members of a particularly successful breed that are the predominant plants in mediterranian, semi-arid, and arid climates, relatively rare as those biomes are. Indeed, they compromise their own class within Ginkgophyta, the phylum that today contains only one member, but has been relatively successful in years past(if not close to the same level of success as the grasses).

But the leaves of the plant are not always a greenish-brown. A peal of lightning flashes on the horizon, and a roll of thunder accompanies it. While the mountains stop most storms, the monsoons that are frequent in the greenhouse clime of the Grameozoic often manage to slip past, greatly reduced that they become. Now the first rain of the year, and possibly the only, begins to fall upon the desert. The tightly overlapping leaves of the ginkgo soften and raise, turning a bright green as the plant's processes begin to heighten. The storm drags on for another hour, and almost as soon as it passes the ground begins to dry. This isn't only the result of the hot sun, but also the ginkgo's widespread roots sucking up most water within a three meter radius of the plant. Underneath the plant's leaves, now utilizing the sun at a much greater rate than previously, patches of brown particles decorate the upper exposed areas, and on the lower exposed areas tiny, quarter centimeter long and millimeter wide stalks protrude horizontally from the trunk. The brown patches are pollen, and the stalks receptive ovules. For this class of Ginkgophyta regained its hermaphroditism long ago, advantageous in a biome in which individuals are widespread. But even needing the head-start to reach other members out of sight, the pollen still isn't being dispersed with the wind. Indeed, it actually seems to be retained by the plant, withheld from falling off. The reason for this becomes apparent as a fast-moving form appears in the distance. A bipedal bird approaches, kicking up a small amount of sand behind it. Adapted for both running and the heat of the desert, it engages in a symbiosis with the Ginkgo. As it comes closer, sand near the Ginkgo is parted, and another bird pops its head out of the sand. The approaching bird a male, and the one spending its days in a semi-hibernation underneath the sand next to the Ginkgo is a female. The male runs toward the plant, long feathers extending out of its tail and dissipating heat. As it arrives, the bird spreads its wings out, and one can see that their undersides are a dark brown color, stained with the spores of the last plant it visited. It rubs the undersides against the ovules underneath the bottom leaves, and then proceeds to mount the waiting female. Over the course of a few months, these will gradually mature into twenty or so "fruits" that push up the bottom leaves of the plant even after they close once again and resume a state in which photosynthesis is reduced. The female then digs underneath the sand, producing a few of these dried, wrinkled "fruits" which the male gobbles down before collecting spores from her ginkgo and speeding off in the distance. The female eats some herself, then digs back underground and reenters her semi-hibernation. The male will not live for much longer. After a few weeks of running around between females and their plants, guided by the rich scents that the ginkgoes give off, the leaves of the plants will begin to close. The rubbing of the wings against the plant functions as a tool of acceptance for the female, a ritual which prompts the female to allow the male to mate and to give him food. Without that ability, the female will accept the mate, but will kill the male afterwards, being four times the male's size. Meanwhile, the females the male impregnated will lay one to two eggs. Almost all are female, and are prompted to find an empty plant following a rain and pursuing the same scents as the male. Most will have to fight for their plant, but those that win will be guaranteed a relatively peaceful and secure life. Meanwhile, one in a rare many will produce a male, which will live a short life impregnating up to twenty females before being consumed by the last one for food.

