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Bringing the field to our users through EPICC’s Virtual Field Experiences

Ever wonder where fossils from the UCMP were collected or want to know more about the geological setting of UCMP field areas? Curious about why an area looks the way it does?

These questions and others are driving the development of Virtual Field Experiences (VFEs) associated with the EPICC project (Eastern Pacific Invertebrate Communities of the Cenozoic, Together with EPICC partners from the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI), UCMP Assistant Director Lisa White and Museum Scientist Erica Clites joined Robert Ross (PRI Associate Director for Outreach) and Don Duggan-Haas (PRI Director of Teacher Programming) to document field areas along the west coast serving as the basis for Cenozoic invertebrate fossil collections that are being digitized with support from the National Science Foundation (as part of the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program).

The EPICC partnership with nine natural history museums focuses on Cenozoic fossils found in the eastern Pacific. Within California, fossils from the Kettleman Hills in the Central Valley of California and fossils along the Pacific coast will be part of a series of VFEs designed to document and capture the field to museum connection. These connections provide an opportunity for our users to explore the geological backdrop of our Cenozoic invertebrate collections and learn how fossils are described and interpreted.

As a preview of the VFEs, which will go live in late spring, follow us into the field as we document fossils in context, highlight sedimentological features, and describe unique structures in the Purisima Formation along the California coast. During several days in March 2017, the UCMP and PRI team went to key locations along Capitola Beach (Santa Cruz County) and Moss Beach (San Mateo County) to photograph rocks and fossils, and videotape the team at work.

The primary goal of the VFEs is to show how paleontological field work and fossil data collection are done.

In these series of photographs taken at Moss Beach (the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve), view the team at work, capturing and documenting the source of some EPICC fossil collections.



The team crosses a rocky stretch of beach in to inspect which sections of the Purisima Formation would be ideal for photography. At low tide, most visitors to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve go to enjoy the tide pools and the organisms of the rocky intertidal zone.

Purisima formation

The team begins setting up at one of the Purisima Formation outcrops.

Bivalves in outcrop

The Purisima Formation, between 3-7 million years old, contains an array of fossil bivalves and other invertebrates. Here, among the shell fragments, is a fossil bivalve shown in life position in this cross sectional view.

Set up for filming the videos

Videographer, John Tegan setting up the shot with Rob and Lisa to discuss key features of the landscape.


Don scanning the outcrop and capturing images in 3D.

Erica, for scale, describing some different textural features in beds of the Purisima Formation.

Erica, for scale, describing some different textural features in beds of the Purisima Formation.

Beds of the Purisima Formation are folded into a plunging syncline. UCMP Staff Assistant Lillian Pearson hops across for a better view.

Beds of the Purisima Formation are folded into a plunging syncline. UCMP Staff Assistant Lillian Pearson hops across for a better view.

Some of the shells are concentrated into highly fossiliferous sandstone and conglomerate beds, dense with fragments of bivalve and gastropod shells, with occasional echinoids and other fossils. The shells are highly fragmented and are embedded in pebble conglomerate suggesting these may be storm beds.

Some of the shells are concentrated into highly fossiliferous sandstone and conglomerate beds, dense with fragments of bivalve and gastropod shells, with occasional echinoids and other fossils. The shells are highly fragmented and are embedded in pebble conglomerate suggesting these may be storm beds.


Making these experiences more accessible.

UCMP and the Paleontological Research Institute will keep working together with all the EPICC partners to bring paleontological and geological experiences to the classroom through these virtual field experiences. We are enthusiastic about offering these educational tools and sharing the stunning geology of California and the west coast. We think the VFE will be especially helpful for communities who don't have ready access to outdoor spaces.

Once these VFEs are completed, they will be shared on the EPICC website.


