Small tracks found in Southern Colorado, USA show scientists details about the fossil record in an area that experienced volcanism

Small bird and mammal tracks from a mid-Cenozoic volcanic province in Southern Colorado: implications for paleobiology

Lockley, M. G., Goodell, Z., Evaskovich, J., Krall, A., Schumacher, B. A., and Romilio, A.

Summarized by Brysen Pierce, a geology major, working on Geographic Information Systems and Technology, as well as environmental science and policy minors. Currently, he is a senior who has not decided what to do for his career path. When he is not studying geology, he enjoys watching movies and hiking. 

What was the hypothesis being tested? Several fossilized animal tracks have been discovered in Rio Grande National Park (Colorado, USA). After locating samples containing tracks near the first site, the authors hypothesized that since there was already one set of tracks located, there could be others nearby in a similar geologic setting. The purpose of this study was to define the tracks and identify what kind of creatures may have made them.

What data were used? Samples were collected from the field and analyzed. The source of the data was in southwestern Colorado in the San Juan Volcanic Field and from a smaller site in New Mexico. At the first site, there were two tracks that indicated two different birds and another unfinished track, which contained small prints that did not follow a distinct trail or were not able to be identified. The second site had four completed tracks that were left by birds and mammal traces that formed another track and there were some more traces that did not complete tracks. 

Methods: The tracks were found close to fifty meters apart from each other in two different locations. The tracks were preserved in a piece of a volcanic block, which had since been moved from its original position; once the rock had been moved, it became exposed. A volcanic block is a piece of a solidified fragment that has been ejected thrown from a volcano by an eruption and is measured to be larger than sixty-four millimeters in diameter. Since these trace fossils were the first of their kind that have been recorded in this type of volcanic environment, researchers wanted to expand on this topic. From here, the scientists were able to collect samples and take casts so that they could do measurements of the prints and better analyze the trace fossils and define what they could have been from. 

Results: Three total samples were collected or casted and brought to museums to study. Three species were identified in this study: two of them were bird species and the last was a species of mammal related to modern day rodents. The birds were some of the smallest found in the fossil record and have relations to creatures like the sandpiper whose habitat is shorelines. Some tracks were not easily identifiable because they are incomplete. The bird tracks in this area were identified Avipeda circumontis named after the region it was found in and the mammal tracks are Musvesigium minutus whose name means small mouse footprints. Both species share similarities between other closely related species that are found in the western United States, which makes identification of the species difficult.

This image shows three smaller images labeled a, b, and c. a) is a picture of the broken off block that is showing the tracks with a measuring tape across the broken surface that measures across at about 23 inches. b) is a drawn model of the block that includes two complete fossil tracks and other markings around the surface that measures 23 inches and shows a 30 cm scale next to it. This image is reversed from a) and shows the clear impressions compared to the photograph. This bird is tridactyl and we can see 8 steps in a row and another set of a couple steps following a separate path in a similar direction of northeast. c) is a 3d modeled created from images of the surface that shows the fossil tracks and two small measuring tools to show the scale of the sample measuring 23 inches and scale of 25 centimeters.
These images show the first site where the bird tracks can be located. a) is the image of the bird tracks in the block which it was found inside of. b) shows a drawn replication of the bird tracks but flipped it. c) a 3d model of the bird tracks on the block in situ. This is telling us that fossil tracks are visibly seen on this site and shows in varying amounts of detail.

Why is this study important? This study is important because it shows us that trace fossils can be found in a volcanic setting, which has previously been unreported. The study shows us what kind of species lived in this area during the mid-Cenozoic and could provide additional information about an environment that has not been preserved in the past with fossils. New types of trace fossils were identified in a setting that previously had produced no fossils. We learned that not only small birds, but also small mammals, once lived in the volcanic province of south Colorado. 

Broader Implications beyond this study: Since this is the first study that has described animal tracks found preserved in volcaniclastic setting, this could lead to other discoveries within similar environments in the geologic record . There is a lot to learn from sites like this because the species that the footprints were left by were previously undiscovered. The bird and mammal fossil tracks found here could be unique to this setting, but this means that tracks are able to be preserved in this type of environment and that the animals were, in fact, leaving evidence behind.

Citation: Lockley, M. G., Goodell, Z., Evaskovich, J., Krall, A., Schumacher, B. A., & Romilio, A. (2022). Small bird and mammal tracks from a mid-Cenozoic volcanic province in Southern Colorado: implications for palaeobiology. Historical Biology34, 130-140.

What I Learned From 5 Weeks of Science Communication

Anna here –

As an undergrad wrapping up my first year of college this past spring, I remember sitting in my dorm room with a thermos of hot tea, scanning website after website, asking myself what I was going to do with my summer. At the time, I was about halfway through my first-ever geology class, which had sent me on an earth and climate science kick that inspired most of my searches. Eventually, my professor sent me a link to the TimeScavengers website and internship information page. It seemed like a perfect opportunity – something that would allow me to geek out about science from the comfort of my own home, where I could still spend time with my friends and family. I decided to apply.

Naively, I assumed the internship would be a breeze. Looking back, I’m ashamed of how smug I felt about it – I had grown up hearing people telling me that I was a good writer, and that I was a good scientist, so I imagined that it wouldn’t be that hard to combine the two. Within the first week, I quickly found out I was mistaken. It turned out that there’s likely a reason most scientists aren’t writers, and vice versa: because it is hard. 

