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Archive for the ‘Field notes’ Category.

California pollen taphonomy and pollen trap study in Clear Lake, California

Pollen analysis (or palynology) has been used to study Quaternary changes in vegetation and climate in North America since the nineteenth century. Palynologists generally compare plant assemblages in spatial-time frames instead of focusing on particular plant species. These changes in plant assemblages across landscapes through time are a good indication of vegetation shifts caused by environmental changes. Besides using pollen assemblages to reconstruct parent plant communities in a particular area, certain species, which are sensitive to changes in temperature or precipitation, are of special interest. By comparing assemblages of plant communities and these indicative species through time and space, we can infer how regional flora responded to environmental changes such as changes in climate.

Before comparing these past assemblages of plant communities and inferring environmental changes, palynologists carefully consider the processes leading to pollen accumulation. Do their pollen and spore assemblages accurately reflect local or more regional vegetation? Are certain pollen types over- or underrepresented? Does the assemblage include the majority of taxa present in the local plant communities? Pollen assemblages are incorporated in sediments at the end of a long taphonomic pathway, and are affected by temporal and quantitative aspects of pollen and spore production, differential dispersal characteristics, secondary transport, and other taphonomic processes.

How could we get hints of that process throughout geologic time? Wind-pollinated assemblages are most often transported and they are usually produced in large amounts and have wider dispersal ranges. To study the taphonomic process of pollen and spores, palynologists often use surface samples to research the discrepancy between vegetation composition and pollen assemblages. Such analysis also might help to understand the taphonomic conditions in the sample area and provide a reference point for a regional paleopalynological study.

First version of pollen trap

First version of a modified Olefield pollen trap (Jantz et al. 2013).

For my dissertation research, I am compiling a California pollen reference collection. Focused on the last interglacial period, I plan to reconstruct the vegetation from a relatively warm period during that time interval. My methods involve extracting pollen from core samples from Clear Lake. Clear Lake is the largest lake in California with a sedimentary record going back at least to the last interglacial period (~130 ka) (see Scientists core into Clear Lake to explore past climate change). The microscopic pollen grains are expected to yield important clues on the history of vegetation communities and the taphonomic process surrounding Clear Lake; data from pollen traps set in different vegetation areas in the vicinity of the lake — forests up to 2 km from the lake, or small, more distant upstream communities — will enable further analysis of modern vegetation types.

The most common pollen in Clear Lake samples is wind-pollinated, mostly pine and oak pollen. An important question is: does this pollen mainly originate from the northwestern forests, the southwestern forests, or other adjacent places? To solve this question, I started to look for appropriate types of pollen traps to collect surface samples and, with the help of my undergrads, Mary Grace Rodriguez and Rebecca Shirsat, we built some traps to position in the field.

After visiting the Clear Lake area a couple of times, I positioned the first 10 pollen traps close to the lake — many thanks to Carolyn Ruttan from Lake County Water Resources who helped me obtain landowners' permits for this.

The first time doing field research is often filled with anticipation. On January 20, I left Berkeley in the early morning. I was so excited — not only because I could finally install my pollen traps, but because it would be only my second time driving through winding mountain roads!

After meeting Carolyn Ruttan I set off to Clear Lake State Park, our first pollen trap site. I selected a rocky corner of the lake that had a gorgeous view. Securing this first pollen trap to the ground was a challenge, but we stabllized the base with pebbles and used a small iron wire to prevent the trap from blowing over in the wind.

The next trap was easier to position, being on soft soil in Anderson Marsh. We only had to avoid picking a spot where weeds might cover the area later in the year.

The Lake County Land Trust’s Rodman Preserve is another one of my research sites. The trust was formed as a non-profit organization in 1994 and it works to protect important land resources, wetlands, forests, etc., in Lake County, CA.

Preparing to install a trap and one in the Rodman Preserve

Left: Preparing to install pollen traps in Clear Lake State Park. Right: Pollen trap in the Lake County Land Trust's Rodman Preserve.