A Successful Short Course

Pachycephalosaur Illustration

Pachycephalosaur illustration by Mark Simmons from the UCMP Short Course 2017

On March 4th the popular UCMP annual short course featured dinosaurs this year: "A new look at old bones: Insights into dinosaur growth, development and diversity." The short course is an ideal way to connect public audiences, particularly teachers and science educators, with current research in paleontology and Earth history. Past short courses have had regional environmental themes (SF Bay ecosystems) or focused on patterns of evolution and extinction.

After Lisa White kicked off the course with a welcome to the more than 150 attendees, UCMP’s very own Mark Goodwin took the stage to introduce the topic and the speakers who were invited from major institutions across the country and Canada.

Nathan Smith from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County began with a focus on dinosaurs in the Late Triassic and discussed multiple drivers that may have driven dinosaur diversity, including climatic changes in the early Mesozoic.

David Evans from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada presented his current research on late Cretaceous dinosaurs bonebeds in Alberta, Canada, and the existence of preservational biases and taphonomic factors that affect estimates of dinosaur diversity.

Holly Woodward from Oklahoma State University highlighted paleohistological techniques to infer growth rates of Maiasaura, the "Good Mother" dinosaurs named by Jack Horner, Maiasaura was the first dinosaur to show evidence of parental care of the nestings.

Dana Rashid, a developmental biologist from Montana State University uses genetics and embryological studies to further explore the connection between birds and dinosaurs.

Finally Mark Goodwin concluded the short course with new research on pachycephalosaurs and how they grew their unique cranial "dome" structure on top of their skulls. Mark revealed that the dome preserves an internal network of high vascular tissue, while the exterior displays horns, bumps and knobs that functioned in visual communication, signal changing sociobiological status, and allowed juveniles to recognize juveniles and adults to recognize other adults.

Photo of speakers David Evans, Nathan Smith, Holly Woodward, Lisa White, Dana Rashid and Mark Goodwin.

David Evans, Nathan Smith, Holly Woodward, Lisa White, Dana Rashid and Mark Goodwin.

All the while a talented artist was also in the audience. Illustrator Mark Simmons sketched a colorfully illustrated storyboard, containing his notes from each short course presenter. Note the incredible attention to detail, not only to the topics at hand, but the likenesses of the speakers as well. Mark's website is and his twitter handle @toysdream. Thanks Mark!

Short Course Illustration by Mark Simmons

Page 1 from Mark Simmons Sketchbook featuring speakers from the UCMP Short Course

Illustration from UCMP Short Course by Mark Simmons

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Illustrations by Mark Simmons

Page 3

Illustrations by Mark Simmons

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2017 Fossil Treasures Calendar Available Now!

2017 Fossil Treasures Calendar

2017 Fossil Treasures Calendar

Revealing the collections at Regatta

The 2017 Fossil Treasures Calendar is a bit of a 'behind-the-scenes' look at the work done at UCMP and celebrates some impressive fossil specimens we hold at the Regatta Facility in Richmond, CA. We have both fossils large in size and large in number and featured in this calendar are the large antlers from the giant elk, hundreds of vials of microfossils and even dinosaur fossils formerly on display at Cal Academy, namely the legs of the Allosaurus.

So get yours today!

Contact Chris Mejia at or call 510-642-1821 to get your 2017 UCMP Fossil Treasures Calendar. They're only $10 each (plus postage) and all proceeds support museum research, education, and outreach.

For the collectors out there, we also have UCMP Fossil Treasures Calendars from 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 available for $2. Each of the calendars are a wealth of knowledge and interesting facts about the history of UCMP.

Cal Day 2016

Cal Day 2016 Title

Visiting Egyptian scholar Marwa W. Ibraheem sharing some info about fossil insects with visitors. Photo credit Lucy Chang. Museum scientist Diane Erwin and undergraduate Hiep Nguyen pose for the camera. Photo credit Jun Ying Lim. Bottom right graduate student Sara ElShafie answers questions at the “Ask a Climate Change Scientist” booth in the couryard. Photo Credit Helina Chin.


