Ella Halbert, Undergraduate Student, Biology and Hispanic Studies B.A.

I’m holding a praying mantis found near the biological station where I completed my research.

Hello! My name is Ella Halbert (she/her/hers) and I’m from Nashville, Tennessee. I am a fourth year Biology and Hispanic Studies major at Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH. I’m interested in disease ecology, epidemiology, and human health. Outside of academics, I love doing anything outdoors, particularly playing sand volleyball and going on hikes. I also sing in an a cappella group and am part of a traditional Japanese Taiko drumming group.

My favorite part about being a scientist is getting to explore questions that interest me. I’m a very hands-on learner, so research has been a great way for me to learn about the world. My most recent research began in the summer of 2022 with a National Science Foundation funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Mountain Lake Biological Station (MLBS) in Pembroke, VA. I was drawn to Dr. Chloé Lahondère’s work with mosquito thermal biology and interactions with plants and herpetofauna because of the wide possibility for projects. I joined a project that examines the interaction between Culex territans, a mosquito species present throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and its amphibian hosts. That’s right, this mosquito species feeds exclusively on amphibians (and the occasional reptile), and it couldn’t care less about humans!

Horton Pond was one of my sample sites at Mountain Lake Biological Station.

More specifically, I studied the interactions between Cx. territans mosquitoes and their frog hosts to determine what diseases they vector in that environment. So far, my work has focused on their potential as vectors of the Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) fungus, which causes chytridiomycosis, a deadly disease, in amphibians. The chytrid fungus is responsible for the decline of amphibian populations around the globe, so understanding how this disease is spread in the environment is critical. There is evidence that suggests that when a Cx. territans mosquito lands on a frog, it has the capability to pick up Bd spores and transfer them to its next host. By swabbing the frog population and testing the mosquito population in the same habitat, I was able to compare rates of Bd infection among species and get a better picture of how Bd is spreading in that habitat.

Here I am using the Giant Aspirator to vacuum up mosquitoes from their resting spots in the vegetation by a pond.

I’ve always loved science, even before I knew what it was. When I was in elementary school, I wanted to know everything there was to know about dinosaurs, and I was curious about why we lost those species 65 million years ago. I loved bugs, and asked for Eyewitness books for my birthday. Over the years, as I was formally introduced to science, I developed a strong desire to know more and to discover how the natural world works.

In high school, I participated in a program called the School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt (SSMV). One day each week, instead of attending my high school courses, I attended lectures and participated in hands-on science projects with my cohort at Vanderbilt University. This four-year long experience opened my eyes to the stunning variety that exists within STEM, and through this program I participated in several summer sessions that emphasized research. The SSMV solidified my interest in science and gave me a platform to engage with subjects that had fascinated me for so long.

I matriculated into Oberlin College in 2019 and declared my Biology major, eager to continue my exploration of the natural world. In the summer of 2021, I joined Professor Mary Garvin’s research lab at Oberlin. I investigated the role of nest mites in overwintering Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus in Northeast Ohio. With the team, I worked to elucidate the mechanism that allows this disease to persist through the cold, harsh winters of Ohio using DNA and RNA extraction techniques. This experience made me more curious about how ecology and diseases interact and steered my interests towards a summer research internship in the summer of 2022.

My current research is part of an ongoing project at MLBS that seeks to understand how Culex territans, a mosquito species that feeds on cold-blooded hosts, locates and interacts with its hosts. This mosquito’s preference for cold-blooded hosts is intriguing and poorly understood, and by learning how Cx. territans interacts with its hosts, we can provide insight into how mosquito host-seeking behavior evolved. This will ultimately inform current-day disease control strategies regarding mosquito-borne pathogens.

My advice for up and coming scientists is to seek out mentors! Having an experienced scientist in your corner makes a world of difference, and the best research experiences I’ve had were all facilitated by incredible mentors who really took the time to teach me what they knew. The strong interpersonal connections I’ve made in science are what keep me going when an experiment fails or I lose a bunch of data, both of which are annoyingly common occurrences in science! So my best advice is to find people who will support you on the best and worst days of your journey in research!

My final REU project presentation at Mountain Lake Biological Station.

Feathers: The Difference Between Life and Death for Triassic Dinosaurs

Arctic ice and the ecological rise of the dinosaurs

Paul Olsen, Jingeng Sha, Yanan Fang, Clara Chang, Jessica H. Whiteside, Sean Kinney, Hans-Dieter Sues, Dennis Kent, Morgan Schaller, Vivi Vajda

Summarized by Blair Stuhlmuller

What data were used? Researchers used three main sources of data. First, they looked at ancient lake sediments preserved in sedimentary rocks in the Junggar Basin, China. They then analyzed fossilized dinosaur footprints and other signs of “dinoturbation,” or the reworking or movement of soils and sediments by dinosaurs, in sedimentary rocks across the northern latitudes of China. The final set of data used was the phylogenetic tree of life for extinct and living dinosaurs, reptiles and mammals. A phylogenetic tree is a diagram showing lines of evolutionary descent of different organisms from a common ancestor. They used a preexisting phylogenetic tree but mapped preserved evidence of feather-like features and other key traits onto the extinct and living branches of organisms. This was done in order to make inferences about the presence of feathers and similar traits in extinct organisms where no fossil evidence exists yet to prove the presence of these features. 

Methods: The researchers analyzed the grain size of the sedimentary rocks recovered from the Junggar Basin in China. These lake sediments were deposited millions of years ago in the Late Triassic (~210 million years ago) and Early Jurassic (~200 million years ago) and thus can reveal much about the climatic conditions during the End Triassic Extinction. The location of these sediments, the Junggar Basin, is also of particular importance. Using already established continental reconstructions for the Mesozoic (in other words where Pangea, our most recent supercontinent, was located), researchers determined that the Junggar Basin, currently located in the high latitudes of China (around 43°N latitude), would have been north of the Arctic Circle at about 71°N paleolatitude during the Triassic. 