For me, the biggest challenge was the time and effort it took to dissect each article to a level where I could rewrite it for others. I remember multiple occasions when I put my highlighter away, thinking I fully understood an article, only to sit in front of an empty Google Doc and realize I had to go back and reread an entire section. I discovered there was a huge difference between understanding something in my brain and putting it in words. (This, of course, was shortly followed by the realization that the understanding locked in my brain was probably not all that complete to begin with). Point being, there’s another layer of insight that comes with trying to explain science, and, as painful as that layer might be to reach, it will definitely be beneficial in the long run.

While nothing about the internship proved impossible, it certainly challenged me in ways I didn’t expect. However, I was also struck by how much easier these processes became over time. In one of my first articles, I remember essentially skipping over a methods section that had too many big, scientific-looking words. The task of sorting through all of them, looking them up, rereading and rewriting seemed too daunting, and my mentors, Sam and Alex, had to explain the whole thing to me. On a more recent article, however, I was able to plow through an equally challenging methods section on my own. I sprawled out at a table at a library nearby, a printed out and highlighted article in front of me, with a notebook on one side and my laptop to look up words with on the other side. It still took quite a while, but it was satisfying in the end to see the improvements I had made over the course of the internship.

In the end, I don’t think my time with TimeScavengers has changed the path I hope to take as a scientist. If anything, the hours reading articles made me realize how much I itched to be out in the field doing my own research, rather than pouring over someone else’s. However, this internship definitely changed my perspective on science communication going forward. It seems to me that anyone who seeks the fancy title of “scientist” should also seek the title of “science communicator.” After all, earth-shattering research is worth nothing if only the researcher themself knows about it – they must be able to convey their findings to everyone else in order for it to make an impact. I also hope to make accessibility a priority in any research that I do in the future, so that aspiring scientists feel encouraged, rather than intimidated, when reading my findings.

Eleanor Shippen, Anthropology B.A. Undergraduate Student

Background: A tree line and body of water in the far back. Closer up there is a wooden bridge with a rocky shoreline with a few people and some equipment. Foreground: Eleanor smiling in a headband and wearing waders holding a small stone artifact
A bilface lithic I uncovered while wet screening at the 2022 UVic Archaeology Field School in Barkley Sound, British Columbia.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hello! My name is Eleanor Shippen (she/her). I’m a fourth-year student from Nashville, Tennessee studying anthropology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. My interests include public history, ecology, and applied anthropology. I am a huge history buff and an avid fan of state and national parks. When I’m not hiking or reading every single interpretive sign at these parks, I am adding another cancellation stamp to my national park passport; so far, I have over sixty! In my free time, I enjoy volunteering in the Victoria community, visiting my local library, collaging, and getting cozy at home with a good cup of tea.

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? Throughout the duration of my degree, I’ve had several incredible opportunities to engage in various scientific fields. These include archaeology, archival preservation, marine ecology, and ecosystem restoration. As an anthropology student, I have taken classes in biological anthropology, environmental history, biology, archaeology, artifact curation, and medical anthropology. These have introduced me to a wide range of scientific focuses and applications. I am fascinated by the close relationship history and science have and all of these experiences have highlighted how interconnected those fields can be. In the last year of my undergraduate degree, I am hoping to examine how historical knowledge can be utilized in educating the public on natural landscapes through my coursework and volunteering. While my goal to earn an M.A. degree in Public History situates my career more within the history field, I aim to continue my involvement in ecological and environmental studies in my work. I would love to see how community science and public history could be further incorporated together in education.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? My parents encouraged me and my sister to be curious and explore the world around us from a young age. Their support on family camping trips, during our visits to science centers, and when I entered my middle school magnetometry project into my state science fair gave me the confidence to take A.P Environmental Science in high school and continue exploring science into my undergraduate. I would recommend every college student take at least one science class in their first year – it helped me contextualize the required classes for my degree. I have a love for learning and getting outdoors that has led me to a variety of amazing, hands-on experiences in science. The part I love the most about being involved with science is the joy that comes with engaging holistically with the natural world and sharing your knowledge with others. Experiential learning in nature has changed how I think about the relationship between humans and the world, but it’s also shown me how enjoyable getting involved can be. For myself, this looks like volunteering at a local nature sanctuary, taking hikes with my friends and family, and practicing shinrin-yoku (forest bathing), the Japanese concept of immersing oneself in nature to relax.

Background: a cloudy blue sky with the rolling Appalachian mountains covered in green. Foreground: Eleanor standing on a grassy knoll with arms spread wide smiling.
Myself at Roan Mountain State Park while participating in the 2018 Governor’s School for the Scientific Exploration of Tennessee Heritage.

Do you engage in community science? How does your work contribute to the betterment of society? As a student, I would categorize the majority of the scientific work I have participated in as community science. My contributions have allowed scientists to continue their research and have helped ecosystems thrive. It has also shown me I have the ability to help make tangible change. In an ideal world, science benefits both the academic community and the world. I have been privileged enough to have participated in projects that have worked to accomplish that goal.