The 2016 Cal Day, held on April 16, 2016, was my first time experiencing Cal Day and I was also the one planning it. Cue scary music! Thanks to the UCMP community for pitching in their time and efforts, it went off without a hitch and was fun experience all around.

As a newer member of the UCMP community, I only knew about CalDay through photos and the well-documented newsletter postings by my predecessor Dave Smith. Annually on Calday, the campus opens up to the public and shares all the research and project activities being done by each department. The UCMP offered up many activities for UC Berkeley alumni, students and the Bay Area community gathered to enjoy a fun day of exploration and learning at the campus open house.

The science on display in the Valley Life Sciences Building is one of the biggest draws to visitors on campus. The unifying theme among the Berkeley Natural History Museums this year was “Our Changing Planet,” a theme that touches upon the concept of global climate change. Many wonder what studying fossils tells us about global climate change. Common questions include can unearthed fossils from rocks beneath our feet really tell us anything about why rain and snow is still showing up in present day April? The answer is yes! And was the focal point of many of the activities and presentations put on by UCMP staff and students - how fossils and deep time inform the future.

At the UCMP on Cal Day, we offer a limited number of exclusive tours of our collections to visitors who arrive early enough to get the coveted tour tickets. Because of the nature of collections, only small groups can be taken through the stacks. The tours were lead by the museum scientists, and they discussed everything from giant ammonites to 3-D printed models of fossil skulls.

Tour through UCMP

At left: UCMP Assistant Director Mark Goodwin leads a group through tours of the museum. Photo credit Jun Ying Lim. Top right: Museum scientist Erica Clites talks about a fossil ammonite. Photo credit Renske Kirscholtes. Bottom right: a young visitor is enamored by baby triceratops skull. Photo credit Renske Kircholtes.

In front of T. rex and friends, UCMP debuted new shirt designs for the year with T. rex rocking sunglasses as well as Bothriocidaris eichwaldi, an echinoid beautifully illustrated by May Blos, a staff illustrator of UCMP between 1965 - 1973. Also available were tote bags featuring images of the Pleistocene McKittrick Fossil Collection! New this year was the debuted selfie booth. Please check out our t-shirt page to get yours! ( We also had visiting Children’s Book Author Illustrator Hannah Bonner come and sign copies of her book “When Fish got Feet, When Bugs got Big and When Dinos Dawned” after her talk.

UCMP Shirts and Selfie booth

At left, visiting Children’s book Author-Illustrator Hannah Bonner adds some prehistoric life to the chalkboard. Photo credit Helina Chin. At right. Renske Kircholtes modeling the new T. rex shirt design. Photo credit Renske Kircholtes. Assistant Director Lisa White and her young friend pose with dinos at the Selfie Booth. Photo credit Lisa White.

Fun with Fossils was held on the 3rd floor of Valley Life Sciences and still sparks the magic of discovery with children (and their parents too!). While digging through small sections of matrix, they encountered shark teeth and tiny bones or larger animals. The icing on the cake is a receipt of their very own Junior Paleontologist certificate!

Fun with Fossils at UCMP

At left, Fun with Fossils activity is enjoyed by the whole family. At right, graduate student Lucy Chang sharing the story of the scale fish with young visitors. Photo credit Jun Ying Lim.

In the VLSB Courtyard, UCMP shared an array of fossils illustrating evidence of changes in taxa over time. The fossils on display include species living at a time when changing climate events lead to an extended ice age and eventually extinction. Also on display were marine fossil invertebrates that matched with the live marine invertebrates on display with the live kelp forest display put on by Integrative Biology. Fossils we featured included giant barnacles, brittle sea stars, sea urchins and corals. On the megafauna side, we had a casts of proboscideans, ancestors to our modern day elephants. In addition, we had the top half of a mastodon skull as well as a cast of a baby mammoth, with UCMP grad students discussing how studying their teeth tell us about the what food was available at the time.