The Elem Indian Colony, near Clearlake Oaks on the eastern shore of Clear Lake, is my fourth research site. It is a Native American colony of Pomo, associated with the Sulphur Bank Rancheria. The residents were friendly and curious about our purpose. I am sure they will help prevent tourists from removing the trap that we placed near a power station.

We then attached pollen traps to railings and floating platforms at three sites. Installation of the first 10 pollen traps was completed on this first trip; we went back two weeks later to complete the west side of the lake.

Pollen traps on platforms

Two pollen traps attached to floating platforms.

The most serious threat to my traps is the strong winds around Clear Lake, especially on the northwest side. Strong, seasonal winds can take down deeply-rooted trees and it could damage the pollen traps. Squirrels and birds might also be a problem but hopefully, the iron wires we used will keep them safe from animals. I plan to return to Clear Lake later in the year to replace trap materials and to see what my pollen traps have collected (if the squirrels and birds have not absconded with my trap materials)!

The hunt for a Ph.D. thesis: Collecting Late Cretaceous plant fossils in New Mexico

"It ain't Mexico and it ain't new" [quoted from a postcard in a gift shop]

Armed with hammers, chisels, pry-bars, boxes of newspaper, and sunscreen, two trusty assistants (recent graduate Meriel Melendrez and current undergrad Nicolas Locatelli) and I drove from Berkeley in our 4WD extra-long SUV heading for southern New Mexico. There, we met up with paleobotanist Dr. Gary Upchurch and crew from Texas State University and geologist Dr. Greg Mack from New Mexico State University for two weeks of field work in Late Cretaceous plant localities of the Jose Creek Member. It was a bona fide tri-state expedition working on multiple projects. My interests were to set the foundation for my dissertation work on the ecological diversity of Late Cretaceous forests in warm-wet climates. For this I needed a primary study site to generate new collections and data. The trip wasn’t entirely exploratory — I was familiar with some of the localities from my undergraduate days with Dr. Upchurch, and had collected here previously. Based on this earlier work, we knew that there was an abundance of plant fossils, and preliminary studies have indicated that the fossil assemblages of the Jose Creek Member represent a subtropical-paratropical forest. That’s right, in the present day desert of New Mexico, rich in angiosperms but mixed with conifers and ferns.

Late Cretaceous plant communities often contain interesting combinations of plants that are no longer found living together under the same climatic conditions (for example palms and redwoods). That is because the Late Cretaceous represents an important transitional time, as flowering plants (angiosperms) rapidly diversified and rose to dominance in warmer climates. During this time, the typical early to mid-Mesozoic forests that were dominated by ferns and gymnosperms (conifers and other non-flowering seed plants) transitioned to the modern, angiosperm-dominated forests. This begs several questions: what were the different ecological roles of angiosperms and conifers in these forests, and did conifers and other gymnosperms serve functions that have now been replaced by angiosperms? How has the structure of plant communities in warm-wet climates changed from the Cretaceous to present, and how does this inform our understanding of the evolution of modern tropical forests? These are the questions that fueled my quest into the southwest last summer. The New Mexico sites seemed like an ideal place to start my investigations, and we ambitiously set out to do some major collecting.

In the Jose Creek Member, the best-preserved plant fossils come from beds of recrystallized volcanic ash. My initial goal was to collect quadrats from multiple volcanic ash beds, which would give an indication of the vegetation through time (because beds are not necessarily deposited at the exact same time). But things don’t always work out like you plan, and luckily this was one of those times ….

Field site

Field site on the distant hills (can you see the exposure?), but with modern vegetation of course! Photo by Meriel Melendrez.

Dori with palm frond

Fossil palm frond (with Dori for scale). Photo by Meriel Melendrez.

Preparing a collecting site

Meriel and Nick preparing a collecting site. Photo by Dori Contreras.