Lastly, the researchers used a generalized phylogenetic bracket analysis in order to infer certain traits (in this case the presence of some sort of feather-like feature or ‘protofeathers’) for which there is no current physical fossil evidence. This analysis revealed that feathers would be a primitive feature shared by many groups of dinosaurs. 

Results: Grain size analysis revealed that most of these lake sediments were comprised of fine grained (~0.1 to 63 μm) mudstones with some larger grain exceptions. These smaller amounts of larger grains (small rock pieces upto 15mm in size) are indicative of ice-rafted debris. Ice acts as a raft that can pick up sediment and larger debris that comes in contact with it. This sediment is later deposited in the middle of a body of water like an ocean or lake. Thus ice-rafted debris (IRD) is any sediment that has been transported by floating ice. The origin of this particular ice-rafted debris is interpreted as seasonal ice coverage along the coastlines of ancient lakes. As the ice formed, it would grab larger grains and debris and then break off and drift out over the lake, slowly melting as the seasons changed. As the ice melts, it deposits the larger debris among the fine silts that typically accumulate at the bottom of lakes. This contradicts the long upheld mental image of dinosaurs stomping through a tropical warm climate throughout the Triassic and really the whole Mesozoic Era. The Late Triassic was one of the few times in Earth’s history that there is no evidence of ice sheets at the poles. However, these researchers claim that despite the high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and the resulting greenhouse conditions during that time, there were freezing seasonal temperatures at high latitudes as supported by the ice-rafted debris they found. 

Large plant eating dinosaurs during the Triassic were more commonly found in the forested higher latitudes as supported by the type of dinosaur footprints and ‘dinoturbation’ found in outcrops in modern day China. While actual fossil evidence of proto-feathers has not been found on fossils of these large herbivorous dinosaurs, the phylogenetic bracket analysis posits that they were in fact insulated by some sort of feather structure and thus were well suited to the seasonal winters. This enabled these animals to take advantage of the more abundant and stable plant life of the higher latitudes and potentially survive one of the worst mass extinctions in Earth’s history. 

Groups of living and extinct mammals, reptiles and dinosaurs are shown and presence or absence of feather-like features are indicated for each group through various symbols and letters. In summary, feathers are thought to be a primitive feature, meaning that it shows up early on the evolutionary tree.
This figure shows the Phylogenetic Bracket Analysis that compared groups of dinosaurs, reptiles and mammals and mapped out feather-like features. The different feather types are shown at the top and represented by small images and numbers. 0 or ? represents their prediction that protofeathers for insulation should have been present, 1 represents bristle scales, and 2-6 represent various protofeathers based on fossil evidence. The P symbol represents those features that were predicted due to this phylogenetic bracket analysis.

During the End Triassic Extinction, incredibly large volcanic eruptions, called the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province or CAMP, were going off. These eruptions would have contributed to global warming long term but on  shorter decadal timescales, they would have caused volcanic winters.  As the eruptions periodically belched out sulfur aerosols, light would have been blocked and the atmosphere would have cooled upwards of 10 ℃. Dinosaurs previously adapted (feathered and insulated) to the seasonal winters of the high latitudes survived and even spread out toward the now cooler tropics. 

Why is this study important? This study contradicts the public’s perception of dinosaurs only thriving in a tropical climate and helps provide possibly the first empirical evidence for freezing temperatures and winter conditions in the Triassic rock record. It also provides a plausible explanation for why some dinosaurs went extinct at the end of the Triassic while others did not. Feathers were the key for survival in the volcanic winters that plagued the End Triassic Extinction. They offered life saving insulation that allowed some dinosaurs to survive the extinction and then reign supreme for the rest of the Mesozoic. That is, until the meteorite wiped out all non-avian dinosaurs 135 million years later. 

The big picture: The distribution and type of life currently on our planet is in part due to what was able to survive the Triassic Extinction. Birds are the most biodiverse group of vertebrates (besides fish) and have over two times the number of species than mammals. Thus, feathers emerged as a life saving feature in the Triassic and they continue to reign supreme in modern times.  

Citation: Olsen, P., Sha, J., Fang, Y., Chang, C., Whiteside, J. H., Kinney, S., Sues, H.-D., Kent, D., Schaller, M., & Vajda, V. (2022). Arctic ice and the ecological rise of the dinosaurs. Science Advances, 8(26). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abo6342

Small Friends Help Sea Anemones Survive the Heat

Microbiota mediated plasticity promotes thermal adaptation in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis

Laura Baldassarre, Hua Ying, Adam M. Reitzel, Sören Franzenburg, Sebastian Fraune

Summarized by Blair Stuhlmuller

What data were used? Researchers used cloned Nematostella vectensis, a sea anemone found in estuaries and brackish water environments of the US and UK. N. vectensis hosts many helpful small friends, or symbiotic microbiota. In other words, microscopic organisms that live on the host anemone and help it deal with environmental stressors like temperature changes. These symbionts can be passed onto the offspring from the parent anemone or be acquired from the environment during development. The symbiote assemblage can also change during an anemone’s lifetime in response to changing environmental conditions. The researchers looked at the composition of the microbial communities, the genetics of the host anemone and mortality rates at different temperatures.

Methods: First, in order to control for genetic diversity between individuals, the researchers created clones from a single female polyp (anemone). These individuals were divided into different test groups based on temperature–low (15℃) temperature, medium (20℃)  temperature and high (25℃) temperature–that were studied over the course of three years. Each test group had 5 cultures of 50 cloned anemones.