This summer I participated in the UVic Archaeology Field School in Barkley Sound, a collaborative project between the University of Victoria, the Tseshaht First Nation, Parks Canada, and Bamfield Marine Science Centre. While archaeology was the project’s focus, our professors and Tseshaht representatives brought Tseshaht history, a respect for the lands and ecosystems we excavated within, and considerations of colonialism’s impact to the forefront of our work. This intentional contextualization of our archaeological efforts changed how I approached my goals for the field school. I realized I was one part of a larger, impactful, and uniquely collaborative five-year project. During the six weeks of the field school, my peers and I endeavored to help Tseshaht First Nation community members expand their knowledge of their history and land while also assisting archaeologists studying the Barkley Sound region and the Pacific Northwest as a whole. The report I wrote summarizing my excavation unit throughout the project’s duration will be kept by the Bamfield Marine Science Centre for use by future researchers. This incredible experience inspired me to learn more about the natural history of Vancouver Island, which led me to volunteer at the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary in Victoria, B.C. Each week I remove invasive plants and restore ecosystems in the sanctuary while discussing conservation and wildlife science with fellow volunteers. I wouldn’t consider my involvement in scientific fields to be the cause of any substantial betterment of society. I do, however, believe significant change is made possible by individuals coming together and doing the best they can the most they can to help, and I try to do just that every day.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? My go-to piece of advice about college is that it is what you make of it – I would say the exact same about science. During the completion of my degree, I’ve learned a multitude of life lessons that will help me in my future career and the rest of my life. Here are a few: get involved and stay involved, continue to ask questions, and you should always give intention and critical thought to whatever you are doing. Remind yourself what inspired/interested/got your heart pumping about science and hold onto that! It will help guide you through wherever you are in your life.

4 Things I Learned this Summer about Science, Communicating, and Connecting with Both

By Habiba Rabiu

Science communication has been a part of my life for longer than I could name the concept. I grew up in a family of science lovers, so reading, watching, and listening to science-based publications and entertainment has been something I have enjoyed since early childhood. Interning at Time Scavengers for the summer of 2022 was my first time creating science content in a professional capacity. It was a challenging and rewarding experience to be on the other side of the words. I learned a lot about myself and what science communication meant to me, namely:

  • There are many ways to be a science communicator, from creating short-form content on social media to writing policy. All of those levels are important, and more people than ever are needed on all platforms producing and distributing clear, accurate information. There are endless avenues to explore with science communication, one only needs to be inspired to pursue them.
  • As necessary as it is, summarizing research articles and studies in an easily consumable way is not a simple task! At times it felt like I was translating from a language I wasn’t entirely fluent in. It was constantly necessary for me to remind myself of what my intention was with every piece I wrote: to make the information interesting, relatable, and concise. That helped me to focus on the core of the information and organize it in a way that did justice to the source material while still being accessible to those who may not be experts in the subject matter.
  • Not all science news and articles have to be shocking and dazzling. As wonderful as new discoveries are, there can be just as much impact in reinforcing simple, close-to-home ideas. Proof that a hot desert is slowly but surely getting hotter is not what most people would consider exciting news, but it’s the job of a science communicator to express why information like that is just as if not more significant as the discovery of a new exoplanet.
  • Communication is lost without consideration. While there is a time for jargon and complicated graphics, as certain ideas can only be expressed in a technical manner, care should be taken when trying to reach the masses that everyone has different levels of ability, understanding, and education. Choosing to communicate science means choosing to share information that affects everyone. Part of the job is ensuring that everyone gains as much as possible from what is being shared. Accessibility and diversity are as important to the dissemination of science communication as clarity and precision are to writing it. It is worth the extra time and words to make sure that a key term is explained thoroughly, or the alternative text of a graph gives accurate values.

Writing for Time Scavengers gave me skills and insight that I will use throughout my education and career. I had a great time, am thrilled to have been a part of it, and can’t wait to use what I learned to make the world a more informed place. 

The Importance of Mentorship

This post is written by an anonymous guest blogger

Starting a new job is one of the biggest challenges we face, no matter what stage of our careers. 

When we enter a new workspace – whether within academia, adjacent, or outside – we most likely will need a navigator to help us find our way. This can be an individual (or a group of individuals) who guides our way and helps us to understand exactly where we are and what we need to do to thrive and succeed. Supervisors, line managers and/or experienced colleagues all play the role of a mentor. Mentors don’t have to be formal and acquired through a scheme, they can be informal too – those we meet by accident, on social media, through colleagues, or at an event. Having multiple mentors who fulfil different needs can be  really helpful, and ensures that we get support in different areas of our professional life. 

New workspace environments bring new people, new protocols and processes, new cultures, new team dynamics and new spaces to figure out. If you feel different to those in your team, the start of a new role can feel even more isolating, especially if you’re the newbie joining a well established team. Starting remotely makes things even harder, because you can’t work things out just by watching folks around you and listening to what’s happening. You have snippets of your environment broken down into multiple short video calls. Constant video calls are tiring. It’s stressful not knowing if new colleagues will respect your time or working hours, or their reactions if you make a mistake. However, remote working has had many benefits for many, particularly those from historically excluded groups and caregivers and this should not be forgotten as a lesson of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It has revolutionalised the way we work and the way we view life – and in this sense it has been a positive development and hopefully organisations will adapt and keep this new way of working. But settling into a role – remote or in-person – can only work well if the current staff make an effort to describe and demystify their environment, offer tips, communicate regularly, check in on new team members, and introduce them to other colleagues. Hidden curricula exist everywhere within all environments. Office politics aren’t obvious. Not everyone enjoys answering questions – some even go as far as sounding annoyed when you ask “why? or reprimand newbies for taking up their time due to asking questions.  Promotion criteria aren’t always transparent. Opportunities to get folks into higher positions aren’t always allocated equitably. Stretch work isn’t always highlighted or offered. Senior mentors in particular play a role in highlighting these types of things. 