The Ginkgo's side of the symbiosis is relatively obvious. The plant is pollinated, and its seeds are spread in the feces of the males, the only food they will eat in their lives being the "fruit" of the ginkgo, preserved from the last fruiting by the sands of the desert. But the bird's side of the symbiosis is less obvious. Even being only slightly endothermic and hibernating for most of their lives, surely twenty or so "fruit" from a single desert plant should not be able to feed an organism half the plant's size? But while the fruit provides a good portion of the bird's diet, and can be stockpiled easily by the preserving properties of the desert sands, it does not provide all of the bird's food. For a fruiting plant in the desert is an attractive center for herbivores in the barren wasteland of the sands. Forward in time from after the rainstorm, the first fruit of the ginkgo releases a strong scent, not the rancid butter smell of modern ginkgo fruit but a smell that promises sugar and water. As the sky lightens with dawn, a strange rodent pops its head out of the sand, and starts moving toward the ginkgo. While the desert is most active at night, that activity draws predators which the rodent avoids by being active primarily in the day. Upright, this rodent has gained an adaption invented more than a few times in the history of earth. While it walks on all fours as it emerges from the ground, as it accelerates its two massive hind legs begin to take over from the front two, pushing it forward as it "hops" along with its body near-parallel to the ground to minimize contact with the hot surface and maximize movement efficiency, the power of its legs focusing on pushing it forward and allowing the force of its acceleration as well as its tail keep it upright, occasionally pushing upwards with its front legs. A long tail balances it and radiates heat, while its large nose picks up the scent from more than half a mile away. Only half a foot long, the 4 foot ginkgo dwarfs it, and its rich fruits are a quarter of its size. The rodent's mouth begins to produce saliva in anticipation of the meal, but the rodent doesn't attack yet. Soon others of its kind approach from different directions, and once fifteen or so accumulate they rush forward on a signal not apparent to an outside observer. Each heads towards a different fruit, trying to get to the fruit before the inevitable occurs. Suddenly that inevitable happens, the body of the female bursting out of the sand and quickly snapping the neck of a rodent. Before the raid is over, three rodents out of the group of fifteen are dead. However, the rest have escaped with enough food to last them for a long time, as long as it is properly stockpiled. Meanwhile, the bird has gained more food and in greater quality than it has lost, enough to supplement stockpiled fruit until the next fruiting of her plant.

But the rodent we followed has survived. After it has moved far enough away, it deposits its comparatively massive fruit nearby a recognizable landmark, a small boulder a few feet tall. But its day is not over. True fruits are blooming this time of year as well as the false fruits of the ginkgo, and their fruiting is a brief window in time in which the organism emerges from hibernation to stockpile food and water and to mate. It hops off after the scent of a fruit, eventually arriving at what appears to be a cluster of upright stalks each around two feet tall, but is actually a single plant descended from corn. The stalks are connected underground by rhizomes, and whorls of five to six thick, waxy leaves grow progressively smaller as they reach the top. A long tassel grows at the top of the plant, right above a large compound fruit which appears as a thick necklace of berries around the plant, but is actually a conglomerate of many compound fruit that long ago in its evolutionary history might have been individual corn cobs. The rodent climbs the plant, four times as tall as the rodent, by quickly jumping from whorl to whorl, an act which takes care and precision. Eating the individual kernels around the stem and then storing in its large cheeks what it can't eat, then moving towards the next stalk and repeating the process, it quickly finishes gathering the fruit and heads back to its stockpile triumphantly, its cheeks bulging with fruit. But when it arrives at its cache, it finds negative rather than positive. The stockpile has been found and raided, the ginkgo "fruit" which would have allowed the rodent to survive until the next rain gone.

The culprit is also a decedent of the rodent. Related to the spiny predator of the savanna, its sharpened hairs providing not only protection from the sun, but radiating heat when upright. A predator or something its size would have a tough time navigating through the upright spines, or even the hard plates they form when collapsed. It raids stockpiles of other fauna, adding theirs to its own. But its spines don't make it invulnerable to predation. A large avian predator, six feet tall and related to the predators of the rainforest and savanna, appears, its scaled face invulnerable to the spines of the rodent. Then the predator does something strange. Instead of digging in to its kill, it simply flips the rodent over so that the wound is hidden. It then digs itself partway into the sand so that its top is even with the surface, the tan coloration of its feathers blending in perfect with the desert sands. A few hours later, a large shadow covers the ground, slowly growing larger as the areal scavenger drops to consume its free lunch. The scavenger is a flutterfrog. With a six foot "wing"span, it is one of the larger of its kind. Its large membranous "wings", actually modified feet, allow it to lazily drift on the currents using up practically no energy as it searches for organisms that have died of exhaustion or thirst in the desert. Its two eyes do not rest on the side of the head, but rather near the underside to see below it. A long dexterous snout filled with sharp teeth is adept at bushing away spines as it bites into its prey. The avian predator attacks, quickly rendering the scavenger dead with its own teeth. The large frog struggles momentarily, but collapses as it dies, furnishing the apex predator of this sparse ecosystem with a meal, water and nutrients needed to survive in the dry sandscape that life, ever adaptable, manages to cling to.