Results:  After 40 weeks and after 132 weeks, the polyps were exposed to high heat stress (6 hours at 40 ℃) and mortality was measured. In both tests, all of the polyps in the low temperature group died. The high temperature group had the highest survival rate after 132 weeks. Polyps in the high temperature group experienced a lower mortality rate overall, but were also 3 times smaller, and asexually reproduced 7 times more rapidly than those in the low temperature group. These results show that long-term temperature differences have a great impact on heat tolerance, organism size, and reproduction rates.

Next, changes in the microbial symbiont communities were measured through 16S rRNA sequencing (or the process of reading the small section of ribosomal RNA molecules that is in charge of turning the genetic code into actual functioning cell parts) at the 40, 84 and 132 week intervals. The results showed that both the temperature and exposure duration to said temperature had a significant effect on the microbial community composition. Three distinct microbial communities were found for each temperature test group and these communities stabilized within the first two years. 

 

A bar graph showing the survival rate of each temperature group after experiencing heat stress. After 40 weeks, the survival rate of the group acclimated at 15℃ is 0, the second group, acclimated at 20℃ has a survival rate of 70% and the third group, acclimated at 25℃, has a survival rate of 30%. After 132 weeks, both the 15℃ acclimated group and the 20℃ acclimated group experienced a 0% survival rate. Only the last group, acclimated at 25℃, remained with a survival rate of nearly 100%.
Figure a shows the survival rate of each temperature group (AT is acclimated temperature) to heat stress. Heat stress experiments were conducted at 40 weeks of acclamation (woa) and 132 weeks.

Third, all the active genes (or genes that are making mRNA) were analyzed in order to see if any changes occurred. One polyp from each culture was selected. The polyp’s mRNA was extracted and sequenced or read. Gene expression, or what genes are actively determining an organism’s features and functions, can be influenced by outside factors and can cause changes to an organism’s phenotypes, or physical characteristics, within its lifetime. While the actual DNA sequence is not changed, certain genes can be turned on or off that can then help or hurt the organism. In this study, polyps in the high temperature group experienced a significantly increased expression of genes involved with immunity, metabolism, outer skin cell production and other positive changes. 

Lastly, researchers wanted to determine if the microbial community and thus changes in gene expression were transferable and could increase the heat tolerance of new individuals and future generations of anemones. Thus they transplanted the temperature adapted microbial communities/symbionts to new, non temperature adapted polyps which were cloned from the same female as the experiment population. Then the heat tolerance of the new polyps were tested. Survival rates of the polyps with transplanted microbial communities depended on the source of the transplanted microbial community. Polyps with microbes from the high temperature group had an 80% survival rate, a significantly higher rate compared to the 33% of the polyps with the low temperature microbes. This shows that microbial transplants could prove to be a quick and effective way to help certain organisms cope with environmental changes. 

The researchers also tested if both the gene expression and microbial communities could be naturally transferred from one generation to the next. rRNA sequencing revealed that large parts of the parent microbial community were successfully transplanted to the offspring. The offspring were then subjected to high heat stress. The offspring from the high temperature group showed a significantly higher survival rate compared to the offspring from both the low and medium temperature groups.

Why is this study important? Members of the Cnidarian phylum like corals and sea anemones are under threat due to rapid climate change. Warming water temperatures are causing coral bleaching and other harmful effects. Since coral and many anemones are mostly sessile, or non moving, when mature, they only have two options–adapt or die. And with climate changing so quickly in recent decades, one might expect extinction to be the more likely option for many species. Adaptation is typically limited by random mutations and natural selection, neither of which happens overnight. However, this study shows how adaptation can happen within just one generation. 

Sessile animals that host a range of symbiotic microbiota exposed to high water temperatures can adapt and become more heat stress resistant. Microbes tend to have much faster generation times and can thus evolve more quickly than their hosts. These microbes can then influence the gene expression of their host by turning on or off certain genes further helping the host to survive and adapt during its lifetime. Most excitingly, these changes in gene expression and microbial communities can be passed to the next generation. This study also helps pave the way towards assisted evolution and potentially huge successes in coral conservation. Heat tolerant microbial communities could potentially be selected for in the lab and then transplanted to wild populations. This would allow scientists and conservation groups to improve the fitness of wild populations quickly and effectively help counter the effects of climate change. 

The big picture: Climate change is a looming threat especially for those living in the oceans. As ocean temperatures rise, many marine species will likely migrate towards the poles in order to remain in their desired temperature ranges. However, sessile or mostly non-moving marine organisms like sponges, coral and sea anemones will have a harder time doing that as many are only mobile during their planktonic larvae stages. This study gives a glimpse of hope that these animals will be better able to adapt and survive than previously expected. This study specifically shows that animals exposed to high temperatures, like N. vectensis, can quickly become more heat stress resistant as the symbiotic microbiota shift and adapt. Most importantly these high heat tolerances can be passed to other organisms and future generations. These lab results are mirrored by long term observational studies that show wild populations becoming less heat sensitive than past generations. Overall, this has huge positive conservation implications for coral reefs and other sessile marine communities as climate rapidly changes.

Citation: Baldassarre, L., Ying, H., Reitzel, A.M. et al. Microbiota mediated plasticity promotes thermal adaptation in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. Nature Communications 13, 3804 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-31350-z

Collecting Fossils in Missouri

hand beside a large, cone-shaped fossil that is light tan in color with concentric rings around it.
Straight shelled Cephalopod collected by Terry Frank.

Cam here–

I have been quite busy for the past couple of months. In late May I had the chance to visit the state of Missouri to collect fossils and visit museums. Missouri is the farthest I have traveled so far to look for fossils. In this post I will highlight some of the trips I took and the fossils I collected along the way.

