Now showing items 1-20 of 1097

    • A new interpretation of Pikaia reveals the origins of the chordate body plan

      Mussini, Giovanni; Smith, M Paul; Vinther, Jakob; Rahman, Imran; Murdock, Duncan JE; Harper, David AT; Dunn, Frances S (Elsevier BV, 2024-06-11)
      Our understanding of the evolutionary origin of Chordata, one of the most disparate and ecologically significant animal phyla, is hindered by a lack of unambiguous stem-group relatives. Problematic Cambrian fossils that have been considered as candidate chordates include vetulicolians (1) Yunnanozoon (2) and the iconic Pikaia (3) However, their phylogenetic placement has remained poorly constrained, impeding reconstructions of character evolution along the chordate stem lineage. Here we reinterpret the morphology of Pikaia, providing evidence for a gut canal and, crucially, a dorsal nerve cord—a robust chordate synapomorphy. The identification of these structures underpins a new anatomical model of Pikaia that shows that this fossil was previously interpreted upside down.We reveal a myomere configuration intermediate between amphioxus and vertebrates and establish morphological links between Yunnanozoon, Pikaia, and uncontroversial chordates. In this light, we perform a new phylogenetic analysis, using a revised, comprehensive deuterostome dataset, and establish a chordate stem lineage. We resolve vetulicolians as a paraphyletic group comprising the earliest diverging stem chordates, subtending a grade of more derived stem-group chordates comprising Yunnanozoon and Pikaia. Our phylogenetic results reveal the stepwise acquisition of characters diagnostic of the chordate crown group. In addition, they chart a phase in early chordate evolution defined by the gradual integration of the pharyngeal region with a segmented axial musculature, supporting classical evolutionary-developmental hypotheses of chordate origins4 and revealing a ‘‘lost chapter’’ in the history of the phylum.
    • Ediacaran marine animal forests and the ventilation of the oceans

      Gutarra, Susana; Mitchell, Emily G; Dunn, Frances S; Gibson, Brandt M; Racicot, Rachel A; Darroch, Simon AF; Rahman, Imran (Elsevier BV, 2024-05-17)
      The rise of animals across the Ediacaran–Cambrian transition marked a step-change in the history of life, from a microbially dominated world to the complex macroscopic biosphere we see today.1,2,3 While the importance of bioturbation and swimming in altering the structure and function of Earth systems is well established,4,5,6 the influence of epifaunal animals on the hydrodynamics of marine environments is not well understood. Of particular interest are the oldest “marine animal forests,”7 which comprise a diversity of sessile soft-bodied organisms dominated by the fractally branching rangeomorphs.8,9 Typified by fossil assemblages from the Ediacaran of Mistaken Point, Newfoundland,8,10,11 these ancient communities might have played a pivotal role in structuring marine environments, similar to modern ecosystems,7,12,13 but our understanding of how they impacted fluid flow in the water column is limited. Here, we use ecological modeling and computational flow simulations to explore how Ediacaran marine animal forests influenced their surrounding environment. Our results reveal how organism morphology and community structure and composition combined to impact vertical mixing of the surrounding water. We find that Mistaken Point communities were capable of generating high-mixing conditions, thereby likely promoting gas and nutrient transport within the “canopy.” This mixing could have served to enhance local-scale oxygen concentrations and redistribute resources like dissolved organic carbon. Our work suggests that Ediacaran marine animal forests may have contributed to the ventilation of the oceans over 560 million years ago, well before the Cambrian explosion of animals.
    • A fungal plant pathogen discovered in the Devonian Rhynie Chert

      Strullu-Derrien, C; Goral, Tomasz; Spencer, Alan RT; Kenrick, P; Catherine Aime, M; Gaya, Ester; Hawksworth, David L (Springer Science and Business Media LLC, 2023-12-01)
      Abstract: Fungi are integral to well-functioning ecosystems, and their broader impact on Earth systems is widely acknowledged. Fossil evidence from the Rhynie Chert (Scotland, UK) shows that Fungi were already diverse in terrestrial ecosystems over 407-million-years-ago, yet evidence for the occurrence of Dikarya (the subkingdom of Fungi that includes the phyla Ascomycota and Basidiomycota) in this site is scant. Here we describe a particularly well-preserved asexual fungus from the Rhynie Chert which we examined using brightfield and confocal microscopy. We document Potteromyces asteroxylicola gen. et sp. nov. that we attribute to Ascomycota incertae sedis (Dikarya). The fungus forms a stroma-like structure with conidiophores arising in tufts outside the cuticle on aerial axes and leaf-like appendages of the lycopsid plant Asteroxylon mackiei. It causes a reaction in the plant that gives rise to dome-shaped surface projections. This suite of features in the fungus together with the plant reaction tissues provides evidence of it being a plant pathogenic fungus. The fungus evidently belongs to an extinct lineage of ascomycetes that could serve as a minimum node age calibration point for the Ascomycota as a whole, or even the Dikarya crown group, along with some other Ascomycota previously documented in the Rhynie Chert.
    • Revisions to the Eocene carpoflora of Anjou, western France, with new data from X-ray tomography