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Re: The Grameozoic & The Ascogene: Post Apocalyptic Scenario
« Reply #7 on: January 02, 2011, 07:21:57 pm »
The Vestigial Ocean - Pacific Sea - +150 M.Y.

The Pacific Ocean's heyday is long past. As North America slid westward, the size of the Pacific shrank, becoming less than the Atlantic, then the Indian, then the Arctic, until its present point, in which it must be regarded as two connected inland seas rather than a single ocean. The North Pacific Sea is formed by the Northern Coast of East Australia combined with the connected East Asia and West North America. Only a small strait feeds into the Souther Pacific Sea, a slightly larger body of water including the flooded remains of Central Australia, being cut off by the tip of South America. In just a few million years more the Northern Sea will be closed off, gradually becoming smaller and smaller till all that remains are plains of salt, and soon after that Antarctica will collide with Novopangea near the mouth of the sea, finally sealing the last of the mighty Pacific off.

But that still remains in the distant future. For now, the unique organisms that live in the tropical conditions of the sea flourish in one of the biodiversity hotspots of +150 M.Y. A location just off of the west coast of the strait connecting the North and South seas doesn't look like the environment one would expect a hundred fifty million years ago. From the low mineral quality of the water, shallow ocean, and warm temperatures, a coral reef would likely exist here at a different time. That isn't to say, though, that other organisms haven't filled the niche left by corals after their demise. Pillars jut out at seemingly random intervals from a hard surface, predominately green or red but webbed with brilliant shades of pink, blue, orange, violet, and yellow, colorful veins criss-crossing to form brilliant patterns. Closer observation reveals a rock-hard surface of a colorful material, embedded with a thick mesh of lines branching off of each other, but each tracing its origin to one of many thousands of tiny nodes. The nodes are gaping holes in the "rock", their mouths opening and closing, pumping water in and out to filter what sparse nutrients exist in the barren water. These organisms are descended from the motile polychaetes that clustered around the hydrothermal vents, quickly moving outward to recolonize and fill new niches after the apocalypse above. Their new lifestyle led them to forgo many of their previous specialized adoptions, notably the anus, that either gave the organisms no advantage or actively harmed them. The veins stretching out from their central body are modified gills, embedded along with their bodies in a thick substrate excreted by hundreds of generations of organisms. But for these modified gills, the exchange of gases is now a secondary function. The reason these gills are so large, the reason they cover the surface in the colony in thick webs of green and brownish-red, is because they are actually host to symbiotic algae and cyanobacteria, providing the organism with the vast majority of its food.