On Sunday morning we traveled up to Jefferson County, Missouri to collect fossils from the Decorah Formation. The Decorah Group was deposited in shallow tropical seas during the Late Ordovician Period (~445 million years ago). It is humbling to realize that what we were standing on used to be the seafloor. We found a variety of fossils such as brachiopods, bryozoans, bits of trilobites and corals. The biggest fossil found in the Decorah Group are the shells of huge straight shelled nautiloid cephalopods. These were top predators during the Ordovician Period. I did not realize the sheer size these animals could grow up to until Terry Frank showed me examples he collected on past trips. 

Hand holding a light-tan rock, with the thumb next to a dark brown, triangular-shaped sharks tooth, about half an inch long.
Shark tooth I found from the Salem Limestone. Probably from the genus Orodus.

We also went to search for shark and fish remains from the Salem Formation. These rocks were deposited in a shallow sea during the Lower Carboniferous (Mississippian) Period. We were guided by a former geology student Adam Marty. Adam knew the stratigraphy of the region like the back of his hand. He took us to a locality that was hard to get to but ended up being very rewarding. We had to hike up a steep hill and cross bushes to get to the collecting area. Adam told us to break open the limestone blocks and look for shark teeth. Not only did we find teeth but we found cartilage, which is hard to fossilize. Many of the teeth were round in shape due to the animals using them to crush shells such as brachiopods and ammonoids. These were the only vertebrate fossils we found on our long week trip. It was a special treat because my research papers are on cartilaginous fish teeth.

Thumb beside a brachiopod shell impression, contained in light tan stone.
A brachiopod shell in limestone that was used to build a local restaurant.

The trip was a great success. The geology was different from what I am used to seeing. Even the buildings that we walked by had fossils in them from the local rock that was used. The rocks in Missouri play an important role in the industrial growth of the state. I had a good time exploring parts of the Midwest and I plan on visiting again soon.

 

A hand beside a light grey rock that is covered in D-shaped brachiopod shells, that are darker grey than the surrounding rock.
A cluster of brachiopod shells from the Decorah Limestone.

Michaela Falkenroth, Sedimentologist

The image is a selfie of a girl in a black jumper. She has a green toothbrush sticking out of her mouth and an amused look on her face. The background is a backbeach area with reddish sand and a couple of thorny shrubs. You can make out tire tracks and footsteps on the sand. The sky is whitish blue and the lighting shows that the sun is just rising.
When you are a field geologist that studies beaches, chances are you have to work at the beach, sleep at the beach, eat at the beach and brush your teeth there, too.

Hey there! My name is Michaela and I am a cat-lady, sci-fi-nerd and hobby illustrator, who gets paid to hang out on tropical beaches a lot – how is that possible, you ask? Well… I got lucky.

The first time I got lucky was when I was eight years old and announced to my flabbergasted parents that I had decided to become a paleontologist like my hero at the time: Dr Alan Grant (also known as “guy with the cool hat in Jurassic Park”). My parents, who did not have the opportunity to go to university themselves and had never heard of paleontology, would have been perfectly justified to believe that my career goals were nothing to be taken seriously and move on, but they did not. Instead, they bought piles of dinosaur books, spent countless hours in museums and corrected everyone who confused paleontology with archeology with admirable patience. I was still set on becoming a paleontologist 11 years later, when I first set foot in the geoscience department of University Bonn. It is certainly not my parents’ fault that I didn’t.

The image shows a broad river flowing through a deep valley with high but not very steep, rocky walls. A bright blue sky in the background, no vegetation except for some palm trees by the water and bright sunlight indicate a desert environment. The water is calm, completely clear and shallow, the ground is covered in light grey gravel. A girl is standing knee deep in the water looking at a smoothened cliff that is twice as tall as she and boarders the river. The cliff is almost white and consists of well-rounded gravel in different sizes that is held together by a white matrix. The girl wears long, green pants, a dark T-Shirt and a cap that casts a shadow over her face. She points at something on the cliff to show it to a guy standing a few meters behind her.
Sedimentology is the study of rocks that were broken down into smaller pieces and transported on the surface of the planet by wind, gravity, and water. Here, I look at a river sediment in Oman that was turned into hard rock by a natural cement.

The second time I got lucky has to do with the fact that becoming a paleontologist in Germany requires you to become a geologist first. It only took a couple of rock identification classes for me to realize that yes, dinosaurs are amazing, but evolution is only one of the natural processes that shape our planet, and the others are even more fascinating to me. I had never thought about mountains being crumbled into tiny pieces by weather and time, these pieces then being transported by wind and rivers into the ocean, while being reshaped again and again, before they come to rest somewhere along the way. As a sedimentologist you look at the pieces of rock that are shuffled around on the planet’s surface and make them your own personal window through time. Sedimentary rocks let you study rivers that rushed by millions of years ago or watch coral reefs grow and die and regrow in a millennial cycle. By the time I finished my bachelor’s degree I was hooked. I still have a cool dinosaur model on my desk, but sedimentary rocks are what is on my mind, what pays my bills (sometimes) and what got me into another field of science with a very relevant application: sea level research.

A strongly fractured, uneven surface of brown and crumbly-looking rock fills most of the image that was taken from a heightened position. On top of the rock stands a smiling girl in fieldwork attire. She has her hair in a ponytail, arms akimbo and a broad grin on her face. One corner of the background shows a rough, blueish-green ocean with big waves breaking on a rocky platform in white foam.
Me on a beach in South Africa, happy about a freaky beachrock that I just discovered. The rocks that I am standing on formed within the last 77 years, before that it was just a sandy beach.

This brings me to the third time I got lucky. This one really did not feel like luck at the time. In 2016, I got rejected for three possible projects for a master thesis and thus one day stumbled into the office of the new professor at the department, who had nothing to do with sedimentology. I stood in the doorframe a little desperate and ready to take whatever the man would offer. This professor, who would later become my PhD supervisor and close friend, offered me an opportunity to study sea level change at the coastline of Oman – turns out you can squeeze sedimentology into any project.