      Strullu-Derrien, C; Spencer, Alan RT; Kenrick, P; Judd, Walter S; De Franceschi, Dario; Manchester, Steven R (Informa UK Limited, 2022-08-07)
      Selected fruits and seeds preserved as molds and casts in sediments from the Anjou flora of Maine-et-Loire have been reexamined with the aid of X-ray tomography. Virtual casts and surface renderings from micro-CT scanning data reveal external and internal morphological characters that were not visible by standard reflected light microscopy. Application of this methodology leads to a revision of the fruit formerly treated as Juglandicarya. It is a 5-valved capsule of likely sapindalean affnity, and is placed in Vaudoisia gruetii (Vaudois-Miéja) gen. et. comb. nov. A seed with the characteristic rumination of Anonaspermum is also recognized for the #rst time, as are capsular fruits of Ericaceae. We note that many disseminules are hidden from optical viewing because they are buried within the hand samples. A more extensive micro-CT scan investigation of more samples, including those showing only fossil leaf impressions at the surface, may be expected to yield a wealth of new information on this classic flora.
    • Towards the analysis of coral skeletal density-banding using deep learning

      Rutterford, Ainsley; Bertini, Leonardo; Hendy, Erica J; Johnson, Kenneth; Summerfield, Rebecca; Burghardt, Tilo (Springer Science and Business Media LLC, 2022-01-04)
      Abstract: X-ray micro–computed tomography (µCT) is increasingly used to record the skeletal growth banding of corals. However, the wealth of data generated is time consuming to analyse for growth rates and colony age. Here we test an artificial intelligence (AI) approach to assist the expert identification of annual density boundaries in small colonies of massive Porites spanning decades. A convolutional neural network (CNN) was trained with µCT images combined with manually labelled ground truths to learn banding-related features. The CNN successfully predicted the position of density boundaries in independent images not used in training. Linear extension rates derived from CNN-based outputs and the traditional method were consistent. In the future, well-resolved 2D density boundaries from AI can be used to reconstruct density surfaces and enable studies focused on variations in rugosity and growth gradients across colony 3D space. We recommend the development of a community platform to share annotated images for AI.
    • Microstructure and crystallographic texture data in modern giant clam shells (Tridacna squamosa and Hippopus hippopus)

      Mills, Kimberley; Muir, Duncan D; Oldroyd, Anthony; John, Eleanor H; Santodomingo, N; Johnson, Kenneth; Hussein, Muhammad Ali Syed; Sosdian, Sindia (Elsevier BV, 2023-12-14)
      This article provides novel data on the microstructure and crystallographic texture of modern giant clam shells (Tridacna squamosa and Hippopus hippopus) from the Coral Triangle region of northeast Borneo. Giant clams have two aragonitic shell layers—the inner and outer shell layer. This dataset focuses on the inner shell layer as this is well preserved and not affected by diagenetic alteration. To prepare samples for analysis, shells were cut longitudinally at the axis of maximum growth and mounted onto thin sections. Data collection involved scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to determine microstructure and SEM based electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) for quantitative measurement of crystallographic orientation and texture. Post-acquisition reanalysis of saved EBSD patterns to optimize data quality included changing the number of reflectors and band detection mode. We provide EBSD data as band contrast images and colour-coded orientation maps (inverse pole figure maps). Crystallographic co-orientation strength obtained with multiple of uniform density (MUD) values are derived from density distributed pole figures of indexed EBSD points. Raw EBSD data files are also given to ensure repeatability of the steps provided in this article and to allow extraction of further crystallographic properties for future researchers. Overall, this dataset provides 1. a better understanding of shell growth and biomineralization in giant clams and 2. important steps for optimizing data collection with EBSD analyses in biogenic carbonates.
    • Hapalosiphonacean cyanobacteria (Nostocales) thrived amid emerging embryophytes in an early Devonian (407-million-year-old) landscape

