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Archive for October 2011

COPUS receives a gift of $35,000 from The Whitman Institute

The Coalition for the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) is a grassroots network that connects individuals who are passionate about advancing the public understanding of science. In existence since 2006 and responsible for the highly successful Year of Science 2009, COPUS is now focusing on expanding its community for science by promoting dialogue, building connections, and sharing ideas and resources.

The Coalition leadership team (the COPUS Core) is holding a science communication and networking "un-conference" in spring of 2012. At this event, we will bring together an eclectic group of passionate people, who have identified novel and innovative ways to bring science to the public. The conference will follow a participant and engagement driven meeting format. Rather than having a top down organization, the event will be built on a flexible framework and designed from the bottom up. This gives everyone a personal role in the event and invests attendees in a way that will enhance and focus their contributions to the meeting as a whole. Approximately two-thirds of the conference schedule, including the conference themes, session types, and topics to be covered, will be developed by the participants prior to the event. By using web tools like wikis, attendees will sculpt a program that will cater to their needs and interests. The remaining one third of the time will be left as open space within the event program – to be filled by the spontaneous interests, topics, and ideas that emerge.

Though this is primarily an invitational event, there will be an open application process that will enable additional people to attend the meeting. Applications will be available in early 2012. The COPUS Invitational will take place March 16-18, 2012, at the BioSphere II facilities in Arizona.

UCMP is one of the founders of COPUS and Judy Scotchmoor serves as one of the project managers, along with Sheri Potter of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. We are extremely grateful to The Whitman Institute for their support of this conference.

A Walk Through California's National and State Parks

Wednesday, October 12, 2011, was this year's National Fossil Day and if you missed the festivities, you can still celebrate our Earth's natural history by visiting your local, national, or state parks. To learn more about fossils and the UCMP, check out the East Bay Science Cafe next Wednesday, November 2, when UCMP's Dave Lindberg will talk about "The History of Kelp Forests: Global and Local Surprises." You can also hear from UCMP graduate students, Jenna Judge and Rosemary Romero, at Discovery Days at AT&T Park on Sunday, November 6, one of the many events at this year's Bay Area Science Festival.

Cycads: Not the “living fossils” that we thought

cycad cones close-upPalm-like cycads have been around since the last dinosaurs munched on them 65.5 million years ago, but those that we see today are really only a few million years old, according to a new study by an international team of scientists.

“Cycads are poster-child living fossils, yet the living species are really young,” reports UCMP Director and Professor of Integrative Biology Charles Marshall, co-author of the study appearing online October 20 (in advance of publication) in Science. “So, while the group as a whole are living fossils, the species themselves are not.”

Cycads are endangered cone-bearing plants that have survived in tropical and subtropical pockets to the present. The UC Botanical Garden hosts a nationally recognized collection of cycads, many of which were rescued from plant smugglers.

Molecular evidence was used to show that the surviving cycad species are actually not relics of the dinosaur era, but the result of an evolutionary explosion among cycads that began about 12 million years ago.

“All the cycad species we examined diverged from their nearest relatives in a really narrow window of geologic time, well after the dinosaurs became extinct” said co-author Charles Marshall, director of the University of California Museum of Paleontology and a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology. “This was a global event, and then the diversification essentially stopped in the last couple of million years. There is no other group of plants that has this remarkable pattern of diversification.”


“We can now say that living cycad species are not ancient or leftovers from dinosaur times,” said Nathalie Nagalingum, a research scientist at the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney, Australia, who led the study while a post-doctoral fellow in Marshall’s laboratory at Harvard University and subsequently UC Berkeley. “They evolved independently of dinosaurs only 12 million years ago. The recent radiation of cycads radically changes our view of these emblematic living fossils.”

Nagalingum, Marshall and colleagues studied all 11 groups of cycad and two-thirds of the world’s 300 species, developing a molecular clock that told them how recently living cycads diverged from one another. If they had truly dated from the dinosaur era, the times of divergence between the living species would have dated back to their heyday in the Jurassic, which began 200 million years ago. Instead, they found the living species originated within the last 12 million years or so.

“It was amazing that all the cycad groups across the globe in Australia, Africa, Southeast Asia and Central America began to diversify at the same time,” Nagalingum said. “This indicated that a global trigger may have been responsible. It seems that the trigger was a change in the climate, that is, when global cooling began and when the world started having more distinct seasons. Cycads are very slow-growing plants so it’s hard to predict whether cycads can survive, now that climate change is occurring at a much faster rate,” she said.

Nagalingum and Marshall's coauthors include Tiago Quental, a former UC Berkeley post-doc now at the Universidade Estadual de São Paulo, Brazil; Hardeep Rai of Utah State University; Damon Little of the New York Botanical Garden; and Sarah Mathews of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum.

See the abstract of the study, Recent Synchronous Radiaton of a Living Fossil on the Science website.

Observing Earth Science Week and National Fossil Day

UCMP and The Paleontology Portal are proud to observe this year's Earth Science Week (October 9-15) and second annual National Fossil Day (October 12) by (1) launching an interactive map of National Park Service (NPS) areas that preserve fossils; (2) presenting an East Bay Science Café talk; and (3) sharing Bay Area fossils with the public in the upcoming Bay Area Science Festival.

1. Launching a new interactive map
The mission of National Fossil Day, hosted by the NPS and the American Geological Institute, is to — as the NPS website states so nicely — "… promote public awareness and stewardship of fossils, as well as to foster a greater appreciation of their scientific and educational values."

Screen shot of parks' fossils page

In support of this goal, The Paleontology Portal is launching a new interactive map of North America, featuring all the NPS areas (230 or so) that either preserve fossils or have the potential of preserving fossils, based on fossils found nearby. The information for each park includes the geologic age or ages of the fossil-bearing rocks, the kinds of fossils found in those rocks, and a link to the park's NPS website.

The NPS Fossil Parks page lists all 232 NPS areas that preserve fossils and provides links to NPS pages that relate to those fossils.

2. A science café on fossils
UCMP's Dave Lindberg will be the featured speaker at the November 2 East Bay Science Café at La Peña in Berkeley. He will be talking about the history and ecology of kelp forest ecosystems. The East Bay Science Café, hosted by the Berkeley Natural History Museums and Science@Cal, is held the first Wednesday of every month, 7-9 pm at Café Valparaiso, La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA.

3. Who lived here before the Giants?
AT&T Park may now be home to the San Francisco Giants, but let's go back in time — waaay back. UCMP graduate students Jenna Judge and Rosemary Romero will share fossil evidence of some of the much earlier inhabitants of the Bay Area — just one of many activities of the 2011 Bay Area Science Festival and National Fossil Day! To be held on November 6, 2011 at AT&T Park, San Francisco.

Berkeley Initiative awarded $2.5 million from Moore Foundation

The Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology (BiGCB) was recently awarded a $2.5 million dollar grant by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.  The grant funds seven major projects and involves the participation of faculty members in eight departments and four of the Berkeley Natural History Museums on Berkeley's campus, including UCMP and IB faculty Cindy Looy, Tony Barnosky, and Charles Marshall.  Projects focus on using novel methods to understand the past, present, and future of the biosphere, ranging from obtaining a high resolution record of climate change using lake cores to applying theory-based metrics to analyze biological change.

Established in November 2009, BiGCB is an initiative bringing together over 100 Berkeley faculty and researchers to collaborate in the field of global change biology.  The Initiative is focused on integrating multiple disciplines to better predict how the biosphere will be affected by global changes through careful understanding of these changes in the past and present.