Mentors are essential and imperative for everybody – at all career stages. They are particularly critical for those who are from historically excluded groups who are at higher risk from not being allocated progression opportunities. Effective mentors demystify the hidden curricula which permeate professional environments, make sure opportunities are equitably distributed and advise on where to find opportunities if they themselves can’t offer them.  If you have the ability to be a mentor, you are in a position of seniority, and/or see someone in need – please be that person who lights their way. Remember what you had to know to get to where you are now, and tailor your approach to ensure your mentee thrives (mentoring approaches are not a one-size-fits-all). You could change someone’s life in a positive way and help them reach their full potential by providing advice and opportunities. Only once you start being a brave and transformative leader and mentor have you reached a point of being successful in your career. There is no point generating knowledge if you can’t pass it on, and share the excitement you feel in your environment and work with others. 

Finding Connection in Science – the Heart of SciComm

By Makayla Palm

I have changed a lot since I began my journey into sci-comm. While I do attribute some of it to post-high school maturity, I think pursuing sci-comm has helped me become more empathetic, a better listener, and it has helped me reframe my focus to hone in on connections with others. My goal in this essay is to share a bit of that journey with you. 

I remember being taught that science was objective, and implicitly learned to take the human-ness out of science. The science came first: if someone wanted to interject their own experiences or feelings into the science, but it should be treated separately from the science.Science, especially the science that deals with the history of the Earth, can feel contentious for people. The history of our planet ultimately says something about our origins, and people have very strong opinions about the implications for those origins. The mystery of origins, about us, earth, and life itself is what got me interested in geology–it keeps me awake at night, wondering how all of these big ideas connect. I realized about five years into my thought journey that I was thinking through all of this the wrong way. Having attended scientific conferences and now wrapping up the Time Scavengers virtual internship, I know how important it is to strive for connection with others rooted in the personal, especially in science.

I have always enjoyed writing and telling stories, and because of how I learned science (i.e., how I thought you had to separate the facts from the emotions), I thought these things were mutually exclusive. I took my writing and geology classes and did not think much of it until I met my geology advisor. In the beginning of the semester, she described geology as being a storyteller, with the privilege of being able to learn more about the world around us. Especially during the pandemic, she made efforts to get us to see local geology in (socially distanced) outings. Ultimately, she wanted us to know we all had voices, and that we had the ability to tell these stories to others. She helped me understand how important it was to promote diversity and how integral connection with others was to doing good science. 

This changed my perspective quite a lot because before this,  I spent my time learning to build walls. I had a lot of people walk out on me or lose my trust. I desperately wanted to make connections, but it felt like it was getting more and more difficult. Being raised in a politically and religiously conservative environment did not help this attitude, especially as a science major. With a conservative Christian background, I was sharpening my swords for the secular institutions that I was told would try to snatch my faith from me with their long ages and fossils. Since graduating and stepping into the academic field, I realized what I learned all those years ago couldn’t be further from the truth- science and faith don’t have to be mutually exclusive at all. Meeting with my advisor and talking with her about my background helped me realized I could blend my knack for storytelling and my desire for connections with my love for geology

The Time Scavengers Internship was something I excitedly took on because I wanted to learn more about sci-comm while earning some summer cash. What I did not expect was to learn from people who have made an impact in science communication and hear their personal stories. This was a unique opportunity for me to see that I can blend my passions for studying origins, philosophy and religion with my enthusiasm for science. The first speaker, Riley Black, is my sci-comm hero. Her book, My Beloved Brontosaurus, was a huge part in my realization that science and storytelling can intertwine. The second speaker, Dr. Liz Hare, talked about accessibility and making figures/images/graphs interpretable for people who cannot see them. Her overarching theme of accessibility was really insightful because it points to a role of connection that is overlooked by people who are not disabled. Another speaker, Priya Shukla, spoke about embracing our individual pasts and experiences because they can deepen the meanings of our scientific work. This was affirming to me, as I have always been hesitant to share my religious background in a scientific setting. I want to embrace my unique position and hopefully be helpful to those who may also be navigating similar journeys. The more I am in the academic/scientific community, the more I see people who want to connect with others, and I am learning to be more vulnerable in sharing my story. The more I have learned to let down the walls of protection, the more connection I’ve been able to have with others and learn from them. 

Science writers, professors, and content creators these days all punctuate the same point: science is for everyone, and we can connect with each other through it, a shift that I think is a positive move for the community. Our stories matter and the science we are interested in and want to pursue is affected by our past, the culture we live in, and how we see the world around us. Science is not objective because people carry their experiences with them, and understanding this idea allows “doing science” to reach further depths than the raw numbers or data would by themselves. 

Since learning to become a better science communicator, my goal is to help others enjoy science and see the stories it offers us about ourselves, how we got here, and what we can learn about our past. Learning to see science communication as a way to connect with people brings a richness and unifying feeling, that we can begin to understand something bigger than all of us. 