The first locality we went to had an ash bed that was known for its abundance of plant fossils and beautiful preservation. After setting up the first collecting quadrat with Meriel and Nicolas, Dr. Mack and I headed off to investigate how far we could track the exposed bed, as its lateral extent was hitherto unknown. To our amazement, we were able to track the deposit for ~1.2 km! This was an incredible revelation; here were the remains of a forest preserved in ash for quite an impressive spatial extent, which would enable the reconstruction of a plant community at a single instant in time. This was considerably more attractive for my questions than reconstructing vegetation from multiple beds comprising an unknown amount of geologic time. I adjusted plans and concentrated our efforts on this deposit alone (rather than a compilation of sites) and spent the next nine days collecting small quadrats along the length of the bed. The deposit is so rich that virtually every rock we cracked open had multiple fossil plant specimens! Consequently, almost everything we touched was wrapped in newspaper, hiked out of the field site, and brought back to the UCMP. This was no light task — thank goodness for the incredible Meriel and Nicolas! In total we collected samples from 14 sites along the exposure. These initial collections reveal a rich and laterally diverse flora, and yet are only the tip of the iceberg!

We headed back west with the SUV packed to the brim and riding low from the weight of the fossils; it was the maximum that could possibly be brought back. I should also mention — Cindy Looy and Ivo Duijnstee, along with some of the other Looy Lab members (Jeff, Renske, Robert) — were in New Mexico for a conference and we arranged to meet them. This was particularly fortuitous, not only for good company, but also because they took two large tubs of fossils back with them! Another two tubs went back to Texas, and made it to Berkeley later that summer. All in all, it was enough fossils to fill two double-door cases in the museum!

Of course, the field work is only the beginning and, since then, a lot of work has gone into getting these first collections organized and examined. Currently, two students (James Buckel and Negin Sarrami) and I are describing and photographing leaf morphotypes from the collections to assess the diversity of plants in the flora. A large portion probably represent unknown/undescribed species, so we differentiate ‘species’ as morphotypes based on detailed descriptions of leaf characteristics. The flora includes a diversity of herbaceous and woody ‘dicots’, monocots (e.g., palms and ginger), cycads, ferns, an abundant extinct sequoia-like conifer and several extinct conifers probably related to the Araucariaceae. Overall, it is clear that it will take several more field excursions and countless hours of lab work to understand the taxonomic and structural diversity of this amazing flora. And, of course, I am eagerly looking forward to the return trips and uncovering the treasure trove of fossils still entombed in the rock out in the desert!

Fossil fern

Fossil fern. Photo by Dori Contreras.

Angiosperm leaf

Angiosperm leaf with insect feeding damage (holes). Photo by Dori Contreras.

A trip to New Mexico

Why New Mexico? Like someone else put it "it ain't new and it sure ain't Mexico!" So why make the trek? To attend the Carboniferous-Permian Transition Meeting! Five members of the Looy Lab piled into a van and drove all the way from Berkeley to Albuquerque. With the enormous number of meetings and conferences being organized, why did we decide to go to this particular one?

I think there is a checklist that most people go over before they decide on which conference to attend. In random order:

  • Is the topic of the conference relevant (or at least a session of it)?
  • Can I afford the conference fees?
  • Will this gathering allow me to collaborate with some of the other attendees?
  • Are there going to be other people attending that I desperately would like to talk to (but then end up being too shy to actually do so)?
  • Is it in a cool location and does it offer any interesting field trips?
  • Will I have something new to present by the time the conference rolls around (or do I dust off some older material)
  • Is this the real conference I'm signing up for, or a bogus one where some fraud takes my money and disappears into the sunset? I am not kidding, this actually happens!
  • Will I have time to prepare for the meeting and will I have time to actually attend it?
  • How much does it cost to get there? Can I find a grant that covers the costs of travel?

These are all things to consider. If the answers to the questions above are 'yes,' or at least positive, then the conference might be worth going to. And that is how we ended up in Albuquerque. Because the conference included two field trips on which we were hoping to collect a lot of fossils, and there were five of us going to the same conference, it made sense to drive. A nice bonus was that we got to see some cool field sites along the way.

