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Archive for July 2012

Archosaurs: A new online exhibit

UCMP is proud to announce the completion of its web exhibit on archosaurs — I guess you could call it a Diapsida exhibit but we've chosen to focus on the archosaur lineage.

Matt examines the skull of Tomistoma

Matt Wedel examines the skull of Tomistoma, the False Gharial. Photo by Vanessa Graff.

It's roots go back to the end of the spring semester, 2006. Former UCMP grad student John Hutchinson (Ph.D., 2001, now a Professor of Evolutionary Biomechanics at the University of London's Royal Veterinary College) had updated a number of the museum's web pages on dinosaurs, and he was asked whom he'd recommend for writing new material on the archosaur lineage. John suggested that we approach grad student Matt Wedel in the Padian Lab, and that summer the research, reading, and writing began.

Matt sent the bulk of the content for the archosaurs exhibit to me in May of 2007, but that was also the year Matt earned his Ph.D. and got a new job. Between the job and family, it was tough finding time to work on the final bits of archosaurs.

Meanwhile, I tracked down images, formatted the text that I had for the web, and continued to check in with Matt periodically. In May of 2010 Matt sent me the final pieces of archosaurs, the most important being his text on modern crocodilians. For the next several months, I worked with Matt to resolve some issues surrounding the archosaur phylogeny and I continued to hunt down images. By November, the exhibit was finally ready … except navigating among the numerous pages within the exhibit was quite difficult, so we decided to postpone its launch until UCMP Webmaster, Josh Frankel, could implement a solution. With the navigation issue resolved, archosaurs is now up and ready for the public. It only took us about six years!

The museum appreciates not only Matt's expertise, but his dedication — he was determined to complete the archosaurs exhibit no matter how long it took. And now it's finally “done” … although as Matt will be the first to tell you, the perceived relationships between organisms — particularly extinct ones — are always in a state of flux (due to new evidence and interpretations). So maybe Matt isn't completely done with archosaurs after all ….

Matt Wedel is currently Assistant Professor of Anatomy at the Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California.

A collaborative grant to examine what triggers megafauna extinction

Tony Barnosky, with Charles Marshall as co_PI, has received an NSF grant that will support a highly collaborative research program to test the synergistic effects of climate change and human population growth in magnifying extinction intensity.  South America offers a natural site to test these effects.  Barnosky and graduate students Emily Lindsey and Natalia Villavicencio hypothesize that if human impacts were significant in causing extinctions, then the last records for taxa should be found only after humans arrived on the continent, and that the geographic pattern of extinction should follow the sequence of human colonization and population increase in different regions. If climate alone drove extinction, taxa should disappear during the most pronounced climate changes, but not necessarily coincident with first human appearance and population increase. If synergy intensifies extinction, then extinction should accelerate dramatically when increased human population pressures and rapid climate change coincide.

The data from South America will provide an ideal way to examine the role of synergy in triggering extinction. For that reason, the project team proposes to:

  • Provide radiocarbon dates needed to determine the chronology of extinction for a broad spectrum of South American megafauna
  • Contribute to the international cooperation needed to analyze the extinction chronology
  • Provide a web-accessible database of the Quaternary fauna of South America, similar to NEOMAP and NEOTOMA
  • Use the information to better characterize the extent to which the looming threats of rapid climate change and growing human population can intensify extinction potentials
  • Develop effective outreach programs and scientific strategies to help minimize future extinctions.