UCMP in the courtyard

Top left: Ashley Poust and Natalia Villavicencio pose with mammoth fossils. Photo credit Jun Ying Lim Right: Daniel LaTorre discusses a giant fossil barnacle. Photo credit Helina Chin. Bottom left: Camila Souto engaging with visitors about fossils in climate change. Photo credit Renske Kircholtes.


UCMP Cal Day speakers

UCMP Director Charles Marshalls speaking about effects of global climate change on California fauna and flora

Past the courtyard, we had a variety of speakers from the UCMP and IB communities who shared their how their research relates to global climate change in the lecture halls. UCMP museum scientist Pat Holroyd and UCMP Director Charles Marshalls presented as well as visiting professor Julia Sigwart.

Fishbowl activity at UCMP

Graduate student Eric Holt, undergraduate Armita Manazadefah and Post Doctorial Candidate Brian Rankin engaging visitors in the story of McKittrick Fossils. Photo credit Lucy Chang. At right, a young visitor takes a look at tiny marine invertebrate fossils presented by the Finnegan Lab. Photo credit Jun Ying Lim.

Finally in our “Fishbowl” meeting room, UCMP staff and students shared fossils from the ongoing McKittrick restoration project, the digitizing fossilized insects from the Stewart Valley and research regarding the mass extinction of plants at the end of the Permian done by the Looy Lab; all that speak to “Our Changing Planet."

Cal Day at UCMP would not have been possible without the help of the UCMP community! Thank you!

Fishbowl activity

Activity in the Fishbowl at UCMP on CalDay 2016. Photo/gif credit Renske Kircholtes.


A photo essay: Death Valley Field Trip, Spring Break 2016

Group Photo

2016 Field trip: Ivo Duijnstee, Adiel Klompmaker, Daniel Latorre, Jeff Benca, Sara ElShafie, Niek Willems, Emily Orzechowski, Mackenzie Kirchner-Smith, Seth Finnegan, Nick Spano, Ben Muddiman, Cindy Looy, James Saulsbury, Erica Clites and Zixiang Zhang. Photo by Helina Chin

Learning in the Field

Map of field trip stops

Map of our round trip adventure

The 2016 UCMP Spring Field Trip was my first foray into exploring the world of paleontology in the field. Curators/professors Seth Finnegan and Cindy Looy brought 10 graduate students, postdocs, and a few beguiled tag-alongs like myself to various localities throughout central and southern California and Nevada. Field trips like these are important learning opportunities for future paleontologists and geologists, and a way to use practical skills in the field and see fossils in a greater geological context. The group engaged in a number of data collection and field measuring exercises such as noting the thickness of strata and various stratigraphic and lithologic changes

While reflecting on the trip, graduate student Nick Spano said, “It was super fun and from the perspective of future paleontologists it’s always good to go out into the field, and it was definitely a transformative experience. The fieldwork aspect gives us a hands-on opportunity to see where the stories in the textbook come from and it’s a humbling experience.”

This simple map shows our trip itinerary where we logged about 1,115 miles. Trip stops included the Kettleman Hills, Furnace Creek, Ibex Hills and Sperry Wash, Camp Wash, Chicago Pass, Emigrant Pass, China Ranch, Noonday Mine, Bat Mountain (southern Funeral Mountains), Rowland’s Reef (near Lida, NV), Owens River Gorge, Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Lab, Convict Lake and Mono Lake.

Field Trip Starts:

Saturday: We drove through the Coast Ranges via the US-101 South to Los Gatos Creek County Park (Fresno County) where we set up camp.

Sunday: The Kettleman Hills

The next morning we set out to explore the Kettleman Hills together with professor Nick Swanson-Hysell's (Earth and Planetary Sciences) Stratigraphy and Earth History class. The sediments that form the hills are Pliocene to Pleistocene in age. During the Pliocene the San Joaquin Basin was a narrow marginal marine basin with a narrow connection with the Pacific Ocean in the north. Sea level fluctuations and tectonic activity resulted in major changes in salinity and temperature, resulting in extinctions of marine invertebrates, and a stepwise transition from shallow marine to fluvial depositional environments. Later that day the Tehachapi Pass took us to other side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains where we camped in Red Rock Canyon State Park.