      Strullu-Derrien, C; Fercoq, Frédéric; Gèze, Marc; Kenrick, P; Martos, Florent; Selosse, Marc-André; Benzerara, Karim; Knoll, Andrew H (Elsevier BV, 2023-07-10)
      Cyanobacteria have a long evolutionary history, well documented in marine rocks. They are also abundant and diverse in terrestrial environments; however, although phylogenies suggest that the group colonized land early in its history, paleontological documentation of this remains limited. The Rhynie chert (407 Ma), our best preserved record of early terrestrial ecosystems, provides an opportunity to illuminate aspects of cyanobacterial diversity and ecology as plants began to radiate across the land surface. We used light microscopy and super-resolution confocal laser scanning microscopy to study a new population of Rhynie cyanobacteria; we also reinvestigated previously described specimens that resemble the new fossils. Our study demonstrates that all are part of a single fossil species belonging to the Hapalosiphonaceae (Nostocales). Along with other Rhynie microfossils, these remains show that the accommodation of morphologically complex cyanobacteria to terrestrial ecosystems transformed by embryophytes was well underway more than 400 million years ago.
    • Insights into palaeobotany

      Strullu-Derrien, Christine; Servais, Thomas; Kenrick, Paul (Informa UK Limited, 2023-04-11)
    • The Carboniferous (Serpukhovian) macroflora from the “Coteaux du Pont Barré”, Beaulieu-sur-Layon (Maine-et-Loire), South of the Armorican Massif, France

      Strullu-Derrien, C; Ballèvre, Michel; Spencer, Alan RT; Guillou, Erwan; Gislard, Jean-Paul; Lardeux, Hubert; Cleal, Christopher J (Informa UK Limited, 2023-03-08)
      The “Coteaux du Pont Barré” in Beaulieu-sur-Layon is a Regional Natural Reserve which is home to exceptional flora and fauna. Recently fossil plants have been discovered at the site adding to its natural heritage significance. The exposure which is part of the “Sillon Houiller de la Basse-Loire” contains Serpukhovian-age (330–320 Ma) remains of sphenophytes, ferns, and lyginopteridopsid and cycadopsid pteridosperms, which are described for the first time as well as the geology of the site. Most Carboniferous macroflora previously described from the Maine-et-Loire has been based on ex situ specimens from now abandoned and inaccessible coal mines. The newly described macroflora shows evidence of in situ remains and differs somewhat in composition from those reported from the coal workings, especially in the total absence of lycopsids and Calymmotheca pteridosperms, and instead having abundant medullosalean foliage (Neuralethopteris). The co-occurrence of Sphenopteris elegans and Neuralethopteris densifolia suggests a slightly younger age compared to the macrofloras documented from the coal-bearing deposits. However, this could be an ecological consequence of the flora growing in better-drained substrate habitats.
    • Innovation and elaboration on the avian tree of life

      Guillerme, Thomas; Bright, Jen A; Cooney, Christopher R; Hughes, Emma C; Varley, Zoë K; Cooper, N; Beckerman, Andrew P; Thomas, Gavin H (American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2023-10-27)
      Widely documented, megaevolutionary jumps in phenotypic diversity continue to perplex researchers because it remains unclear whether these marked changes can emerge from microevolutionary processes. Here, we tackle this question using new approaches for modeling multivariate traits to evaluate the magnitude and distribution of elaboration and innovation in the evolution of bird beaks. We find that elaboration, evolution along the major axis of phenotypic change, is common at both macro- and megaevolutionary scales, whereas innovation, evolution away from the major axis of phenotypic change, is more prominent at megaevolutionary scales. The major axis of phenotypic change among species beak shapes at megaevolutionary scales is an emergent property of innovation across clades. Our analyses suggest that the reorientation of phenotypes via innovation is a ubiquitous route for divergence that can arise through gradual change alone, opening up further avenues for evolution to explore.
    • Charting the Course of Pinniped Evolution: insights from molecular phylogeny and fossil record integration