And like the coral reefs of long ago, these new worm reefs host many motile organisms as well. The polychaetes were the big winners in the diversification that followed the extinction, being the first and among the only to re-colonize the surface waters. Some are grazers, grasping onto the reef with long, flexible parapodia, and scraping off the algae growing unwontedly over the reef, and in return finding shelter in the crevices formed by the colony. Still others are long and serpentine, swimming in undulating motions, using their parapodia to steer and for added contact with the water, before grasping a grazer in its large mandibles, eating its fill then burying it in the sand, injecting immature gametes which will eat the carcass before maturing into adults. But these relatively small predators, only a foot long, can't eat everything. A strange form lurks above a reef. A thick tail provides much of the momentum it uses for swimming, and two smaller fins are arranged slightly to the side of the organism, allowing it to steer and to maintain its position in the water. Two flaps of skin on top of the body, the anterior one being slightly smaller, act as dorsal fins. A thin line of a mouth is surrounded at equal intervals by ten of what appear to be thin tentacles; a closer look will reveal segments, the "fingers" working in harmony to slowly pull the gills of the Polychaetes out of the biological "rock" that they're embedded in. Alien in nature, these are actually the aquatic decedents of rats. But they cannot be classified as mammals anymore, let alone rats. For one hundred fifty million years is a long time for any organism to evolve, and these new vertebrates lack the hair of mammals, as well as being too anatomically changed to be grouped in the same class. A distinct feature of Class Marimus is the gradual merging of the front hands near the mouth, with the newly available digits rapidly specializing and allowing a variety of functions, from the peeling of gills off of the surface of the reef seen in the first organism, to digging through sediment, to pulling strands of algae rapidly into its mouth, and even utilizing the growth of webbing between them to funnel water into the modified teeth of the large filter-feeders. Their two nostrils are now found on top of the organism, while its back legs and tail are often used as propulsion, as well as to stabilize the organism.

But the waters still belong to the Polychaetes. Although the previous worm was a small predator, that is not always the case. A similar organism with a much larger body comes after the sea-rat, losing its element of surprise as the rat's hydrodynamic body moves rapidly through the water. But its not match for a predator like the polychaete, and it begins to slow as it loses energy. The predator puts on a burst of speed, plunging through the rat's body, killing it near-instantaneously.

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Re: The Grameozoic & The Ascogene: Post Apocalyptic Scenario
« Reply #8 on: January 02, 2011, 07:27:41 pm »
Prelude: Antarctica

The Symbiotic Isles - Antarctic Archipelago - + 150 M.Y.



While highly divergent from their counterparts today, the biota of the world one hundred and fifty million years in the future have a relatively small biodiversity. Some of this owes to the magnitude of disaster produced by the H-G extinction, and some owes to the fact that almost all the continents are connected into Novopangea. But that is not to say all are. Antarctica is the exception to this rule, the continent that has remained separated from the rest of the world since our time. The combined effects of millions of years worth of ice pressure and rising sea levels have reduced the continent to an archipelago, dominated by the two primary islands of Wilkes and Ellsworth. When one thinks of Antarctica, one thinks of a frozen wasteland, the only fauna dependent on its biodiverse coasts. But here Antarctica also differs from its modern counterpart. Antarctica has advanced slowly toward the Indian Ocean since our time, growing slightly warmer with each passing millenia. By now, most of the continent has a subtropical climate, aided in that part with the warmth originating from one one the massive ocean currents that lay scattered across the sea, distributing hat from place to place. And with wet and warm conditions comes biodiversity, aided by the geography of the area, with scattered islands constantly swapping and isolating species, turning the Antarctic Archipelago into a biological hot spot.

A biological hot spot that happens to be in possession of biota not found anywhere else on the planet. For while no plants survived on Antarctica, that is not to say that no flora did. Lichen, always the hardy survivors, slept in crevices under ice, the relatively fresh air of Antarctica allowing many to survive. And as the clouds cleared, a warmer Antarctica greeted them. And with no flying herbivores to spread seeds from South America, and too great a distance once their were, they were free to diversify. Although they grew at tremendously slow rates, natural selection still acted upon them. They expanded across the ground, and so a member that grew faster could over take and cover his neighbors. The faster they could grow, the more intense the selection processes were against slower growers. Soon great swaths of Earth were covered in roughly circular patterns of brilliant shades of teal, orange, tan, green, and even black. When two met, they tried to grow over one another, forming short ridges. Eventually one would overtake the other, flowing down the other side and growing over the rival lichen, digesting the parts that slowly withered without sun. But there was a point at which a plant couldn't grow faster without overtly spending hard-earned materials, and so new strategies emerged, changing the landscape of the archipelago forever.