Monday: Death Valley here we come!

Furnace Creek, lenticular clouds, Zabrieski point.

Jeff Benca wandering through Furnace Creek, photo by Niek Willems; lenticular clouds photo credit Seth Finnegan; Mud cracks, Seth for scale and mud layers by Erica Clites; a great wind at Zabriskie Point,photo credit Ivo Duijnstee.

The third day we drove north on Hwy 395 north via Olancha in Owens Valley and across the Darwin Plateau, into Death Valley National Park. Overlooking Panamint Valley, we made a stop at the spectacular Father Crowley Vista Point, before crossing over via Towne Pass to Death Valley – not the park, but the Valley proper. After some time at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, we met up with Torrey Nyborg from Loma Linda University. Torrey took us nearby into an eroded gully that cut through Pliocene-age fluvial-lacustrine deposits. Besides well-preserved bedding surfaces, including ripples and mud cracks (Jeff for scale), we also saw several fossilized tracks of camels, large cats, and birds. After a short visit to a very windy Zabriskie Point, we set-up camp just southeast of the park in Shoshone were we witnessed an incredible sunset with lenticular-shaped clouds.

Tuesday: The Meso- and Neoproterozoic Ibex Hills

Saratoga Springs

Clockwise from top: Saratoga Springs Photo credit James Saulsbury; Strata layers at Saratoga Springs photo credit Ivo Duijnstee; Invertebrate fossils of large ooids and a stromatolite, photos by Erica Clites; Trilobite fossil in the Carrara Formation, photo by Ivo Duijnstee

The next morning we reunited with Nick's group for a joint exploration of the southern part of the Ibex Hills. The four formations visible there are Mesoproterozoic to Neoproterozoic in age, and data collected in these formations figure prominently in Snowball Earth models. Our six-truck caravan kicked up a large dust cloud on the ten miles of dirt roads to Saratoga Spring where we dismounted for our hike from old to younger sediments – starting in the Crystal Spring Formation (older than 1080 Ma). This first section includes various types of stromatolites, and has volcanic intrusions near the top. It is unconformably overlain by the Horse Thief Springs Formation (~770-740 Ma). Next on our menu was the Beck Spring Dolomite Formation with sediments that alternate between carbonate and sililiclastic sediments, packed with interesting features including microbial mats, large ooids, breccias and rip-off clasts. The Kingston Peak Formation that followed is siliciclastic-dominated, and includes sediments that indicate the low-latitude Snowball Earth glaciation (breccias) and tell-tales of conditions that caused the ensuing rapid deglaciation (cap carbonates). Just before sunset, on the way back to our campsite, we jumped 600 million years ahead in time and concluded the day with a visit to the Pleistocene Lake Tecopa that boasts spectacular yet puzzling soft-sediment deformations.

Wednesday: Pahrump-a-pump pump and the Carbonate Factory


Death Valley Flora and Fauna

Making friends with the local wildlife and the closest we got to the Super Bloom in Death Valley: Joshua tree, photo credit Niek Willems; Rattlesnake, photo credit Seth Finnegan; Desert Gold flower (Geraea canescens), photo credit Helina Chin, Chuckwalla, photo credit Niek Willems; Horned lizard, photo credit Ivo Duijnstee

The formation had many marine invertebrate fossils embedded in the mudstone. Common interpretations for these Neoproterozoic sections demonstrated by the carbonate sediments with algal features and Kingston Peak suggested extensive glaciation of tropical carbonate platform as part of significant and repeated climate events.

We end the warm day with well-deserved date shakes at a China Ranch, a hidden oasis in the Mojave Desert.