A woman in her early twenties is sitting at a desk, wearing black-rimmed glasses and holding a journal that says “I dig it”, with an ichthyosaur on the cover. She has mid-length brown hair, an Allosaurus tattoo on her right arm, an ammonite tattoo on her left, and she is confidently smiling at the camera.

“What I learned” Article

By Michael Hallinan

Science has been a consistently developing field, with tons of new finds, new scientists, and a general increase in how many people are involved and engaged with the discipline. However, my undergraduate peers and I have found that effective communication is an often underdeveloped skill within science. We spend so much time learning calculus, learning physics, learning about environmental systems, yet never seem to spend much learning how to effectively share what we learn with others.

As of 2022, I’m entering my second year of undergraduate studies, and I’ve already seen the aforementioned communication divide as I share what I learn with family and friends. I entered science because I found the developments in biotechnology to be super interesting and to have great potential to better our world. However, science isn’t exclusive to scientists. There are policymakers, governments, educators, stakeholders, voters, and tons of other people who need to engage and interact with science, and often cannot because of the language and lack of accessibility regarding scientific research. As a result, I still want to pursue research in biotechnology, but I want much of my work to center open communication and accessibility within science. 

Thankfully, I was offered an internship with the Time Scavengers organization, and was granted the opportunity to further develop my communication skills through practice and learning opportunities. Weekly, me and the other interns got to hear a variety of scientists of various backgrounds teach about different factors of communications, which was an amazing opportunity. The major topics covered were effective storytelling, identities’ role in communication, effective teaching methods, accessibility, and compromise. However, although each of these topics was spoken on, there was so much more with each presenter having a unique background and journey into communications.

Besides these presentations, I also could practice communication through summarizing scientific research on topics from as broad as chimpanzee communication to global water evaporation with varying degrees of challenge. It was through this work that I truly realized how essential science communications work is. Much of the research I read through used jargon or failed to explain concepts or methods in a way that someone outside of the subjects’ field would understand. This meant that with most of the research I read through, to even understand a page, there was a lot of additional research and dictionary searching that had to be done. If I can’t understand their work without lots of additional effort, how can we expect those without a science background to do so? This was the biggest challenge I felt my experience within this internship helped bridge. 

Each article presented a unique challenge of learning something brand new and learning all the language and nuance to a degree where I could communicate that information to others. This was by far the most challenging part of the internship, but luckily, I had a lot of help. Every week I’d write about two articles summarizing papers I had chosen on a variety of topics. Sometimes this was a pretty straightforward process, but more often the not required the aforementioned searching and struggling to understand. After I finished this, though, I’d sent my article off to my mentor and we could discuss and edit. I got a lot of really useful tips about writing, especially having another perspective on my work. I think the most helpful information I got was just trying to be simple. A lot of writing, both academic and artistic, encourages high-level vocabulary or complex ways of communicating things. Which sometimes is valuable and arguably necessary, but for accessibility is not always the best. Many of the challenges in my writing were related to this either in complex words or structure that could be easily simplified down to something else. This not only makes it easier for non-native English speakers but also maybe those who are not as familiar with academic writing or the topic to understand. It seems like such basic advice, but really being simple when appropriate is so valuable, and something writers might not consider because of the culture around writing. 

In addition to this advice, within both my written articles and the presentations, there was a general focus on how to better connect with a variety of audiences. Sometimes this meant trying to use comparisons or more ordinary language to reach others, and sometimes it meant including more of yourself or relevant applications of your work to allow the audience to engage more with the topic. This type of discussion was something I hadn’t really engaged much with and felt as if there were so many perspectives that got to share and be heard in this experience, both intern and expert alike.

Furthermore, I think it’s really important to acknowledge a lot of the direct and indirect discussion on accessibility that went on. Besides language and comprehension accessibility, there was an amazing presentation on alt text. Although I’ve heard of alt text, I never really knew how to properly put it into my work, what its true value is, and what makes good alt text. These things were touched on and discussed, and I could practice creating alt text for each of my articles. This meant describing images or graphs and really focusing on what information is being communicated through visual means, as well as how to explain that in full value to someone who is using a screen reader. For graphs, this meant describing the type of graph, variables, general structure, and any other important information. While for pictures, this meant explaining things like the perspective, the context, color, or any other important visual cues and information needed to properly create meaningful alt text. This forced me to really think about how to analyze what information is portrayed through visual means both directly and indirectly, later converting this into written information. This is going to be imperative to my future work and really opened my eyes more in terms of digital accessibility.

Overall, this internship was an extremely valuable opportunity. I not only got to engage and practice communicating challenging topics, but I also got to hear from so many perspectives and other amazing scientists. Each of the interns, presenters, and mentors all had something to contribute and expanded my view on what science communication is. Science communication isn’t just for National Geographic Writers, it’s not just for podcasts hosts, it’s something all scientists, both writing-focused and non-writing focused, should consider developing skills in. It’s in the way we describe a figure, in the way we share our findings with policymakers, it’s in the way we describe our job positions to others. Science communication is all around us, and to ineffectively communicate in science is to lessen the value of your work. This opportunity brought a lot of practice and new ideas to my writing, and I hope to continue to use these in all facets of my work in the future, as well as encourage others to think more critically about the way we communicate even if it’s not the core of their work. 