Sea-level and coastal research became the focus of my scientific journey and Oman somewhat of a second home. For my masters and PhD, I studied beachrock. That is essentially beach sand that turned into hard rock, because a natural cement forms in between the individual grains of sand. Think of it as a bunch of sand and gravel glued together by carbonate, the white stuff that forms in your kettle or washing machine. Beachrocks are not only very cool, but also useful when we are trying to understand how sea level changed in the past and make assumptions on how it is going to change in the future. Climate driven global sea level rise might be something you are familiar with, but that is only part of the story. Yes, global sea level is rising, but the land might move as well. In some areas it is sinking, making global sea level rise an even bigger problem, in other areas the land is uplifting, mitigating the effects of global sea level rise. Beachrocks can help to understand what is happening on one individual stretch of coastline, giving coastal communities the chance to adapt and me the chance to hang out on tropical beaches a lot. While on the beach, I study the sedimentological characteristics of the beachrock and take samples. The samples are then taken to the lab – either to determine their age or to use a microscope to look at the cement between the grains.

The photograph shows a magnified image of four sand grains and the empty space between them. A scale in the corner shows that the grains are between 200 and 400 microns in diameter. The grains have smoothed surfaces and show different colors: transparent pale blue, transparent pale green or black with a grainy texture. The empty space between the grains is black. A 50 to 100 microns thick rim surrounds the grains. It has a greyish color and looks like a palisade fence with pointy tips reaching into the empty pore space. The individual grains do not touch but their rims overlap, holding them together.
Beachrock under the microscope. The empty space between the sand grains is filled by a natural cement that first forms as a rim around each grain and will later fill up the entire pore space turning loose sand into hard rock within years.

Right now, I am (sadly) neither at a beach nor in a lab, but at a desk in Germany preparing for my PhD defense and applying for postdoc positions – a tedious task that involves a lot of rejection. I don’t think there is a career in science without tedious tasks, be it repetitive lab work, marking piles of exams or never-ending application forms to fill out. Nevertheless, science allows me to keep my inner child alive, it allows me to follow my curiosity, all while making a contribution that helps coastal communities deal with the threat of sea level rise. I don’t know if I’ll get lucky one more time and be allowed to do this for a few more years, but I certainly hope so. One thing that I wish I had known from the beginning is that people are more important than the academic disciplines they belong to – looking back I would always choose a mentor outside my specialty with whom I have a great connection over the greatest expert in my field who does not care about me.

Update: By the time this is posted, I successfully defended my PhD thesis and started a Postdoc position in Heidelberg, Germany, where I get to teach sedimentology (yay) and work on a grant proposal for studying the incorporation of trash into beachrock on the Bahamas (even bigger yay)!!

The image shows four smiling people in fieldwork attire standing next to a one-humped camel. All four are wearing sandals and scarves wrapped around their heads. Three of them are girls and one is a bearded man, who is slightly older than the others. One of the girls is stroking the camel’s neck. The scarves and loose hairs of the girls are flapping in the wind, which seems to be quite strong. The background is a desert landscape with high dunes and a couple of fences but no vegetation. The sand is bright red. The sky is grey with dust, indicating a mild sandstorm.
Me, two other PhD-students from our lab and my supervisor Gösta at a field trip in the Wahiba Sands in Oman. Pro tip for everyone pursuing a career in science: choose your lab based on the people not on the prestige, the lab gear or the expertise… you can get all of these elsewhere. A good relationship with the PI is irreplaceable.

Blair Stuhlmuller, High School Science Teacher and Science Communicator

Blair standing in front of the Grand Canyon in Arizona on a family vacation.

I am a high school science teacher and love sharing my knowledge and passion about the natural world with my students and anyone who will listen. I specifically love marine science and geologic history. I currently teach a marine biology course and another course on the big 5 mass extinctions. Both of which I designed myself. I am hoping to branch out beyond just the four walls of my classroom and share the weird and wonderful world of science with others as a science communicator.

I dreamed of being a teacher for a very long time. I loved the idea of being a forever learner and working with the future generations. But I had no intention of being a science teacher until the end of my freshman year of college. I wanted to be a history teacher and was well on my way to getting all my prerequisites done when I took a freshman writing seminar on the History of the Earth. This class expanded my perception of what was history and left me fascinated with deep time, the evolution of life and landforms. I was hooked and set off to get a Bachelors of Science in Geology and Environmental Science. After undergrad, I got a Masters of Education and my Virginia teaching license and then proceeded to move clear across the country to the west coast to explore some of the tidepool studded coasts and more geologically active rocks of California and Oregon.

Blair looking cool while diving along a reef near South Caicos in the Caribbean and conducting coral health and biodiversity surveys.

Now I help inspire the next generation of scientists and planetary stewards. I believe that science is for everyone and do everything in my power to encourage others to give it a chance. You never know what class, lab or cool fact can send you spinning down a different path. The world needs more passionate scientists to answer the next level of questions and help solve the problems of tomorrow. 

When I’m not teaching, I’m typically nerding out on the latest Marvel movie, excessively reading for fun or exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I’m always down for a good hike especially if it ends in a waterfall. I’m also PADI SCUBA certified and love exploring the world under the waves despite how cold the water gets. I do all of these things with my identical twin sister who has stuck with me through every step of my life so far.

Michael Hallinan, Undergraduate Student

Tell us a bit about yourself. 
My name is Michael Hallinan, and I am currently an undergraduate student at Colorado School of Mines studying for a B.S. in Quantitative Bioscience and Engineering. Although I love science, I am also super passionate about painting, music, and esports! I have a huge fixation on international music and love to analyze the relationships between globalization and culture the same way I enjoy analyzing ecological relationships.

Person wearing a grey cap and yellow jacket in the foreground. In the background, there are tan rocks and mountains in the distance.
Hiking through the arches of Arches National Park, within Moab, Utah.