Now when two lichens met, the result was more ferocious than a simple tug-of-war between the two competing flora. Fungi have always been proficient in the art of digestive acids and antibiotics, and this came into play as competition between lichens became more intense. The short ridges at the meeting of two lichens now didn't last long; their opponent infiltrated the structure of the other, intermingling hyphae, pumping out digestive acids and preying on the other's algae and mycelium until the fabric of one began to fall apart. It was simpler to digest the other if you overlay it, and from that point on the victor would precede to grow over and consume the other. The competition between lichen became a biochemical arms race, each developing an arsenal of digestive acids and enzymes to break other's apart. A pharmaceutical company would have given half their fortune to be able to take samples from this Antarctica, the bounty of which would have provided hundreds of venues for defeating diseases resistant to existing antibiotics.

It was around this time that the first flutterfrogs capable of traversing the now vast distances between South America and Antarctica evolved, and were swept to the islands by freak chance. Many began to make a habit of migrating south-east every year to take advantage of the predator-less conditions in which they could safely raise youth. Seeds dropped in their feces. Some even survived, for a time. But they were not adapted to the massive toxicity of both the soil and the lichens. But the flutterfrogs were luckier. Some could persist year-round on the bounty of the sea, and made their homes on Antarctica permanent. And some found creative ways to feed on the lichen. Unlike the crusts of today, these lichens were thick and porous, most around two cm thick, compressing easily under weight. The centers of the lichens didn't produce many antibiotics, and were therefore relatively safe to eat. Small, 4-cm long frogs adapted to walking, scuttling along on modified fingers, two per modified wing giving the organisms a total of eight appendages for movement. The lichens were quick to adapt, though, producing the same toxins in the centers at those on the end. The scuttlers didn't mind that much, though. A brief die-off was soon followed by a diversification of forms far vaster than that before. Algae wasn't the only symbiote that fungi could take, and with the scuttler's diet of fungi, some species of  its prey were sure to take advantage of the constant intake of half-digested food. Some took up residence in the scuttler's digestive track, and they broke down the poisons that would have otherwise sickened the frogs, in return obtaining part of the harvest. They were superior in other areas as well, and soon took over the functions of the entire digestive tract, producing enzymes to break down food, ridding the need for such cumbersome organs such as the pancreas and liver. And as some scuttlers inevitably took predatory niches, the fungi spread over their skin, producing toxins that would harm the predator if it didn't have an up-to-date symbiont of its own.

And as the fauna diversified, so did the flora. The tiny ascocarps of the lichens became more pronounced, and began to specialized. Conical ascocarps up to a meter tall and spread out at seemingly random intervals over the base collected rainwater, flat ascocarps elevated on tall stalks photosynthesize, and a coat of filaments forming a sparse "hair" on the surface of the lichen gathered water from the atmosphere and spread spores to any organism passing over it. Pustules formed of ascocarps folded in on themselves, blending in with the surface of the lichen. An unwary scuttler that was unfortunate to step on one would be sprayed with potent toxins, which would likely penetrate through their fungal "skin" before the symbiote could break it down. Centimeter-tall ridges extended in a circular pattern from the base; each, like the interior of a tree, represented a year of growth, and provided a line of defense to any invasive rival.

The biodiversity provided by the warm climate and isolated environments would prove to be localized to Antarctica for only a short time. Not all scuttlers had lost their wings, and some began to migrate between Antarctica and Southern New Zealand, and then from Antarctica to Madagascar as the continent moved steadily north. Already, these islands were beginning to fall under sway of the toxic, fast-growing, and highly adaptive lichens, and this was only the beginning. Antarctica was steadily creeping north-west, and it would only be another ten million years before the northernmost islands came into contact with the peninsula composed of what was once Indonesia. A great exchange of species is certain once this happens, and the resulting extinction may well topple the domination of grasses, ushering in the Ascogene and creating a range of new, diverse forms.