Fossilized Lynx skulls from Southern Italy provide a window into the Evolutionary History of the Endangered Lynx pardinus

The tale of a short-tailed cat: New outstanding late Pleistocene fossils of Lynx pardinus from southern Italy

Mecozzi, B., Sardella, R., Boscaini, A., Cherin, M., Costeur, L., Madurell-Malapeira, J., Pavia, M., Profico, A., & Iurino, D. A.

Summarized by Vincent Levin, a geology major at the University of South Florida in his third year. He loves geochemistry and is contemplating graduate school. While he isn’t splitting rocks with a tile saw, Vincent loves to spend time at the USF Catholic Student Union, where he is a very active member and part of their leadership team. He also enjoys video games and playing the bass guitar. 

What data were used? This study was conducted on the fossilized remains of a group of large cats, the lynxes, and particularly the Iberian lynxes (Lynx pardinus) (L. pardinus). These fossils were found at the site of Ingarano in Foggia, South Italy. Unearthed there were 415 late Pleistocene Lynx remains. Of these remains, this study focuses exclusively on craniodental fossils, or fossils of the skull and teeth. 

Methods: The fossils were gathered throughout the 1990s by different researchers. To collect the data used in the study, they used CT scans and CT imaging software on the complete skull fossils. This allowed them to create 3D models of the two skulls. They also used ZBrush 4R6, a modeling software, to restore missing points of the skull. They also incorporated other Lynx fossil data from different sites in France, Spain, and other parts of Italy. Lastly, they estimated Lynx body mass using a method that uses skull measurements to determine overall body mass.

This is a map of Europe and part of the middle east. The fossils of Lynx issiodorensis, Lynx pardinus, Lynx lynx, Lynx sp., and the Lynx remains from the Ingarano site are listed here. Lynx pardinus fossils have been found ranging from the middle to late Pleistocene, moving from France and Italy into Spain. The Lynx remains from the Ingarano site are represented by a pink circle in Southern Italy.
The geographic distribution of Pliocene and Pleistocene lynx fossils in Europe. This figure covers a large portion of Europe and shows the distribution of the different species of lynx. In pink is the Ingarano site in southern Italy. The Iberian Lynx, in green, is shown to arise in the early Pleistocene and spread into the Iberian peninsula and into modern day France and Italy.

Results: Researchers determined that all of the cranial remains contained permanent teeth, indicating that they were all from adult cats. Many of the skull pieces and whole skulls still retained many upper teeth, which were beneficial in the final analysis. The lower teeth and mandibles (jawbones) also showed that all the remains were from adult specimens. However, these fossils showed much more size variation, and none of the lower incisors were preserved.

All the characteristics of the fossils found fit the overall morphology of L. pardinus. Overall, the Ingarano samples have larger cranial dimensions than other data sets. They concluded that there was also little sexual dimorphism, with the male to female body mass ratio being mostly equal. Sexual dimorphism is what accounts for biological differences between the sexes of a species.. Due to the limited sample size, it is hard to determine a correlation between Lynx body size and any potential environmental factors.

The most important result of this study was found in the cranium (skull) fossils. The cranium fossils provided a new insight into the evolutionary history of Lynx issiodorensis (L. issiodorensis) as a possible ancestor to Lynx pardinus and the still-living Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx). L. issiodorensis, hypothesized to be representative of an ancestor of the modern Lynx, was shown to have similar cranial features to L. pardinus. The data found in this study supported the hypothesis that these cranial features were homologous, or features inherited from an ancestor. 

Why is this study important? This study compiled data on 68 craniodental (skull and teeth) Lynx fossils. Teeth and skulls are an important window into the morphology, what it looked like, and ecology, how it lived and interacted with its environment. Many of the studies done on Lynx fossils have lacked any substantial cranium (skull) data. This study was able to add that to the overall discussion on Lynx evolutionary history. Lynx evolutionary history was hard to nail down due to the coexistence of the two modern species of Lynx, Lynx pardinus and Lynx lynx, during the same time period. The addition of the cranium data added some clarity to the overall discussion.

The big picture: The Iberian Lynx (L. pardinus) is currently endangered. This study adds to a decades-long effort to better understand the ecological and biological characteristics of these cats. This could add data to create better conservation efforts for the preservation of this species against natural and manmade threats. 

Citation: Mecozzi, B., Sardella, R., Boscaini, A., Cherin, M., Costeur, L., Madurell-Malapeira, J., Pavia, M., Profico, A., & Iurino, D. A. (2021). The tale of a short-tailed cat: New outstanding Late Pleistocene fossils of Lynx pardinus from southern Italy. Quaternary Science Reviews, 262, 106840. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.QUASCIREV.2021.106840

Birds are more Vulnerable to Climate Change Impacts than Small Mammals in the Mojave Desert

Exposure to climate change drives stability or collapse of desert mammal and bird populations

E.A. Riddell, K.J. Iknayan, L. Hargrove, S. Tremor, J.L. Patton, R. Ramirez, B.O. Wolf, S.R. Beissinger

Summarized by Anna Geldert

What data were used? Researchers compared climate change responses in desert species, including 34 small mammal species and 135 bird species. Surveys were conducted at 151 sites throughout the Mojave Desert, concentrated mostly in Death Valley National Park, Mojave National Preserve, and Joshua Tree National Park (California, USA). Modern observations were compared to historical observations by Joseph Grinnell and colleagues in the early 20th century to assess change over time.