What kind of scientist are you, what do you do, and how does it benefit society?
My current focus in science is predominantly in biology, with an emphasis on computational methods to model and analyze biological data. While I’m still learning and progressing through my bachelor’s, my goal is to enter research regarding biotechnology and sustainability, with an emphasis on communication and making science more accessible to policy-makers and the general public. Information is one of the most powerful and freeing tools we can have as people, and my work will encourage solutions to our rapidly expanding sustainability issues as well encourage more people to engage with science. My most recent work was centered around investigating the power insecurity in Puerto Rico as a result of the hurricanes across the last decade, including educating and communicating the geopolitical landscape and data through various presentations.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do for the longest. I’ve had so many passions and was originally lined up to pursue a degree in the arts after winning an art award through the United States Congress. However, throughout secondary school, I was introduced to the concept of genetic modification and was completely fascinated by the potential of humans to understand and improve the world around us through genome editing. Soon after, I heard about the brand new Quantitative Bioscience program at Colorado School of Mines and just knew it was the perfect fit as I entered college.

As for my favorite part of being a scientist, it’s simply how what you learn begins to explain so much of the world around you. Whether it’s something as simple as the basics of plant growth or as complicated as the inner workings of recombinant DNA, all the information you learn helps you better engage with, understand, and appreciate the world around you.

A self-portrait, with a person with dark hair, red lips, and gold eyes against a background of varying shades of grey.
“Fragmentum” – The award-winning piece mentioned, a self-portrait investigating identity and how we present ourselves to the world.

What advice do you have for up-and-coming scientists?
My best advice is to not be afraid of not knowing. So often I used to be scared of what people would think about me asking certain questions or I wouldn’t want to do things because I wasn’t fully comfortable. I wouldn’t ask questions in lecture or I wouldn’t take a guess if I was not totally certain. Asking questions and engaging with what is uncomfortable is some of the best ways to learn and develop your capabilities both as a scientist, but also as a person. In my own experience, I have learned so much more from situations where I was uncomfortable. Taking the time to talk to those who know more than you lets you learn, grow, and even build up your network. So, take that opportunity you’re unsure of, ask your “dumb” question, be unafraid!

 

 

Makayla Palm, Science Communicator

Young woman with long, braided hair in a black jacket, black ball cap with a backpack stands in front of a large fish skull in a display case. She is holding up two fingers, representing her second year at the event where the photo was taken.Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am currently a junior in college. I am a transfer student; this summer, I am getting ready to transfer to Augustana College  as a geology major from community college. While in community college, I published a couple of pieces in a literary magazine. The first is a creative work called Cole Hollow Road, and the other is a personal reflection piece called Est. 2001, Discovered 2021. Est. 2001, Discovered 2021 reflects on my mental health and growing into who I am. I work about 30 hours a week at a retail store called Blain’s Farm and Fleet. I have been working there since October of 2020. I work in Men’s Clothing, and I mainly sell denim jeans and work boots. With the little free time I have, I explore the outdoors with Noah, my boyfriend, work on my unpublished novel, The Gamemaker,  read books on science communication, and write articles while participating in the Time Scavengers VIP SciComm Internship.

What kind of scientist are you, and what do you do?
Since I am a junior in college, I am still figuring out what my role is within the scientific community. I love to read and write, and I aspire to be a science communicator, but I’m still figuring out what role best fits me. What I do know is there is a distinctive difference between an intelligent person and a good teacher, and I want to teach others about science in an engaging way. 

One of my favorite things about being a scientist is seeing so many cool rocks and learning their stories! I’ve been collecting rocks and fossils since I was seven or eight years old! I enjoy showing others what fossils I have bought or found and telling the stories that accompany them. I also love public speaking and can see myself being successful in either an in-person capacity or creating videos/content online. I also think being a tour guide or research scientist for a National Park would be awesome! I am looking forward to exploring my options as I continue my education. 

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science?
My beginning journey into the scientific community is a little bit unusual. I was first introduced to fossils in a Worldview, Logic, and Apologetics class (which is about advocating for the Christian Faith). I worked on an extensive project that asked the students to study a field of science of their choice in order to find evidence in support of the Christian faith. It was a very intriguing and motivating project that has led me down a now six-year philosophical and scientific journey to figure out how these two pieces of my life, religion and science, can coexist. Because of this class, I wanted to be a geologist because I wanted to know as much about our origins as humans, but also what has happened to our planet in geologic time. I also want to know how to learn from nature about our history, but also what we can do to maximize our future. 

I grew up with a stigma that in order to be a scientist, you needed to be an expert in math, lab activities, and memorization. I grew up attending a college prep school where STEM majors usually were pre-med or engineer inclined. I knew I was not interested in studying those fields (even though they are awesome in their own right!), and felt it was hard to keep up with kids in my classes because my focus was different.  It was a very competitive environment, especially because I lacked confidence in my ability in the skills I thought were necessary. However, after learning what geology was about in college, I knew I had found my place. Geology integrated my love for weird creatures, writing, and being outside! Combined with my natural inclination to write, I quickly fell in love with the idea of becoming a science communicator.

