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UCMP students help the public unleash their inner scientist

The public enjoys the opportunity to explore fossils and learn more about paleontology from UCMP students. Photo by Renske Kirchholtes

The public enjoys the opportunity to explore fossils and learn more about paleontology from UCMP students. Photo by Renske Kirchholtes

On November 7 UCMP participated in the Bay Area Science Festival Discovery Day at AT&T Park. Discovery Day is the closing event of the annual Bay Area Science Festival – a science extravaganza offering a wide range of science and technology activities in a variety of venues over a two-week period.

The UCMP joined other Science@Cal exhibitors for the fifth straight year by engaging youth and families in fossils and life of the past, highlighting what lived at AT&T Park before the Giants! Thanks to UCMP students Eric Holt, Renske Kirchholtes, Jun Lim, Emily Orzechowski, Elyanah Posner, Nick Spano, and Alexis Williams for making the UCMP table a top hit with festival-goers.

Graduate students (from left to right) Eric Holt, Nick Spano, Jun Lim, and Emily Orzechowski, prepare the exhibit table during Discovery Days at AT&T Park. Photo by Jun Lim

Graduate students (from left to right) Eric Holt, Nick Spano, Jun Lim, and Emily Orzechowski, prepare the exhibit table during Discovery Days at AT&T Park. Photo by Jun Lim

UCMP volunteers discover important specimen

Kathy Zoehfeld, holds her palm out to show the gastropod speciment she discovered.

UCMP volunteer Kathy Zoehfeld holds a tiny gastropod she and volunteer Don Pecko discovered in the former USGS Menlo Park collection.

UCMP volunteers Kathy Zoehfeld and Don Pecko recently discovered a type specimen from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History among the hundreds of thousands of fossils in the former USGS Menlo Park collection. This type specimen, a tiny gastropod called Ceratia nixilia, was discovered in a drawer of fossils they were rehousing into new archival boxes. Don and Kathy not only noticed the less than a centimeter long gastropod, but brought it to my attention because they noticed the number written on the specimen. Noticing the green diamond also affixed to the fossil, we looked it up in the National Museum of Natural History database and discovered that it was listed as a holotype specimen.

Holotypes are the most important examples of a species, and the specimen that future researchers always return to determine whether their fossil is indeed the named one. Although some type specimens are lost due to disasters like the 1906 earthquake that destroyed much of the California Academy of Sciences collection, sometimes they are simply misplaced.

The U.S. Geological Survey had a close relationship with the National Museum of Natural History, and their offices housed in the same building for decades. Perhaps the specimen was accidentally transferred with the Pacific coast collections when the USGS Menlo Park office opened in the 1950s? Or perhaps it was sent out on loan to one of the paleontologists in the Menlo Park office and never returned?

Regardless of its journey, it eventually reached the UCMP, where my sharp-eyed volunteers signaled it out. The specimen will be returned to the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. and again be made available for researchers. This discovery shows the true value of rehousing a collection because it requires handling every single specimen and often results in lost specimens being returned to their proper location.

We are grateful to the National Science Foundation for the funding to complete this worthwhile project. I am lucky to be working with volunteers as dedicated to returning every fossil to its proper place as I am.

Ceratia nixilia, a small gastropod or sea snail, was discovered mixed with other specimens as the volunteers were rehousing a drawer of fossils.

Ceratia nixilia, a small gastropod or sea snail, was discovered mixed with other specimens as the volunteers were rehousing a drawer of fossils.

Landscapes change forever when large mammals disappear

An African elephant grazing among trees.

An African elephant grazes. Photo credit: Tony Barnosky

Research on the extinction of large mammals by members of the Barnosky Lab and their colleagues highlights how entire landscapes are affected when modern elephants and their extinct relatives, mastodons and mammoths, disappear.  From plants that are no longer grazed to fewer nutrients in soils, the loss of megafauna significantly impacts ecosystems in a dramatic fashion as detailed in recent articles and interviews.

Learn more about this recent research:

 

Five Climate Tipping Points We've Already Seen, and One We're Hoping For

forestfireThis week is Climate Week in New York, when President Obama, Pope Francis, and many other world leaders converge to continue hammering out commitments intended to limit global warming to 2 degrees C or less, to be presented at the make-or-break COP21 climate meetings in Paris in early December.

The commitments are not there yet--so far those on the table would allow enough greenhouse gas emissions to raise temperature 3 degrees C or more. But staying below 2 degrees is critically important, for we already are seeing climate-triggered problems arise, even though global temperature has only risen less than one degree (0.9 degree C) above what used to be normal, and indeed what human civilization evolved in.

Read the rest at Huff Post Science Blog

UCMP and Stanford partner on a global change workshop for teachers

Teachers Monica Sircar (left; Everest Public High School, Redwood City) and Crystina Ayala (ASCEND K-8 School, Oakland) use string to represent rays of sunlight hitting Earth's surface at different angles at different latitudes.

Teachers Monica Sircar (left; Everest Public High School, Redwood City) and Crystina Ayala (ASCEND K-8 School, Oakland) use string to represent rays of sunlight hitting Earth's surface at different angles at different latitudes.