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Re: The Grameozoic & The Ascogene: Post Apocalyptic Scenario
« Reply #9 on: January 02, 2011, 07:27:59 pm »
Grameozoic Extinction - 162 M.Y. C.E. - 163 M.Y. C.E.


Spread of Antarctic Lichen, circa +163 M.Y.

The Antarctic Lichen and the flora of the Grameozoic had evolved separately for one hundred and fifty million years. As Antarctica crept closer to Novopangea, it inevitable that one group would succeed, and the other would suffer, at worst going completely extinct, at best being removed from their place as the dominant flora of their respective lands. One might expect the lichen to be the ones which suffered. Isn't that how it had always been, with the lichen remaining under the heel, so to speak, of the Plants? But that was simply because the lichen had never had the opportunity to evolve independently of the plants. To examine which group would come ahead, we must examine the nature of competition between the respective flora's relatives. Both competed for light, but the plants had a habit of growing out of a single point. For them, the most light would be obtained by growing upward faster than their brethren, shadowing them. But the crustoise lichens of Antarctica grew in mats, spreading radially to obtain sunlight. As mentioned previously, this initially led to faster growing, each trying to grow over their neighbors. But the limit on the rapidity of growth meant that the lichens found other ways to compete with each other. On contact with another flora they, unlike plants, actively attempted to kill it by sending probes into its body and releasing toxins. So it should not be overly surprising that lichens had the upper hand on plants when they first came into contact. Much of the Indian Ocean was scattered with islands created by the actions of the shelled, photosynthetic polychaetes. These nutrient-poor wasteland were inhospitable to plants, but perfectly suited to the lichens. The lichens slowly spread from one island to the next, until finally reaching the island of what was once Southern New Zealand, now situated in the Indian Ocean. A rainforest was situated there, a terrestrial sea similar to the one on the East African Peninsula. The lichens adapted to use the interconnected bamboo to their advantage, spreading spores through the massive, interconnected forest. Lichens matured inside the trunks, consuming the nutrient-rich sap, latching on and breaking through the surface of the plant's bark, soaking up sun and repeating the process. Lichens were everywhere, and one by one bamboo fell, their connections to their brethren severed. But it was too late. Patches of light shown through the forest, growing more and more common as the bamboo fell. Grass sprang into the holes left behind in the canopy, and with no new bamboo to compete with, the predominant biome of the island became grassland. But lichen spread as well, spreading over the grass, consuming the grass, poisoning the grass. Within a few thousand years after the first parasitic lichen, the island belonged to the Antarctic flora. And so it spread further Northwest, eventually reaching the new peninsula created by the conjoining of India, East Africa, and Madagascar. It spread laterally, felling the great rainforests that covered the majority of the land area. Then it spread through grasslands, through scrublands, through deserts. With it came the scuttlers, and the symbiotic lichen spread to most vertebrates, and eventually some arthropods. Many plants had time to adapt, but the majority fell. Novopangea became covered in lichens, and the Grameozoic gave way to the Ascogene.

Offline Clarke

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Re: The Grameozoic & The Ascogene: Post Apocalyptic Scenario
« Reply #10 on: January 02, 2011, 07:33:59 pm »