Thursday: Bat Mountain and the Lost Burro Formation

Bat mountain, Seth leading discussion

From the top: tabulate coral syringoporoid, fossil crinoids and Seth discussing somthing fossily at Bat Mountain, Erica Clites in a Depression Era dugout in Pliocene lake beds, Mackenzie Kirchner-Smith, Cindy Looy, Daniel LaTorre, Nick Spano, Ben Muddiman and James Saulsbury heading to check out some camel footprints, Seth Finnegan photographs Cindy with the tabulate coral. Photos by Helina Chin

We drove along highway Location?? to get to our next destination: The Lost Burro formation in Bat Mountain, the southern range of the Funeral Mountains in Death Valley. The day starts with Seth and Cindy described the task of measuring the changes between strata going up the outcrop. The students devide into teams and log the fossil-rich section which shows a transition of carbonate reefs to more open marine settings.

I joined the field trip in hopes of seeing the super bloom in Death Valley. Super bloom refers to the massive blooming of flowers occurring in spring 2016 due to the excess water associated with El Nino weather patterns. Wild flowers basically carpet the valley and add bright and beautiful yellows, pinks and purples to the otherwise green to red colored rock formations and alluvial flood plains that make up the valley. At every locality we visit there are different plant blooming; we counted more than 40 species.

Friday: We officially left the desert.

Photo above: Checking out more fossils in Bat mountain, photo credit Helina Chin; Archaeocyathids in the field phtos by Ivo Duijnstee and Erica Clites, stromatolite, photo credit Helina Chin, brancing archaeocyathid, photo credit Ivo Duijnstee

Photo above: Checking out more fossils in Bat mountain, photo credit Helina Chin; Archaeocyathids in the field phtos by Ivo Duijnstee and Erica Clites, stromatolite, photo credit Helina Chin, brancing archaeocyathid, photo credit Ivo Duijnstee

We headed to a little place, Rowland’s Reef, surrounded by some short shrubs, wildflowers and Joshua trees in different states of bloom. Seth and Cindy discussed the rock formations and the occurrence of archaeocyathids, cup-shaped marine invertebrates related to sponges. Their presence indicated we were in the Late Cambrian. We also happened upon a rascal stromatolite, likely left behind from another trip as Bureau of Land Management locations do not allow for fossil collecting without a permit. As the day grew warmer, we encountered some local wildlife, rattlesnakes, who readily let us know we were treading on their turf.

Next we visited the Owens River Gorge, a formation of compelling and incredible beauty created by a river downcutting through a tuff, a layer of compressed ash. The ash was deposited after one giant volcanic eruption about 760 thousand years ago (check date) We then made our way to our next location SNARL, the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Lab. SNARL is located in the Long Valley Caldera at the base of some moraines - rocks and land pushed out of place by glaciers. In addition to the breathtaking scenic views, it also offered another treat: natural hot springs. After so many days of hiking exposed outcrops, the hot water collected in the springs was a nice respite.

Saturday: Soda water and Sea Monkeys at Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Daniel LaTorre birding and view of Mono Lake, photo credit Helina Chin; Mono Lake, photo credit Cindy Looy; Tufa towers photo credit Ivo Duinjstee

Our last and final day together we ventured out to see the other bodies of water in the Mammoth Lake area. First was Convict Lake and followed by Mono Lake, a highly interesting body of highly alkaline water salted soda water. When snow and ice melt, the run off and dissolved minerals from the Sierras collects at Mono Lake and have contributed to the formation of Tufa towers in the water. Not having a natural outlet, the water itself is salty and full of minerals. This allows only certain types of organisms to live there, including planktonic algae, brine shrimp (also known as Sea monkeys) and alkali flies.

After a delicious lunch at the Burger Barn in Bridgeport, CA, everyone headed back towards the temperate Bay Area. Next year, we head south again towards Anza Borrego near San Diego. See you then!


Daniel LaTorre, Ivo Dunste and Cindy Looy preparing dinner at dusk

A first: Sauropod bones found in Ethiopia!

Assistant Director Mark Goodwin and his project collaborators (see Feb. 1 blog post) made a surprising discovery while collecting microvertebrates, turtles, and fish.  Within a small area of exposure in the Late Jurassic Agula Shale in the Tigray Province, just south of Mekele, Ethiopia, were the first sauropod dinosaurs ever reported from Ethiopia!