Middle and high school science teachers received double the resources when UCMP and Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences teamed up to offer a week-long workshop on global change.

Read more about the workshop on Stanford's blog

UCMP science casual: Dinosaur NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences

Imagine over 3,000 adults in San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences (Cal Academy) for a night of fun special exhibits, drinks, and a serious science social. Now imagine it every Thursday. On July 23rd a dinosaur-themed Cal Academy NightLife event called upon volunteers from UCMP to showcase and explain the mysteries of these monsters beside their contemporary chews.

The NightLife also featured a tour of Cal Academy’s library archives about the historic “Bone Wars” between Victorian paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope and a showing of the 1993 classic Jurassic Park in the Tusher African Hall. Indeed, there was something uncannily familiar about watching the Dilophosaurus scene from Jurassic Park amongst stuffed African lions and cheetahs, who had also certainly taken their fair share of prey during life.

The event runs every Thursday from 6-10pm and requires a 21+ photo ID for entry. Stay tuned for the next time UCMP crosses the bay for another paleo-themed NightLife gathering!

New research shows how mammals became smaller in response to dramatic climate warming

Lead author Brian Rankin holds jaws of two species of 50 million year old horses.  Measurements of their teeth were used to study how global change can affect how mammals evolve.

Lead author Brian Rankin holds jaws of two species of 50 million year old horses. Measurements of their teeth were used to study how global change can affect how mammals evolve.

Fifty-six million years ago the Earth underwent a dramatic warming event, with temperatures increasing by as much as 7° Celsius over a span of just 100,000 years. Many mammals responded to this temperature increase by becoming much smaller. How these changes happened, however, is poorly understood. Identifying and measuring the mechanisms that drove these changes was the focus of a new study by University of California Museum of Paleontology researchers Brian Rankin and Pat Holroyd, and colleagues from University of Calgary and Western University of Health Sciences.

Lead author Brian Rankin, the newest postdoctoral scholar of University of California Museum of Paleontology, explains "When temperatures get warmer, we see a wide range of mammals become smaller. Determining what evolutionary processes are responsible for these changes and how much each contribute to this pattern has been very uncertain. We chose the evolution of mammals at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary because it is a time of dramatic global warming when many different types of animals became dwarfed and the fossil record of this time is incredibly rich."

In a new paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, these researchers present a new method to separate and quantify body size change due to selective extinction vs. change within lineages to determine which is the most important way in which evolution takes place during times of global warming. They found that that some evolutionary mechanisms (i.e., species selection) might act differently during global warming events, favoring mammals that increase in size rather than decrease. The methods developed in the paper can now be broadly applied to look at evolutionary change during other times of global change.

Partnership with Point Reyes National Seashore leads to important discovery of marine specimen

ptreyes-fossilUCMP's partnership with Point Reyes National Seashore (National Park Service) has resulted in the discovery and collection of an important marine mammal specimen. This specimen is currently being prepared by UCMP Research Associate Robert Boessenecker, and will be reposited at UCMP. Lillian Pearson, a Geoscientist-in-the-Park intern, is setting up protocols for the long-term monitoring of paleontological resources (fossils) at Point Reyes. Erica Clites did this type of work for the National Park Service before coming to UCMP, and has been advising Lillian on the project. For more information, read the full story.

Barnosky meets with Governor Jerry Brown and a United Nations delegation to discuss climate change

On June 15, UCMP Curator and Integrative Biology Professor Tony Barnosky met with Governor Jerry Brown, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres, and California climatologists at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History to discuss global warming and the consequences of failing to deal with it.

At a press conference following the meeting, Brown expressed his desire to reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent over the next 15 years and spoke of legislation mandating that 50 per cent of the State’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2050.

Brown et al

Behind Governor Brown (at the podium) are (from left) Christiana Figueres, Liz Hadley, and Tony Barnosky. Photo courtesy of Tony Barnosky.

At the end of November, representatives from some 195 countries will gather in Paris for a UN Climate Change Conference in the hope of forging international agreements to limit greenhouse gases and combat climate change.

See past blog posts dealing with Tony’s involvement with climate change issues.

UCMP participates in Girl Scouts’ “bridging” event

Every May for the past 30 years or so, the Girl Scouts of Northern California have celebrated the advancement of their scouts from Junior to Cadette status by a symbolic walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Following this year’s May 2 event, the scouts continued on to Crissy Field where they enjoyed entertainment and information booths. And UCMP was there to celebrate with the scouts.

For the third year in a row, UCMP hosted a table staffed by an enthusiastic crew that included graduate student (and former Dutch girl scout) Renske Kirchholtes, undergraduates Gina Hwang and Alexis Williams, and Museum Scientist Erica Clites. The Girl Scouts and their parents enjoyed talking with current UC Berkeley students and seeing women role models.

Renske and Alexis

Graduate student Renske Kirchholtes and undergraduate Alexis Williams talk with members of a Girl Scout troop at Crissy Field. Photo by Erica Clites.

Alexis and Gina

Berkeley undergraduates (and UCMP employees on the USGS project) Alexis Williams (left) and Gina Hwang show fossils to eager Girl Scouts. Photo by Erica Clites.