      Park, Travis; Burin, Gustavo; Lazo-Cancino, Daniela; Rees, Joseph Pierce Gary; Rule, James; Slater, Graham; Cooper, N (Oxford University Press (OUP), 2024-04-19)
      Abstract Pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, walruses, and their fossil relatives) are one of the most successful mammalian clades to live in the oceans. Despite a well-resolved molecular phylogeny and a global fossil record, a complete understanding of their macroevolutionary dynamics remains hampered by a lack of formal analyses that combine these two rich sources of information. We used a meta-analytic approach to infer the most densely sampled pinniped phylogeny to-date (36 recent and 93 fossil taxa) and used phylogenetic paleobiological methods to study their diversification dynamics and biogeographic history. Pinnipeds mostly diversified at constant rates. Walruses however experienced rapid turnover in which extinction rates ultimately exceeded speciation rates from 12-6 Ma, possibly due to changing sea-levels and/or competition with otariids (eared seals). Historical biogeographic analyses including fossil data allowed us to confidently identify the North Pacific and the North Atlantic (plus or minus Paratethys) as the ancestral ranges of Otarioidea (eared seals + walrus) and crown phocids (earless seals), respectively. Yet, despite the novel addition of stem pan-pinniped taxa, the region of origin for Pan-Pinnipedia remained ambiguous. These results suggest further avenues of study in pinnipeds and provide a framework for investigating other groups with substantial extinct and extant diversity.
    • Intraspecific variation in the cochleae of harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) and its implications for comparative studies across odontocetes

      Martins, Maria Clara Iruzun; Park, Travis; Racicot, Rachel; Cooper, N (PeerJ, 2020-04-13)
      In morphological traits, variation within species is generally considered to be lower than variation among species, although this assumption is rarely tested. This is particularly important in fields like palaeontology, where it is common to use a single individual as representative of a species due to the rarity of fossils. Here, we investigated intraspecific variation in the cochleae of harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena). Interspecific variation of cochlear morphology is well characterised among odontocetes (toothed whales) because of the importance of the structure in echolocation, but generally these studies use only a single cochlea to represent each species. In this study we compare variation within the cochleae of 18 specimens of P. phocoena with variations in cochlear morphology across 51 other odontocete species. Using both 3D landmark and linear measurement data, we performed Generalised Procrustes and principal component analyses to quantify shape variation. We then quantified intraspecific variation in our sample of P. phocoena by estimating disparity and the coefficient of variation for our 3D and linear data respectively. Finally, to determine whether intraspecific variation may confound the results of studies of interspecific variation, we used multivariate and univariate analyses of variance to test whether variation within the specimens of P. phocoena was significantly lower than that across odontocetes. We found low levels of intraspecific variation in the cochleae of P. phocoena, and that cochlear shape within P. phocoena was significantly less variable than across odontocetes. Although future studies should attempt to use multiple cochleae for every species, our results suggest that using just one cochlea for each species should not strongly influence the conclusions of comparative studies if our results are consistent across Cetacea.
    • The dynamic adaptive landscape of cetacean body size

      Burin, Gustavo; Park, Travis; James, Tamora D; Slater, Graham J; Cooper, N (Elsevier BV, 2023-03-28)
      Adaptive landscapes are central to evolutionary theory, forming a conceptual bridge between micro- and macroevolution.<sup>1</sup><sup>,</sup><sup>2</sup><sup>,</sup><sup>3</sup><sup>,</sup><sup>4</sup> Evolution by natural selection across an adaptive landscape should drive lineages toward fitness peaks, shaping the distribution of phenotypic variation within and among clades over evolutionary timescales.<sup>5</sup> The location and breadth of these peaks in phenotypic space can also evolve,<sup>4</sup> but whether phylogenetic comparative methods can detect such patterns has largely remained unexplored.<sup>6</sup> Here, we characterize the global and local adaptive landscape for total body length in cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and relatives), a trait that spans an order of magnitude, across their ∼53-million-year evolutionary history. Using phylogenetic comparative methods, we analyze shifts in long-term mean body length<sup>7</sup> and directional changes in average trait values<sup>8</sup> for 345 living and fossil cetacean taxa. Remarkably, we find that the global macroevolutionary adaptive landscape of cetacean body length is relatively flat, with very few peak shifts occurring after cetaceans entered the oceans. Local peaks are more numerous and manifest as trends along branches linked to specific adaptations. These results contrast with previous studies using only extant taxa,<sup>9</sup> highlighting the vital role of fossil data for understanding macroevolution.<sup>10</sup><sup>,</sup><sup>11</sup><sup>,</sup><sup>12</sup> Our results indicate that adaptive peaks are dynamic and are associated with subzones of local adaptations, creating moving targets for species adaptation. In addition, we identify limits in our ability to detect some evolutionary patterns and processes and suggest that multiple approaches are required to characterize complex hierarchical patterns of adaptation in deep time.
    • Microchromosome fusions underpin convergent evolution of chameleon karyotypes