New Mexico medley 1

Clockwise from top left: The Tehachapi wind farms. The textbook Meteor Crater in Arizona. Most interesting of all: Petrified Forest National Park. The Painted Desert. Photos by Renske Kirchholtes.

After two days of driving we arrived in Albuquerque. The conference was held at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. The conference room itself was as boring as any other conference room, but during the breaks and the banquet we got to wander around in the museum, which was really nice. It is definitely worth a visit if you're ever in Albuquerque.

The first day of the conference was mostly about stratigraphic issues. Where is the Carboniferous-Permian boundary exactly? Do we base this on findings in Russia, China or perhaps the U.S.? There was definitely quite a bit of disagreement on that particular topic. More applied research was discussed the second day and on the third day, Wednesday, it was our turn. Cindy Looy talked about branch abscission, Robert Stevenson showed us cool movie clips of auto-rotating winged seeds, Jeff Benca discussed patterns of leaf margins and what that does and does not tell us, and I talked about phytoliths. We all got great responses. Sometimes audiences can look like they're about to go into hibernation, but not this time. They were engaged and had good questions and recommendations for all four of us.

New Mexico medley 2

Clockwise from top left: A typical New Mexico landscape. Trying to navigate between prickly things, i.e., Ocotillo with its beautiful red flowers. Leaves of a seed fern. Part of an arborescent lycopod. Photos by Renske Kirchholtes.

We also got to go on two fieldtrips. The first one was to the Kinney Brick Quarry where sediments from the Pennsylvanian, the "younger" half of the Carboniferous, crop out. The locality is considered to be a Lagerstätte, an extremely fossiliferous site with excellent preservation. On another trip, they took us east of Socorro, where the Upper Carboniferous and Lower Permian deposits are exposed along the eastern margin of the Rio Grande rift. This gave us the opportunity to collect a lot of plant fossils. We collected more than six big boxes of material. It will take a while to work our way through all of it, but that won't stop us from collecting more fossils in the meantime. Once paleobotanists are on a roll, nothing will stop them. Not even The Thing, unfortunately.

Cataloging the Archives: Three Fine Trikes

Another in a series of blog posts relating to the museum's "cataloging the archives" project

Ask children what their favorite dinosaurs are, and it's almost guaranteed that Triceratops (refer to them by their nickname, Trikes, and you'll earn tons of street cred) will be on the list. The three-horned, frilled wonder is one of the most recognizable creatures of the Cretaceous. Many a visitor has walked by the Triceratops display here in the Valley Life Sciences Building's Marian Koshland Bioscience and Natural Resources Library. Over time, the display has grown, not only to include more skulls, but to tell a bigger story. Now there are three skulls in the display, each with its own interesting history, but when taken together the tale reaches almost epic status (okay, "impressive" status).

Ruben at locality2

 

The largest of the skulls is UCMP specimen 113697, also known as "Ruben's Trike." While on a UCMP field expedition to Montana and neighboring states in July, 1970, paleontology graduate student John Ruben (now a professor in the Department of Zoology, Oregon State University) discovered the skull in the roughly 68-million-year-old rocks of the Hell Creek Formation of eastern Montana. The Hell Creek is one of the most fruitful formations for Trike discoveries, and if you've done field work in the Upper Cretaceous of Montana and haven't come across some part of a Triceratops, you're doing something wrong.

John Ruben (black hat) at his "Ruben's Trike" locality, V75046, where the skull, UCMP 113697, was found, McCone County, MT.

 

The medium-sized Triceratops skull, UCMP 136306, is also known as the "McGuire Creek Trike" since its discovery in badlands of the Hell Creek Formation exposed in the vicinity of this creek drainage in McCone County, Montana. Weathered fragments of bone or "float" from the skull were first sighted by paleontology undergraduate Wayne Thomas in the summer of 1984 on a UCMP field research trip. Further excavation by UCMP Assistant Director Mark Goodwin and crew that summer confirmed Wayne's discovery was a nearly complete juvenile Triceratops skull. The find was exciting in itself, but it also helped fill in some holes in the understanding of Triceratops growth from baby to adult (known as ontogeny) and generated new research by Goodwin, his colleague Jack Horner from the Museum of the Rockies, and their students. For more information on Trike ontogeny, stay tuned for a future blog entry centered on this exact topic.