Methods: The authors used a dynamic multi-species occupancy model to determine how the proportion of sites that a species occupied changed over time. In summary, this approach assessed the probability of detecting a species  at different time periods, and used this data to determine the change in occupancy (likelihood of a species occupying a site), change in species richness (number of species at a site), colonization probability (likelihood of expanding to new sites), and persistence (long-term survival of a species at a site) probability. This model also factored in the impacts of climate change and habitat loss. The authors also estimated the degree of exposure (or how greatly an organism is affected by climatic changes) in small mammals and birds by simulating the “cooling costs” of each species. Cooling costs represent the water required for evaporative cooling to maintain a stable body temperature and were based on the species’ behavior, morphology, and microhabitat conditions.

Results: Overall, modern bird species declined in occupancy when compared to historical records, while small mammal occupancy remained relatively consistent. The model estimated that the occupancy of 29% of bird species decreased, 70% were unchanged, and only 1% increased. Meanwhile, only 9% of small mammals saw an occupancy decrease, while 79% stayed constant and 12% increased. Similarly, bird species richness decreased at 90.1% of sites and only 3.3% of sites for small mammals. The authors also found that bird populations experienced higher exposure to climate change than small mammals. The exposure model estimated that cooling costs were approximately 3.3 times higher in birds than they were in mammals, with this number projected to increase to 3.8 times by 2080. Finally, the level of adaptation and specialization among species of both groups had little influence on changes in cooling costs, suggesting that microhabitat conditions and their behavioral ability to “buffer” against climatic changes had a much greater impact.

The figure shows a histogram graph, labeled ‘B’, which represents the change in species occupancy over time for both birds and small mammals. The x-axis is labeled “change in occupancy,” and ranges from -0.6 to 0.4, increasing by a factor of 0.5. Two y-axises appear stacked vertically on top of one another so that data on birds and small mammals can be graphed separately; both are labeled “number of species.” On the top right corner of each graph is the black silhouette of a bird on the top graph, and a small rodent on the bottom graph. The top axis, which shows data for birds, ranges from 0 to 30. Gray bars (roughly 70% of total) represent no significant change in occupancy compared to historical records, while red bars (roughly 30%) represent significant increases and decreases. Occupancy bars for birds are concentrated left of zero, indicating an overall decrease in species occupancy. The number of species is highest for changes in occupancy of -0.1 and -0.05, which each have about 25 species. As change in occupancy continues to decrease, the number of species slopes off rapidly, with only 5 species or less for occupancies lower than -0.35. Only 3 bird species have a positive change in occupancy, with probability values at 0.1, 0.15, and 0.4. The bottom y-axis ranges from 0 to 15, and represents data for small mammals. Gray bars (roughly 80% of total) again represent no significant change, while blue bars represent significant increases or decreases. Change in occupancy for small mammals is much less skewed than occupancy for birds. The change in occupancy of 0 has the highest number of species, at roughly 15. All other occupancies have 7 species or less, and quickly decrease to zero on either side by -0.2 and 0.3 change in occupancy. Small mammals, therefore, have a much lower range in change of occupancy probability than birds. Occupancy probabilities are also much more similar to historical records for small mammals than for birds.
Fig. 1 Change in occupancy (modern – historical) of bird and small mammal species in the Mojave desert. Changes in occupancy were estimated using a dynamic multi-species occupancy model based on survey data collected during two different time periods: first, by Joseph Grinnell and colleagues in the early 20th century (historical), and second, by the authors of this paper in 2007-2018 (modern). The gray bars represent the number of species with no significant change in occupancy between modern and historical records, while colored bars (red for birds; blue for small mammals) indicate significant increases or decreases over time.

Why is this study important? This study counters the traditional approach of assessing impacts from climate change, which often assumes that exposure within an ecosystem is uniform across all species. This study revealed that in the same locations birds were more severely impacted by climate change than small mammals, as shown by the lower occupancy probability, lower species richness, and higher cooling costs in birds. Additionally, this study highlighted the importance of microhabitat buffering potential, which may be a driving factor as to why small mammals were sheltered in their burrows during the day  from the worst of the impacts of heat, while birds were not.

The big picture: As the impacts of climate change on animal populations progress, desert communities remain especially vulnerable. In order to minimize these impacts, it is important to understand how ecosystems respond to climate changes. This study suggests that impacts should be considered at the population level, rather than the community level, as species responses varied greatly even within the same ecosystem. Furthermore, the results suggest that microhabitat buffering is especially important in reducing impacts from climate change, and should be given greater attention in conservation efforts and future studies.