oung woman wearing a blue shirt and denim skinny jeans sits in a navy blue wooden lawn chair. She sits in front of a college campus with a hill in the background. The building behind her, on top of the stairs which climb the hill, is an old academic building with dolomite (a hard, sand-colored mineral) walls and arched windows.How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general?
I once had a classmate tell me he used to be interested in paleontology, but they thought it was a “dead” science and became readily disinterested. The more I delved into the literature, the more I knew he was far from the truth! My goal as a scientist  is to advocate for the amazing things we can learn about our world through science (but especially paleontology!), and to hopefully encourage aspiring scientists that they can find their place in the scientific community. One way I have begun to do so is by starting my blog called Perusing the Primeval. My blog currently has a Book Review Section that includes the latest books in science communication. I have a review template that shares how technical the book is to help the reader get a sense for who the book’s intended audience is. There are a wide variety of books available, and my goal is to help someone looking for new recommendations to find something they will enjoy. I am currently working on a Species Spotlight section that will highlight a certain extinct species represented in the fossil record.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists?
As I said before, I grew up in a competitive academic environment. I often felt like I was in academic “no man’s land”; I was bored in regular classes, but I was crawling to keep up in the advanced classes. I enjoyed school and wanted to challenge myself, so I was often comparing myself to kids who were more academically inclined in subjects that did not come naturally to me. I felt like I needed to compete against them in order to get a spot in a good college. Rather than focus on my strengths when applying to colleges, I pushed myself to do things I didn’t really like because I thought I needed to compete for my spot. I thought “being amazing at everything” was my ticket to a good school, but I found out very quickly that wasn’t true. If you are interested in going to college (or trade school or an apprenticeship), I would encourage you to lean on your strengths. If you have strong passions or interests, fuel the fire! Continue to hone in on those skills. If you aren’t quite sure of what you want, try different things and see what you like – but maybe not all at once. Your physical and mental health will thank you. If we as individuals were all “amazing” at everything, we wouldn’t need each other!

 

Tessa Peixoto, Scientist at heart and Educator in the world

Time Scavengers is collaborating with the International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 390/393 to showcase the scientists recovering sediment and rock cores, and conducting science at sea! Click here to learn more about IODP, and visit the Research Vessel JOIDES Resolution website here to read more about the drillship. To learn more about IODP Expeditions 390 and 393, click here!

You can follow the JOIDES Resolution on Twitter @TheJR, on Facebook @joidesresolution, and on Instagram @joides_resolution!


Person holding up a skeleton of a shark's mouth framing their face, smiling.Tell us a little bit about yourself. 
My name is Tessa Peixoto and when I was younger I was referred to as shark girl. I was super obsessed with sharks, which is what got me into science. Outside of science though I am a fan of doing art, specifically painting and building things, and I like baking for friends and family. Movies are a go to past time for me, and I am one of those people that really like b-rated sci fi movies. For instance, Tremors, highly suggest watching it. I am a science enthusiast so when I go out for walks on the beach, hikes in nature, or anywhere else I am still observing what kind of life I see. It is a way of connecting with the planet for me. However, my friends just give me a pat on the head when I yell excitedly about finding Codium fragile on the beach. One time, I found a carcass of a skate on a beach and I ran to anyone who saw me holding it so I could show them.

What do you do?
So I studied marine biology as an undergraduate student. During my studies and soon after I was able to conduct or participate in research on intertidal blue mussels, describing freshwater stingrays, and describing the morphology and function of the armor for a family of fish called Poachers. Soon after I was able to be a seasonal aide for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and got exposed to doing trawling surveys in river tributaries.

Person on a boat with a bright orange life jacket on in the foreground, with calm lake waters in the background and a low mountain range in the distance. After graduating and my bopping around the US for a variety of temporary science positions, I found myself working as a museum educator. It was the funnest thing to be around so many specimens for every kind of field of natural sciences. Plus, I was able to use a lot of those specimens as part of my teaching practice during classes that field trips could sign up for. Unfortunately, as the position was part time, life demanded I find a position that could provide me benefits that would support me more efficiently. I now work as a science instructor for an Adult Education program in Boston, MA. It is truly a rewarding position because as I get to share my love and fascination of science with my students, I know I am helping them get closer to obtaining a high school diploma, which only improves their job prospects.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science?
When I was younger, I remember my brother was always doing something with his hands. I remember always seeing him carve up soap bars and for some reason I understood it to be science, or rather an experiment. I also was really into ocean documentaries, anything on Discovery Channel that highlighted the ocean or environment would be something I would pay attention to. And yes my attention was even more peaked if sharks were in it. At one point during our youth my brother told me that if I wanted to keep learning about sharks that I would have to be someone who studies marine biology. And thus began my stubborn journey in declaring I will become a marine biologist.

Fast forward to college, I entered Northeastern University to study marine science, as I had stated repeatedly since I was younger. Interestingly enough, the more science classes I took the more I realized I just liked science, all of it. It took a bit of time for my fisheries teacher to get me to let go of my stubborn obsession with sharks, but I would say once I did, my understanding of marine biology as a whole was improved. Bachelors of science is where my formal education ends, therefore I have not yet become a marine biologist. Nevertheless, my enthusiasm for science has not dwindled away. It is still very present and of course with a slight favoring of anything ocean.

I have enjoyed the opportunities I had in college and since college because I kept getting to learn from the people around me. Especially, in the two science conferences I participated in. I love being able to see other people’s posters and discuss with them their thoughts and their research.

Person wearing a black jacket and black pants in a poster hall, standing in front of a poster with scientific results. How does your work contribute to the betterment of society? 
As much as I did not for-see myself as being an educator, I am happy I am in it. Mainly for the reason that I can finally share science with adults that avoid science because they had horrible experiences from their last time in education or didn’t really get a chance to do formal education in their youth. So when I teach I aim to be open and caring of their learning journey, and to never dismiss their questions. It benefits society as they become great learners and more confident in their skills. Being an adult educator is very important  because it can help disseminate science in a way that helps the world presently. Essentially, I work with individuals that have the current and immediate ability to be stewards of the planet as their understanding of the world improves. As much as education of children is very much needed, I want to improve the science literacy of the adult population. A future goal of mine is to help increase options that are free, supportive, and open to questions that adults have about science, and the inner workings of the planet.