The team found mostly partial bones and bone fragments, and the local school kids delighted in holding Ethiopia's first sauropod dinosaur bones.

Mark labeling some of the bones with Connie Rasmussen (Univ. of Utah) and local school kids looking on.

Mark labeling some of the bones with Conny Rasmussen (Univ. of Utah) and local school kids looking on.

Million Alameyeho & Samuel Getachew (Addis Ababa U.) and Tadesse Berhanu (Oklahoma State U,) with local school kids

Million Alameyeho & Samuel Getachew (Addis Ababa U.) and Tadesse Berhanu (Oklahoma State U,) with local school kids

sauropod bones

Close up of some of the many sauropod bones found by the field party.

Solutions to climate change inspire French film

Tony and Liz by billboard advertising the movie Demain, in Paris.

Tony and Liz by a billboard advertising the movie Demain, in Paris.

In December 2015 UCMP faculty curator Tony Barnosky and Stanford paleoecologist Liz Hadly attended The United Nations Conference on Climate Change to premiere a movie opening in Paris. The movie, Demain, was inspired by the 21-authored study that produced a 2012 Nature paper on tipping points. The film opens with Tony and Liz summarizing global change issues facing the world today.

Tony states, "the movie is all about solutions and is very uplifting." It features solutions being implemented in San Francisco and Oakland, in addition to many other places around the world. It was produced by and stars Mélanie Laurent, a well-known French actress, and Cyril Dion. The movie is getting rave reviews in Europe and the English version Tomorrow (see video) is anticipated to be released in the USA in the spring.

Tony and Liz (far left) with cast members of the film, Demain.

Tony and Liz (far left) with cast members of the film, Demain.

Assistant director reunites with UCMP alumni in Ethiopia to investigate Mesozoic ecosystems

Assistant director Mark Goodwin is in Ethiopia for several weeks as part of a collaborative project with UCMP alums Greg Wilson (University of Washington) and Randall Irmis (Utah). Together with colleagues from the University of Oklahoma, Addis Ababa University, and Mekelle University in Ethiopia, the team is investigating non-marine Mesozoic ecosystems from the Northwestern Plateau, Ethiopia.

Mark reports "we had great success in the Late Jurassic units and it is gratifying working with Ethiopian students and staff from the Earth Sciences Dept at Addis Ababa University. In the late Jurassic Mugher Mudstone, in addition to turtles, fish, croc teeth and verts, we found a partial crocodile skull with brain case and parietals, partial lower jaw, many allosauroid-like theropod teeth at almost every site and finally some large dinosaur bones - still fragmentary but we're getting there - and very rich micro vertebrate localities that just have to have mammals - collected some bags of sediment from each. Working with the Earth Sciences Dept at Addis Ababa University has been great and hopefully a model for future work and lots of opportunity for collaboration, including informal science."

This collaborative research project, "US-Ethiopia planning visit for the investigation of non-marine Mesozoic ecosystems from the Northwestern Plateau, Ethiopia," is funded by the National Science Foundation grant NSF-CNIC-1444238.

Group pic at the top of the flood basalts that cap the steep sided canyons of the Blue Nile Gorge, near Fiche, Ethiopia. From L to R: Tadesse Berhanu (PhD student, Oklahoma State); Connie Rasmussin (PhD student, Utah); Keegan Melstrom, PhD student, Utah); Randy Irmis (Utah); Greg Wilson (Washington); Mark Goodwin (UCMP); Dave Demar (Postdoc, Washington); Million Mengesha and Samuel (Earth Sciences Dept., Addis Ababa University).