The smallest of the Trike skulls, UCMP 154452, was found in the Hell Creek Formation (see a trend?) of Montana by long-time UCMP field associate and collector, Harley J. Garbani, in 1995.

When Harley came across the specimen, he first identified it as a possible pachycephalosaur because the tiny brow horn so closely resembled the horns and knobs seen ornamenting the back of the skulls of pachycephalosaurs, or "dome-headed" dinosaurs. Being a very young individual, likely less than a year old, the skull showed features not seen before on a Trike, was very delicate, and in many pieces. Trying to determine what some specimens are from many fragments can be a tedious and insanity-inducing ordeal (ask any fossil preparator).

After corresponding with, and providing pictures to, Mark Goodwin and Professor Bill Clemens, the specimen was correctly identified and also keyed Goodwin into finding a near identical isolated postorbital or "brow" horn from the skull of another baby Triceratops in the UCMP collections.

Baby trike collage 1

Left: HJG 1030, the Baby Trike Site. Photo by Bill Clemens. Top right: A portion of Harley Garbani's field notes. He crossed out "Dome-Head" (i.e., pachycephalosaur) after learning it was a baby Triceratops! Bottom right: An excerpt from a letter that Harley wrote to Bill Clemens. He knew he had something important, and very quickly corresponded with the right parties to learn why. Image courtesy of Bill Clemens.

Baby trike collage2

Top left: Photo of a table top covered with the bones of the baby Trike skull discovered by Harley Garbani. Bottom left: Reconstruction of baby Trike. Photo by Dave Smith. Right: Assistant UCMP Director and dinosaur paleontologist Mark Goodwin working on the baby Triceratops skull. It was prepared, molded, and cast so that an accurate reconstruction (on exhibit in the Biosciences Library) could be made available for research and display. Images of Mark Goodwin and skull bones courtesy of Bill Clemens.

 

Harley’s discovery was a game-changer since it was, and still is, the smallest Triceratops skull and by inference, the youngest yet known. Together, these three skulls tell a story about skull development and growth in a dinosaur that was named by O.C. Marsh of the Yale Peabody Museum over 120 years ago!

UCMP paleontologists are still discovering new things about this very popular dinosaur. Fossils are often known for whatever novel thing they can tell us, but sometimes a seemingly small and, at first, very fragmentary fossil becomes significant when studied in the context of other fossils and when you hear the story behind its discovery. These Triceratops skulls are interesting on both counts!

Dispatches from Clear Lake, part 1

UCMP's Cindy Looy is leading a project to collect 130,000 years worth of sediment data from Clear Lake in order to better understand how life has adapted to climate change. Along the way, members of her team will report back to us with all the progress and drama from the field. Here's our first set of dispatches.

 

Assembling the barge

From Ivo Duijnstee:

Thu, April 26

First mud
It has begun. Except for some minor delays, the Clear Lake drilling expedition had a relatively smooth start. When our seven-headed UC Berkeley team arrived on site in Lakeport California, six members of the not-for-profit drilling company DOSECC had already assembled the large drilling barge to the point that it was almost good to go. Not much later, three sediment core curators of the National Lacustrine Core Facility (LacCore) arrived; completing the drill team in charge of the first days of this enterprise.

Fri, April 27

Today, a boat pushed the barge to its first drilling position in the southeastern part of the northern branch of the lake. This is in a part of the lake with a thick continuous sediment package. The deeper layers date back at least to the warm part of the previous interglacial (~130,000 years ago), a period we are very much interested in, as it may provide an analog for the current climate change in California.