Person standing on a dirt path, in the woods, with thin trees behind them, low shrubs in the foreground. Person is looking up towards the sky. What advice do you have for up and coming scientists and educators?
Something I want everyone to know is to not judge yourself on your performance in classes. Just because you might have gotten a lower grade in a science class does not mean you would be a bad scientist. I also want to say the science or career you might think you want to do might be a completely different field of science or career by the time you graduate, finish a PhD or look for private corporation positions. If you are reading this as someone in high school or college, try out different internships. I know when I was younger I would only look for internships with sharks, and that stubbornness sometimes prevented me from just learning about different fields. Therefore be open to options that come your way. If you are reading this as someone that is mid career, I would say to talk to people in the field that you are interested in. Find others interested in a similar field and hang out with them. For example, there are many groups of mycology fans that meet up every now and then to go foraging and talk mycology. Science in its purest form is about curiosity and asking questions, so keep asking questions and explore our wonderful world.

What is something exciting you are doing at the moment?
I currently am the outreach officer for the JOIDES Resolution that falls under the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). This position provides a great view into the world of science communication that is different from the that of the communication done in a formal education position. The outreach officer has the chance to reach out to anyone in the world and share the life of living on the ship and doing research on the ship. This is just a temporary position for the summer, but offer the chance to learn about geosciences, and other ways to explore the Earth. If you are reading this know that you can call into the ship during an expedition and get a tour of your own, it might not be with me but it will be an outreach officer that has the same excitement as I do. (https://joidesresolution.org/about-the-jr/live-video-events-with-the-joides-resolution/)

 

 

The Scope of Agricultural Climate Change Mitigation Goes Beyond Production Stages

Climate change mitigation beyond agriculture: a review of food system opportunities and implications

Meredith T. Niles, Richie Ahuja, Todd Barker, Jimena Esquivel, Sophie Gutterman, Martin C. Heller, Nelson Mango, Diana Portner, Rex Raimond, Cristina Tirado, Sonja Vermeulen

Summarized by Taylor Dickson, who is a senior currently majoring in Environmental Science at Binghamton University. They are an environmentally conscious and dedicated student with a hunger for knowledge. Taylor plans on pursuing field experience prior to the continuation of their education. Outside of the realm of education, they enjoy immersing themselves in nature as well as participating in and appreciating the arts.

What data were used? The data utilized in this article are derived from other research articles and compounded to create a bigger picture encompassing all aspects of the food system. This article incorporates important information regarding areas beyond the direct scope of food production. Such areas included are transportation and refrigeration methods, which have greenhouse gas emission consequences.

Methods: Combining and integrating recent research and expanding the exploration of mitigation opportunities by reviewing the relevance and effectiveness of these opportunities in several areas throughout the food system including pre-production and post-production. This study goes below the surface issue to expose the root areas that need to be addressed to create a more sustainable food system.

Results: The results incorporate all aspects of the food system while considering agricultural climate change mitigation. Included in these results are aspects of food production many people may often forget about including the transportation and storage of the food produced. Certain foods have higher emissions associated with them due to the necessary storage required for these food products as well as the circumstances surrounding the growing and harvesting of such products.

Food loss is experienced at all levels of consumption within the food system, including the pre- and post-consumer levels. Annually, about one third of all food products produced on a global scale result in being wasted or lost throughout the production process. At the production level of the food system, a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions is related to the production of synthetic fertilizers used for agricultural practices. This information demonstrates how vast the scope is of the food system discussed.

Greenhouse gas emissions are significantly higher regarding diets rich in animal derived products. This article utilizes other works which provide information and insight that shifting toward a more plant based diet will be beneficial to the environment in lowering greenhouse gas emissions as well as leading to a decrease in human mortality rate accompanied with an increase in health benefits.

Circular diagram separated laterally with 10 driving forces above and 5 categories of production and consumption of the food system below. Within the diagram is an inner circle of outcomes.
This figure visually portrays the different social, economic, and physical forces (i.e. politics, demographics, and infrastructure) that affect the several varying areas of production within the food system. This system is one that ranges from pre-production and production to the disposal of waste and lost food. From Niles et al. (2018).

 

Generally, refrigeration is necessary for around half of all food produced. Lower income countries often lose crops at the production stage due to a lack of technologies related to refrigeration and drying methods. Inadequate drying technologies lead to the development of mold and eventual spoiling of food products such as grains. Almost one fifth of the energy utilized by the food system in the United States is from household refrigeration. Transportation related emissions can be reduced primarily by shifting to more efficient modes of transportation. With many food products requiring refrigeration throughout the transportation process, greenhouse gas emissions of refrigerated transportation can reach up to 140% when compared to the emissions associated with non-refrigerated transportation vehicles.

Why is this study important? This study brings together results from previous studies in a cohesive paper which encapsulates information from several areas within the food system. Incorporating the many aspects of the food system in this study provides the reader with a broader understanding of the depth of each component within the system. A single issue of agriculture is broken down into multiple specific and more manageable subcategories where mitigation strategies are indulged. This study goes a step further and provides possible outcomes to the proposed mitigations and discusses potential consequences of these mitigation strategies.

The bigger picture: Climate change is an inevitable universal issue that everyone will face at some point in their lives, and one that demands immediate attention and mitigation. This study exposes the underlying issues of the food system that are significant contributors to climate change. It draws attention to the root causes of greenhouse gas emissions within the food system. The food system is much more than agricultural production. It includes often overlooked aspects related to pre-production and post-production such as packaging, transportation, and storage of the food produced. Although these issues begin at the production level with corporations, consumers hold some power and have the ability to aid mitigation strategies in their success. Some opportunities for these consumers to participate in as described in this article are to adopt a more plant based diet, refraining from over consumption, and understanding that perfection is an illusion and food does not have to be pleasing to look at for it to be nutritious and serve its purpose.

Citation: Niles, M. T. et al. Climate change mitigation beyond agriculture: a review of food system opportunities and implications. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 33, 297–308 (2018).