While the arrangement of continents during the Grameozoic might appear alien to a modern observer, it was at least recognizable. North and South America were clearly defined, and one could make out the outlines of Africa and India, even if they were further conjoined to Eurasia. But the world 250 million years in the future is entirely unrecognizable. The supercontinent of the Grameozoic became more compressed, and as Antarctica slid into place, it resembled a mass of land roughly ovular. This continent was stable, and persisted for tens of millions of years. However, heat built up beneath the massive plate, and plumes of magma developed, ripping Novopangea into thirds. Much of former Australia, South America, South China, and Antarctica split southward, ripping off with it some lands that had been created by the formation of Novopangea. This new continent, Tartalia, continued southward. The sub-continent Brasillia has ripped off of it rather recently, compromising much of what was once eastern South America. At the same time, another schism was forming in the north-western part of the continent. Separated this time was much of Western Eurasia, West Africa, India, East Africa, and Arabia, drifting off to the Southwest. Much of what was once the areas surrounding the Congo Basin have become flooded, slowly eroded away or subducted, creating a warm, shallow sea, and leaving only the island of Nigia intact. Both the Carribean and Scotia plates have encountered the Teranostra plate, the Scotia plate coliding and raising up islands that have gradually resulted in the Scotia peninsula. The Carribean has only recently begun to rub against the Terranostra plate, and with the Caribbean isles long eroded, creating a large island named Columbia. Urania, being composed of much of the North American, plate, as well as the majority of Eurasia and parts of Australia(as well as new lands formed by tectonic action), has only moved slightly to the West, although the Subcontinent containing Greater and Lesser Vinlania(Greenland and much of Northwestern North America) has recently split off of it.

Offline Clarke

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Re: The Grameozoic & The Ascogene: Post Apocalyptic Scenario
« Reply #11 on: January 02, 2011, 07:34:25 pm »
+ 250 M.Y. - An Introduction to the Ascogene

The spread of lichens has changed not only rearranged the dominance of various forms of life, but actually tampered with the basic structure of life itself, rearranging the basic structures of the cells that compose multicellular organisms and affecting the ways in which organisms compete with each other. The world of the Ascogene is inherently a more competitive place, a world order, more competitive, toxicity woven into the basic components of the organisms which inhabit it. The lichen's spread killed off animals as it killed off animals, unable to adapt to the poisons produced by the fungi. But as the fungi spread, so did the fungal symbiote of the frogs. It spread to chordates first, then arthropods, temporarily destroying the superiority of the insects and allowing the tiny, quick-breeding scuttlers to fill some formerly insect niches before the arthropods regained their footing. Eventually, it even spread to plants, though very late on and only assuring the former masters of Earth's ecosystem a smaller component in the affairs of the surviving organisms.

As a new world order emerged, the new masters were not immune to diseases of their own, did not stop adapting in their own right. A vast mat of interconnected individuals spanning continents bred large quantities of viruses, and unlike the bamboo forests, no symbiosis was present, not way to cut off diseased individuals. Fungal cells became tougher, more resistant, enzymes which would dissolve protein coats and rip apart choice sections of RNA or DNA. The nucleus of the fungi bristled with specialized proteins designed to combat strands of rna or dna without specific markers. This in turn fostered the rapid spread of Prions, strands of RNA that changed rapidly, adapted quickly, not dependent on any structures other than the information itself. They would combat mitochondria, actually integrating their rna into that of the mitochondria, triggered by chemicals that would be produced by their host only when there was a lack of food, so that the mitochondria would only churn out the prions when the cell was weakest. But from this
complicated parasitic system, a symbiosis developed. The fungi could control the chemicals which signaled the production of prions, allowing them to release when the lichen it belonged to was able to cope but its neighbors couldn't, spreading it to its competitors bordering it.

The ability to produce what amounted to simple viruses on demand changed the warfare between lichens, switching it from primarily toxins to actual biological warfare. Mitochondria specialized to produce the prions, and arms races became rapid, as many varieties of foreign prions were constantly bombarding the individual lichen. The symbiotic fungi attached to animals adapted as well, picking up the same strategies, the same moves. Prion organelles were modified to survive outside cells, individuals on the outside of the lichen exchanging vast quantities with their neighbors of other lichens, infiltrating the cell or simply burrowing deep into the organism, spreading multiple different forms of the contagions at once. Modified ascocarps spread cells designed to latch onto competitors far and wide, stealing nutrients and using them to spread viruses. Fungal cells saw multiple "backup" nuclei arise, staying in the background until the normal nucleus became infected, at which point organelles would cease to receive instructions from that nucleus. Horizontal gene transfer became common within a lichen, and between neighboring lichen; your neighbor had the genes that made them immune to their viruses, and as such obtaining them would make you immune as well.