      Mezzasalma, Marcello; Streicher, Jeffrey W; Guarino, Fabio M; Jones, Marc EH; Loader, Simon; Odierna, Gaetano; Cooper, N; Gaitan-Espitia, Juan Diego; Chapman, Tracey (Oxford University Press (OUP), 2023-07-17)
      Abstract Evolutionary shifts in chromosome compositions (karyotypes) are major drivers of lineage and genomic diversification. Fusion of ancestral chromosomes is one hypothesized mechanism for the evolutionary reduction of the total chromosome number, a frequently implied karyotypic shift. Empirical tests of this hypothesis require model systems with variable karyotypes, known chromosome features, and a robust phylogeny. Here we used chameleons, diverse lizards with exceptionally variable karyotypes ($2n=20\text{-}62$), to test whether chromosomal fusions explain the repeated evolution of karyotypes with fewer chromosomes than ancestral karyotypes. Using a multidisciplinary approach including cytogenetic analyses and phylogenetic comparative methods, we found that a model of constant loss through time best explained chromosome evolution across the chameleon phylogeny. Next, we tested whether fusions of microchromosomes into macrochromosomes explained these evolutionary losses using generalized linear models. Multiple comparisons supported microchromosome fusions as the predominant agent of evolutionary loss. We further compared our results to various natural history traits and found no correlations. As such, we infer that the tendency of microchromosomes to fuse was a quality of the ancestral chameleon genome and that the genomic predisposition of ancestors is a more substantive predictor of chromosome change than the ecological, physiological, and biogeographical factors involved in their diversification.
    • Primum non nocere: Technologically advanced non-invasive pheromone traps for sustainable monitoring of the European threatened hermit beetles Osmoderma barnabita / eremita (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae)

      Taube, Laura; Valainis, Uldis; Balalaikins, Maksims; Mizers, Valdis; Soldāns, Arvis; Gintaras, Alvydas; Telnov, Dmitry (Baltijas Koleopterologijas Instituts/Baltic Institute of Coleopterology, 2023-12-30)
      A smart pheromone trap designed for the monitoring of Osmoderma barnabita / eremita has been successfully developed and testedin situ. The trap's design and operational principles allowa photo-recording of the capture moment and logging parameters of air temperature and humidity at the moment of capture. These dataare then seamlessly transmitted to a server via mobile network. The adaptability of environmental parameter recording allows customization to suit specific requirements of a given study. Rigorous testing of these traps within three Natura 2000 sites in Latvia in 2003has substantiated their robust performance and efficiency. Notably, the traps exhibit versatility and can be modified and tailored for monitoring various insect species, utilizing both pheromones and lures as attractants. This innovation holds promise for advancing ecological research and monitoring endeavours pertaining to diverse insect populations.
    • Revisional notes on the genus Microhoria Chevrolat, 1877 (Insecta: Coleoptera: Anthicidae) from the Eastern Mediterranean and Turkey, with new descriptions, an annotated catalogue, and a key

      Telnov, Dmitry (Baltijas Koleopterologijas Instituts/Baltic Institute of Coleopterology, 2022-12-30)
      The species of Microhoria Chevrolat, 1877 from the Eastern Mediterranean including Turkey and Sinai Peninsula, are reviewed, keyed, and catalogued for the first time. Statuschange is proposed for Microhoria rubronotata (Pic, 1896) stat. nov. New synonyms are proposed for Microhoria emaciata (Pic, 1896) (= Anthicus leuthneri var. creticus Pic, 1903 syn. nov.), M. latipennis (Pic, 1892) (= A. leuthneri var. dissimilis Pic, 1897 syn. nov.), M. ottomana (LaFert&eacute;-S&eacute;nect&egrave;re, 1849) (= A. tenebricosus Pic, 1897 syn. nov.), and M. rubronotata (Pic, 1896) stat. nov. (= A. humerifer Pic, 1902 syn. nov.). Lectotypes are designated for the following 11 taxa: Microhoria akbesiana (Pic, 1896), M. angulapex (C. Koch, 1935), M. boyadjeani (Pic, 1904), M. corallicollis (Reitter, 1889), M. delagrangei(Pic, 1892), M. emaciata (Pic, 1896), M. inobscura (Pic, 1908), M. ionica (Pic, 1901), M. kaifensis (Pic, 1896), M. rubriceps (Pic, 1896), and M. schmiedeknechti (Pic, 1899). The following ten species new to science are described: Microhoria bremeri sp. nov., M. capreolus Telnov & Degiovanni sp. nov., M. janssoni sp. nov., M. machairodus Telnov & Degiovanni sp. nov., M. punctatissima sp. nov., M. quercus sp. nov., M. walkeri sp. nov. (all from Turkey), M. muehlei Telnov & Degiovanni sp. nov., M. orbitalis sp. nov. (both from Iran), and M. paxvobiscum sp. nov. (Iraq). Taxonomic status of Anthicus terminatus var. latebrunneus Pic, 1901 is discussed. Illustrations of numerous taxa are provided for the first time. In total, 41 species confirmed from the Eastern Mediterranean and records of another six species require further confirmation. In addition, several new faunistic records are provided.
    • A new subspecies of Boletoxenus mixtus Grimm, 2014 (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae: Tenebrioninae)