Sat, April 28

From our Rocky Point base camp on the other side of the water, we can barely make out the barge’s position, as the sizeable drilling barge is reduced to a mere speck on the horizon. The inconspicuousness changes dramatically when night falls and the needle in the haystack turns into a beacon of light, as soon as the flood lights on the barge are switched on.

Tonight, the night crew (on the barge everyone works in two 12-hour shifts) made their way to the barge in the former county fire boat. This boat was made available for the crews’ semidiurnal commute by our collaborators of the Lake County Water Resources Department. Around 11PM, word reached base camp that the DOSECC drillers hoisted the first sediment core up on deck.

The barge has been moved out to the drill site.

Sun, April 29

This morning the night crew brought the uppermost 28 meter (93 ft) of sediment cores ashore, so the Holocene is taken care of. Let’s dig deeper into the Pleistocene!

Cindy Looy with the first core sample.

We have some cores!

So far, things are going smoothly on the drill platform. The day crew is off to their 12 hour shift, and the night crew is heading to bed. At the house in Rocky Point — our base camp — we are starting our pile of sediment-filled transparent tubes in the garage.

Mon, April 30

It’s media day!

Almost all day, camera crews, radio journalists, newspaper photographers and reporters were buzzing around, interviewing UCB/UCMP’s Cindy Looy and Liam Reidy, DOSECC Director of Operations Chris Delahunty and LacCore scientist Ryan O’Grady as they made visits to our floating drill site. We’ve had so much attention already, and the UCB press release is yet to come!

Chris Delahunty being interviewed for KQED radio.

The timing of the media is perfect: just like the weather, everyone in the team is in a sunny mood since the team has reached a greater depth than the USGS did at the same location during its 1973 Clear Lake drilling program. That means that the teams first target (115 m, or 377 ft) has been reached, and there is more to come.

Gravel.

At about 140 m (460 ft) into the sediment, it’s over with the monotonously greenish grey playdough that has filled the plastic core linings so far. In the dark, the night crew has struck gravel, making it impossible to get anything out of the lake bed. Fortunately, the drillers have some tricks up their coverall sleeves. For now they are mixing a special kind of mud that the day shift will use to get through the gravel layer. They will pump the muddy mixture into the borehole so that the gaps between the chunks of gravel will be filled with sticky goo; enabling the drillers to get the loose gravel out.

Tue, May 1

Alas, despite the fact the DOSECC team successfully crossed the gravel layer, things are not going well. Beyond the gravel layer there is sand and more gravel. Now things are going this slow, we decide that it is better to stop drilling at this site, and get started on a second hole nearby. As the two drillers prepare the drilling equipment for the move to the next hole, the scientific part of the night shift gets to spend an unexpected night in the house, where it is warm and couches are comfy... perhaps a bit to comfy when you are trying to stick to the nocturnal routine of the graveyard shift...

 

Renske with an armload of cores.

From Renske Kirchholtes:

Wed, May 2

*S*  hifts are 12 hours long and days start incredibly early

*C*  ores are covered in mud and so are we

*I*  ncessant noise of the generators, shrouding the barge in heavy diesel fumes

*E*  very day starts at 5.45am

*N*  o matter what happens, the entire crew is always in great spirits

*C*  lear Lake is a neat location and the weather is close to perfect

*E*  asily one of the coolest projects I have ever been part of!


See more text, audio, and video coverage of the Clear Lake drilling project here.

Erin's Adventures in Marine Conservation: A quick introduction to a snail's tale

Follow Erin Meyer as she takes us on a journey through the Caribbean, on the tail of an important snail she hopes to conserve. To learn more about her seasonal trips, visit her blog - "Adventures in Snail Conservation."

Field work during a mass extinction

Imagine that a “time machine” allowed you to go back in time — back exactly 64,999,995 years ago, just five years before the crash of the meteor that marked the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs. You have just enough time to do your field work, analyze your data, and write your Ph.D. dissertation. Your field work starts in the closest emerged land to the Chicxulub impact site. In no time at all you begin discovering new species of dinosaurs that are unknown from the fossil record, and you diligently test dozens of hypotheses about the behavior and physiology of these Mesozoic giants.