Citation: Riddell, E. A., Iknayan, K. J., Hargrove, L., Tremor, S., Patton, J. L., Ramirez, R., … Beissinger, S. R. (2021). Exposure to climate change drives stability or collapse of desert mammal and bird communities. Science, 371(6529), 633–636. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abd4605

Impacts From Climate Change and Other Threats Increase for At-Risk Canadian Wildlife

Increasing importance of climate change and other threats to at-risk species in Canada

Catherine Woo-Durand, Jean-Michel Matte, Grace Cuddihy, Chloe L. McGourdji, Oscar Venter and James W.A. Grant

Summarized by Anna Geldert

What data were used? In this study, researchers assessed threats to biodiversity in Canada. They drew upon the methods of a previous study by Venter et al. (2006), which recognized six primary threats to biodiversity in Canada: habitat loss, introduced (non-native) species, over-exploitation (i.e., excessive hunting or harvest), pollution, native species interactions, and natural causes. They also assessed the threat of climate change. In total, researchers assessed threats to 820 species from 12 taxa, including: vascular plants (e.g., trees, flowering plants, ferns, clubmosses, etc), freshwater fishes, marine fishes, marine mammals, terrestrial mammals, birds, reptiles, molluscs, amphibians, arthropods, mosses, and lichens. All of these species were classified as at-risk (in decreasing severity: extinct, extirpated, endangered, threatened, or of “special concern”) by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada).

Methods: Between October 2018 and September 2019, researchers examined the COSEWIC website for evidence of Venter et al.’s six primary threats, where threatened species and the reasons they are threatened are cataloged . They looked at COSEWIC’s “Reason for Designation” statement, as well as details from the Assessment and Status Report. Any mention of any of the six major threats was recorded, so that multiple threats could be identified for each species. This data was compared to data from Venter et al. (2006) to determine changes in prevalence over time. Additionally, researchers noted mentions of climate change threats to species on the COSEWIC website. Climate change threats were classified as current, probable, or future based on a list of keywords. All seven of the biodiversity threats were assessed over time by comparing their prevalence to species with multiple COSEWIC status reports, including a total of 188 species.

Results: 814 of the 820 species studied were impacted by at least one of the six primary threats to biodiversity. Habitat degradation was the most significant threat, affecting 81.8% of species, followed by natural causes (51.0%), over-exploitation (46.9%), introduced species (46.4%), pollution (35.1%) and native species dynamics (27.2%). This represented an overall increase in threats compared to Venter et al., though introduced species and natural causes were the only threats that increased with statistical significance. Climate change impacted a total of 37.7% of species, with 13.3% of species impacted by current climate change, and 14.7% and 9.7% that will likely be impacted by probable and future climate change, respectively.

The figure shows a bar graph comparing the prevalence of the primary threats to biodiversity in the modern 2018 study and the 2005 Venter et al. study. In the top right corner, a legend indicates that white bars represent data from 2005, which included 488 species total, and black bars represent data from 2018, which included 814 species total. The x-axis shows the biodiversity threats, including habitat loss, introduced species, over-exploitation, pollution, native species interactions, natural causes, and current climate change. For each threat category, a pair of historical and modern bars are shown, with the exception of current climate change, which only has a bar for 2018. The y-axis is labeled “percentage of at-risk species,” and ranges from 0 to 90, increasing at increments of 10. For modern data, habitat loss is the most prevalent threat, affecting 81.8% of species, followed by natural causes, over-exploitation and introduced species, which all affected roughly 45-50% of species. Pollution and native species interactions (affecting 35.1% and 27.2% of species respectively) were moderate threats, while climate change was the lowest, affecting only 13.3%. For the 2005 Venter et al. data, habitat loss was also the most significant threat and was slightly more prevalent than it is today, affecting 83.8% of species. Native species interactions were also slightly higher in the 2005 study than the 2018 study, though not enough to be significant. All other threats were higher in the modern study, though introduced species and natural causes were the only categories that increased with statistical significance.
Fig 1. Percentage of at-risk species in Canada that were impacted by the six primary threats to biodiversity, comparing modern data from December 2018 and data recorded by Venter et al. in June 2005. The modern threat of climate change is also included, though there is no corresponding 2005 record. N represents the number of species (n=488 in 2005, n=814 in 2018).

The analysis comparing threats to species with multiple COSEWIC status reports found an average increase from 2.5 to 3.5 threats per species in newer reports. The prevalence of many threats also increased significantly over time, including a 27.6% increase in introduced species, a 13.3% increase in over-exploitation, and a 10.1% increase in pollution. Mentions of the threat of climate change also increased from 11.7% in the oldest reports to 49.5% in the newest reports.

Why is this study important? This study reveals that threats to biodiversity continue to increase today, despite protections that have been put in place. In particular, the threat of introduced species has increased significantly in recent years, reflecting rises in globalization and human-environmental interactions. Overall, researchers were surprised by the relatively low percentage of species currently impacted by climate change (13.3%), as this topic has gained so much global attention. The authors suggested the unexplained increase in death by natural causes compared to the Venter et al. report may actually account for impacts from climate change, as climate change has increased the severity of storms, droughts, and other weather events worldwide.

The big picture: This study emphasizes the importance of wildlife conservation, in Canada and all over the world. On-going threats such as habitat loss, pollution and overexploitation continue to impact hundreds of species in Canada, so it is likely that stricter protections are needed to enact effective change. Additionally, this study indicates that climate change is among the most significant threats to biodiversity and is projected to continue increasing in prevalence in the future. Although it was not considered to be one of the six primary threats by Venter et al. in 2005, it should definitely be recognized as one today.

Citation: Woo-Durand, C., Matte, J.-M., Cuddihy, G., McGourdji, C. L., Venter, O., & Grant, J. W. A. (2020). Increasing importance of climate change and other threats to at-risk species in Canada. Environmental Reviews, 28(4), 449–456. https://doi.org/10.1139/er-2020-0032