      Telnov, Dmitry (Baltijas Koleopterologijas Instituts/Baltic Institute of Coleopterology, 2023-12-30)
      Boletoxenus mixtus dynastes ssp. nov., a new subspecies of mycetophagous Bolitophagini darkling beetles from mainland SE Asia, is described and illustrated.
    • New and poorly-known taxa of Lagriinae Latreille, 1825 (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae) predominantly from the collections of the Naturkundemuseum Erfurt. 1

      Telnov, Dmitry (Baltijas Koleopterologijas Instituts/Baltic Institute of Coleopterology, 2023-12-30)
      In the present paper, the following nine new species from the subfamily Lagriinae are described and illustrated: Acutogria weigeli, Bothrichara dani, B. doberai, B. skalei, Oreogria astrapia, Xenocerogria koteka spp. nov. (all from New Guinea), Arthromacra anoulak sp. nov. (Laos), Bothynogria annamita sp. nov. (Vietnam) and Cerogria s. l. critica sp. nov. (Sulawesi). Cerogria (Drepanomela) cribratula (Schaufuss, 1887) (Sulawesi) is redescribed, and a lectotype designation is made for this species. New records presented for three poorly known Papuan and one Indian Subcontinent species. A brief discussion on generic features of some of the new taxa is presented.
    • A new, remarkable Chlorophila Semenov, 1891 (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae: Lagriinae) from China

      Telnov, Dmitry (Baltic Journal of Coleopterology, 2021-12-30)
      Chlorophila Semenov, 1891 is a small genus of emerald-green Lagriinae Latreille, 1825: Tenebrionidae Latreille, 1802 restricted to the mountain systems of China, the Himalayas, and northern Indochina. In the present paper a remarkable new species, Chlorophila gemma sp. nov. from mainland China, is described and illustrated.
    • Quantitative photography for rapid, reliable measurement of marine macro‐plastic pollution

      Razzell Hollis, Joseph; Henderson, Gabrielle; Lavers, Jennifer; Rea, Edward; Komyakova, Valeriya; Bond, AL (Wiley, 2024-01-09)
      Abstract Plastics are now ubiquitous in the environment and have been studied in wildlife and in ecosystems for more than 50 years. Measurement of size, shape and colour data for individual fragments of plastic is labour‐intensive, unreliable and prone to observer bias, particularly when it comes to assessment of colour, which relies on arbitrary and inconsistently defined colour categorisations. There is a clear need for a standard method for data collection on plastic pollution, particularly one that can be readily automated given the number of samples involved. This study describes a new method for standardised photography of marine plastics in the 1–100 mm size range (meso‐ and macro‐plastics), including colour correction to account for any image‐to‐image variation in lighting that may impact colour reproduction or apparent brightness. Automated image analysis is then applied to detect individual fragments of plastic for quantitative measurement of size, shape, and colour. The method was tested on 3793 fragments of debris ingested by Flesh‐footed Shearwaters (Ardenna carneipes) on Lord Howe Island, Australia, and compare results from photos taken in two separate locations using different equipment. Photos were acquired of up to 250 fragments at a time with a spatial resolution of 70 μm/pixel and were colour‐corrected using a reference chart to ensure accurate reproduction of colour. The automated image analysis pipeline was found to have a 98% success rate at detecting fragments, and the different size and shape parameters that can be outputted by the pipeline were compared in terms of usefulness. The evidence shown in this study should strongly encourage the uptake of this method for cataloguing macro‐scale plastic pollution, as it provides substantially higher quality data with accurate, reliable measurements of size, shape and colour for individual plastics that can be readily compared between disparate datasets.