Mauna Kea vegetationFor three years you have that chance to explore a completely different world to the one where you grew up. Australia is still connected to a temperate Antarctica and India is on its way to cross the equatorial line. Continental seas cover extensive regions of North America, Europe, Asia and in South America, east of the rising Andes.

During your last year of field work, a series of small meteorites begin to impact the Earth. These events become more and more frequent and some of them have local effects similar to the volcanic explosion of the island of Krakatau in 1883. Your advisor and dissertation committee recommend that you come back, but you refuse to do so. You still want to do field work for your last chapter concerning the ecology of Titanosaurus in South America. It is literally the last chance to study these sauropods before they become extinct. However, communications with your family and friends make you change your mind. After carefully packing up all your samples, including Ornithuromorpha feathers, Nymphaeaceae flowers and pollinator insects, you come back to the present. The Cretaceous world is not a safe place anymore ….

Our reality today is in some ways not too far from this fictional story. Based in Laupāhoehoe on the Big Island of Hawai’i this past January, I took part in field work on the slopes of Mauna Kea and witnessed how the environment is changing in a precipitous way. I had the chance to do an altitudinal transect with climate change researchers from the University of Hawai’i, Mānoa. Starting at 1,116 meters we were surrounded by an amazingly beautiful native forest. Huge o’hia and koa trees dominated the canopy, while the understory was full of a variety of endemic plants, including the hapu’u fern, ‘ōlapa tree, ‘ōhelo berries and more than 15 other endemic species. Flying and singing amongst the vegetation, different species of native birds, (i’iwi, apapane, ‘oma’o, ‘amakihi) accompanied us. The bark and leaves of the trees hosted an abundant community of terrestrial invertebrates. Dozens of species of Drosophila, giant Leptogryllus crickets, colorful Tetragnatha spiders and, of course, the curious Hawaiian happy face spider, were part of this unique world.

However, as we descended, the increase of invasive species, like strawberry guava, clidemia and Kāhili ginger, became obvious. At 934 meters, most of the strawberry guavas were juvenile — they were the advancing front of an invasion. By 800 meters, the strawberry guava trees were older and the diversity of endemic plants had declined dramatically. Toward the end of the transect, we were in a pure strawberry guava forest. Most of the native plants were gone and many of the animals appeared to be absent as well. It became obvious to me that I was witnessing the potential future for the higher elevation areas.

Today, the disappearance of "critically endangered," "endangered" and "vulnerable" species could lead us further down a path toward what might be the planet's sixth mass extinction. Indeed, it is likely that many more organisms will go extinct in our lifetime. The clock is ticking for many species worldwide and we have a limited time to discover and document our existing biological diversity. Unlike the K/T extinction, we can use our knowledge of contemporary species distribution and abundance to prevent these extinctions. However, for this to occur, human society must undergo fundamental yet attainable changes. If we fail to learn the lessons from the past, there might not be a future from which to escape once the Earth ceases to be a safe place ….

Acknowledgement: I want to thank Scott Laursen for suggestions for the text and for letting me join the research team to visit Laupāhoehoe.

Relicts of the Bug-men

What are bug-men and how did their existence benefit UCMP? Watch and listen to this slideshow about an obscure link recently discovered by UCMP micropaleontologist Ken Finger.

Click cover page below to download the full article.

 

Student Spotlight: Jenna Judge travels to Japan in search of deep sea snails

Congratulation to UCMP's Jenna Judge who was awarded a spot in the NSF East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) last spring. NSF EAPSI provides funding for a graduate student to spend a summer in an East Asian or Pacific country to conduct scientific research as well as engage in societal and cultural practices. Jenna spent her summer in Japan, studying  the evolutionary history and ecology of a group of limpets that live in a variety of habitats in the deep sea! Check out her adventures on her personal blog - the eclectic limpet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will be back...

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