Group pic at the top of the flood basalts that cap the steep sided canyons of the Blue Nile Gorge, near Fiche, Ethiopia. From L to R: Tadesse Berhanu (PhD student, Oklahoma State); Conny Rasmussin (PhD student, Utah); Keegan Melstrom, PhD student, Utah); Randy Irmis (Utah); Greg Wilson (Washington); Mark Goodwin (UCMP); Dave Demar (Postdoc, Washington); Samuel Getachew and Million Mengesha  (Earth Sciences Dept., Addis Ababa University).

Bones in the Belltower, a Berkeley Science Review feature by Sara ElShafie

fall_2015_elshafie_featureThe Fall 2015 issue of the Berkeley Science Review features an article by Sara ElShafie, a UCMP graduate student in the Padian Lab, on the McKittrick tar seep fossils that have been stored in the Campanile since the 1930s. The convergence of an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant to the UCMP to clean and catalogue more the 12,000 specimens in the collection and the centennial celebration of the Campanile in 2015 shined a spotlight on these unique fossils.

In interviews with UCMP graduate students Eric Holt and Ashley Poust, and UCMP staff Lisa White and Pat Holroyd, Sara details the work performed to preserve history and scientific significance of the McKittrick collection. Over 3,000 collective hours spent by more than a dozen students will improve the accessibility to the collection for future research and a rich digital archive facilitates sharing with the education community.

The Berkeley Science Review is a graduate student-run magazine showcasing research conducted UC Berkeley in a variety of disciplines.

Humans began altering natural world 6,000 years ago

Egyptian farmers in the Neolithic period 5,000-6,000 years ago.

Egyptian farmers in the Neolithic period 5,000-6,000 years ago.

Scientists have found an abrupt change about 6,000 years ago in how terrestrial plant and animal species coexisted, right about the time human populations were ballooning and agriculture was spreading around the world.

The findings suggest that human activity had reached a tipping point where hunting and farming were impacting the natural world in irreversible ways — changes that have continued to increase to this day.

The researchers, including UC Berkeley’s Cindy Looy, an assistant professor of integrative biology, will report their findings in the Dec. 17 issue of the journal Nature.

The scientists looked at fossil data on how species coexisted over the past 307 million years, specifically how often a particular pair of plant or animal species is found within the same community. Out of all possible combinations of two species in a certain region and time interval, the proportion of pairs of species that co-occurred remained relatively stable until 6,000 years ago. At that time, the chances of co-occurrence dropped significantly, suggesting that humans were creating some barrier to the dispersal of plants or animals.

"This tells us that humans have been having a massive effect on the environment for a very long time," said lead author S. Kathleen Lyons, a paleobiologist in the Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems (ETE) program at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Analyses of modern communities of plants and animals have found that for most pairs of species, the presence of one species within a community does not influence whether the other is present or absent. For pairs where there is an association, most occur within the same community less frequently than expected, suggesting some influence keeps them apart.

But when Lyons, Looy and their colleagues investigated the composition of ancient communities using fossil data, they found exactly the opposite. Their analysis showed that from 307 million years ago, the time known as the Carboniferous period, to about 6,000 years ago, in the Holocene epoch, there was a pattern of pairs of species occurring together within communities rather than being segregated.

"The proportion of co-occurring species pairs was relatively stable from the late Paleozoic until 6,000 years ago, even during periods of major climate change and mass extinction and despite the appearance of many new players in the terrestrial ecosystems, such as mammals and flowering plants," Looy said. "The decline of coupled species pairs in the Holocene also cannot be explained by the transition from the last glacial to the current interglacial at the end of the Pleistocene, as this happened too early. Instead, it is more likely caused by an increase in human population size and the resulting land use and agriculture."

Around the time co-occurrence patterns changed, humans were becoming increasingly dependent on agriculture, a cultural shift that physically altered the environment and would have introduced artificial barriers to dispersal never seen before. Even at low levels of agriculture and other human impacts, there was a detectable shift in co-occurrence structure, indicating that species were not able to migrate as easily as they did for the previous 300 million years.

For more details about the study, see this story on the Smithsonian's website.

This post was originally published online in the UC Berkeley News Center

See also: