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Archive for September 2009

Uncovering the hidden hazard of hairspray — what is the connection to the UCMP?


Photo Credits, clockwise from top left: University of California Irvine, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, British Antarctic Survey, Rolando Garcia, NASA, Susan Solomon

Well, hairspray is not really the focus of this article, but the process of science IS, and that explains its connection to the UCMP!

With all of the efforts on our Understanding Evolution website, it did not take long before it became apparent to us that much of the confusion about evolution is linked to confusions about science itself – how it works, what it is, what it is not, and what is not science. In response, UCMP pulled together an astonishing set of advisors and launched a new website that is gaining a lot of attention in the science education community – Understanding Science. The site is extremely rich and contains numerous examples of how science really works.

So back to the hidden hazard of hairspray - Read Ozone depletion: Uncovering the hidden hazard of hairspray, one of the online interactive case studies on the Understanding Science website. This article looks at the work of chemists Mario Molina, F. Sherwood Rowland, and many others and examines how scientific research revealed the global threat posed by chlorofluorocarbons and influenced policy changes. And see how Molina and his colleagues' investigations measure up against the Science Checklist: read The science checklist applied: CFCs and the destruction of the ozone layer.

And while you are there, explore the rest of Understanding Science, an NSF-funded website, and let us know what you think!

Paleo Video: Kaitlin Maguire at the John Day Fossil Beds

Watch this video and join UCMP graduate student Kaitlin Maguire on a field trip to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument! After visiting the park last spring, Kaitlin decided it's the perfect place to do her dissertation research.

"When you do a field project for paleontology, especially if you're looking for fossils, you never know what you're going to find — you never know if there's going to be enough data," says Kaitlin. But paleontologists from the UCMP and elsewhere have been studying the John Day Fossil Beds since the early 1900s. "There's a wealth of information to build on," she says. "I'm not just walking into the unknown."

A few fun facts about the John Day Fossil Beds:

  • The fossil beds, in eastern Oregon, were named for the John Day River, which runs through the area. The river got its name because of an incident that occurred at the river's mouth in 1812. A fur trapper named John Day was robbed by Native Americans — he was relieved of all of his belongings, including his clothes. Thereafter, the river was referred to as the John Day River.
  • Over 35,000 fossil specimens have been excavated from the John Day Fossil Beds. Many of those specimens were collected by UCMP paleontologists; the UCMP collections include thousands of fossils from John Day.
  • The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument has a paleontologist on staff, as do several other National Parks. Learn more about paleontology at the John Day on the Monument's website.

A summer studying snails in the Caribbean

Cpica_webI am a graduate student with the UCMP and the Department of Integrative Biology at Berkeley, and I study the biogeography, conservation biology, and microevolution of molluscs. From July through August of 2009, I traveled to nine islands in the Eastern Caribbean looking for Cittarium pica, a large, marine gastropod, or snail. This species has many common names, including West Indian Topshell, burgao, burgos, cingua, magpie shell, wilke, and “whelk”, which is why knowing the scientific name is so important!

Cittarium pica is the largest snail that lives along rocky coasts, reaching a maximum width of 13.6 cm! Since at least the Pliocene, about 5.2 million years ago, the species has lived in the West Indies and along the Caribbean coasts of South and Central Americas. Humans have fished this snail since they first arrived in the region, eating the meat and using the shell for both jewelry and as tools.

Conducting research on the islands of the Caribbean and Northwestern Atlantic is a breathtaking experience, both because of the spectacular views and because it’s hard work! When I found locations on the islands with C. pica populations, I recorded the size and location of individuals within the intertidal zone. I will use this information to assess the fishing pressure on island populations, determine the habitat preferences of the species, and map the distribution of habitat during the Pleistocene. This map can then be used to predict the future distribution of C. pica habitat as the sea level rises due to global warming. During the Pleistocene, sea level fluctuated from ~130m below to ~6m above present day sea level!

At each site, I also collected tissue samples from 25-30 snails (taking them does not fatally harm the animals) to determine the genetic variation of the species on both local and regional scales. These data will provide information on the patterns of larval dispersal within the region and help to identify populations that are at high-risk of local extinction (due to low genetic diversity).

During six weeks of fieldwork, I collected 385 tissue samples from 13 different field sites, conducted ten population surveys, recorded habitat and size information for 2,542 individuals, and collected shells from each site. Whew! I had a busy six weeks! While exploring the rocky coastlines, I also found C. pica fossils in Barbados and several locations with fossil corals. I didn't have a permit to collect fossils, so I'll have to return to those sites in the future.

This trip was the third of four field seasons for my dissertation research. To read more about my summer adventures, please check my research blog.

My 2009 fieldwork was funded by the American Museum of Natural History, Unitas Malacologica, and the Reshetko Family Scholarship Fund.

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Jere Lipps awarded medal for excellence in paleontology

Jere LippsJere Lipps retired this year, but the accolades keep coming! Jere has just been awarded the 2010 Raymond C. Moore Medal for Excellence in Paleontology by the SEPM Society for Sedimentary Geology. He receives this medal in recognition of his outstanding contribution to paleontology. Congrats Jere! You can read about his career accomplishments in the most recent UCMP Newsletter. The Raymond C. Moore Medal will be presented to Jere at the SEPM Annual Meeting in New Orleans in April.

Tony Barnosky talks about his book, Heatstroke, in Terrain magazine

Anthony BarnoskyClimate change is not a new phenomenon - the earth's climate has been changing for millions of years, and no one knows this better than paleontologists. In his recent book, Heatstroke: Nature in an age of Global Warming, UCMP Faculty Curator Tony Barnosky tells why today's climate change is different than the climatic fluctuations of the past, and how that will impact ecosystems in new ways. Tony was recently interviewed in Terrain, Northern California's Environmental Magazine. Read Tony's interview and learn how studying the fossil record helps us understand how current climate change is threatening wildlife and wild places in new ways, and what to do about it.

Tony will be speaking about his book, Heatstroke, at an upcoming public event, hosted by the UCMP. We'll post details about the event on the blog, so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, read some of Tony's op-ed pieces here, and check out his blog.

T. rex gets a manicure

Gluing on the clawA few months ago, the UCMP’s Tyrannosaurus rex broke a nail. The right claw mysteriously went missing. We needed to replace it, but obviously the standard-issue drugstore press-on nail just wouldn’t do. We had to re-construct a new right claw by making a copy of the intact left claw.

Danny Anduza, a UCMP volunteer, carried out the claw restoration. First, he mixed up a rubbery substance and painted it over the T. rex’s left claw, to make a mold. Once the rubber hardened, he carefully sliced it and removed it from the claw. Next, Danny used the mold to make a new claw. He mixed up some resin and poured it into the rubber mold. Once the resin had set, Danny painted the new claw with brown paint — the same paint that was used to paint the rest of the T. rex in 1995. Danny attached the new claw to the finger bone using a special kind of hot glue, formulated to bond plastic to plastic.

Now that its claw has been repaired, the T. rex can resume hunting prey after we’ve all gone home for the night. Or sneaking into the classrooms and scratching the chalkboards.

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Super-sized sinuses

David Dufeau

David Dufeau, a graduate student from Ohio University, spent a few days at the UCMP this July, studying the development and evolution of the middle-ear sinuses in archosaurs — birds and crocodilians. He explains that the sinuses in these animals were so greatly expanded that they completely surrounded the braincase. By understanding these super-sized sinuses in the archosaurs, David hopes to infer something about the nature of auditory receptivity. Maybe the sinuses expanded as adaptations for hearing in terrestrial and aquatic habitats. David can look at the sinuses in fossilized skulls, but he has no way of knowing whether these animals suffered from middle ear infections or terrible sinus headaches.

David's visit was supported by the Welles Fund, an endowment that supports paleontological research at the UCMP. Click here to learn how you can support research at the UCMP.

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RudistNot to be rude, but what in the world is a rudist? Well, rudists are invertebrates, and they lived in the world’s oceans during the late Jurassic and the Cretaceous, about 150-65 million years ago; they are now extinct. They are bivalves — the name means “two shells.” Today’s familiar bivalves, clams and mussels, have two shells that are more or less symmetrical. But rudists were a bit unusual: their two shells were very different from each other. One shell was either conical or coiled, and it was attached to the ocean floor (or neighboring rudists). The other shell sat on top, like a little hat. The organism lived inside. They were probably filter feeders, feeding on plankton in the water, like many other bivalves today.

Rudists would grow on top of one another and form rudist reefs. They were the major reef-building organisms of their time — corals weren’t so abundant back then. Reefs are really important habitats for other marine organisms, like fish and crustaceans. So rudists played an important role in the ancient ocean.

So if rudists were so ecologically important, how did they get stuck with such an odd name? Lamarck dubbed them rudists in 1819, but it’s a little unclear what he meant. The Latin word rudis means rude, raw, or uncultivated. The Latin word rudus means rubble, or broken stone — specifically, the stones that made up Roman roads. Rudists do seem sort of coarse and unrefined, and they do look an awful lot like stones. But who knows what Lamarck was thinking.

This fossil rudist was found in Chiapas, Mexico. Learn more about rudists on the UCMP’s rudist page.

The Year of Science Zine-a-thon Contest

Science Zines

How do you learn fun new information about science?

a) Newspaper

b)  TV

c) The Internet

d) The Science Zine that I found on a bench while I was waiting for the bus

If answer d) seems totally strange and you have no idea what a Science Zine is, or even how to pronounce it, read on!

A zine (pronounced zeen) is a little magazine. Science Zines are a cool way to convey scientific knowledge — a fusion of art and science that fits in the palm of your hand. Check out The Small Science Collective for some examples — this website has lots of Science Zines that you can print out, read, and then leave in public places for random strangers to enjoy.

You don't have to limit yourself to reading Science Zines — you can create your own! The Year of Science 2009 is sponsoring a Zine-a-thon Contest, awarding prizes for the best Science Zines.

First come up with a science topic — your topic can be anything, but it should fit in with one of the Year of Science themes. Next, make a zine by folding an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper into little book with 8 mini-pages. (Folding is easy, no origami experience required! Check out the easy folding instructions.) Then, be like da Vinci and combine art and science! Zines must be sent in and postmarked by November 1, 2009. For more info, visit the Zine-a-thon Contest website.

I'm going to write a Science Zine version of my dissertation — I'll squeeze 6 years of research onto those 8 tiny pages. Look for it on a bus stop bench near you!

Field notes: Collecting stomatopods on the Great Barrier Reef

UCMP graduate student Maya deVries traveled to Australia's Great Barrier Reef this summer, to collect stomatopods for her research. She shares her underwater adventure in this video.