Complex Relationships of Pararotadiscus guishouensis in Life and Death

Paleoecological Significance of Complex Fossil Associations of the Eldonioid Pararotadiscus guishouensis with other Faunal Members of the Kaili Biota (Stage 5, Cambrian, South China)

by: Yuanlong Zhao, Mingkun Wang, Steven T. LoDuca, Xinglian Yang, Yuning Yang, Yujuan Liu, and Xin Cheng

Summarized by: Dinah Hunsicker. Dinah Hunsicker is currently an undergraduate senior studying Geology at the University of South Florida.  She will earn her Bachelor’s degree at the end of 2019. She has a passion for science, music, mathematics, and spends much of her time outdoors. She loves to garden and paint, and absolutely loves collecting cool rocks and minerals! (Favorite mineral: azurite).

What data were used? 628 collected fossil specimens from the Kaili Formation, Guizhou Province, South China preserved in association with the Pararotadiscus guishouensis, an organism that has a high likelihood to have shared symbiotic relationships with other groups. P. guishouensis is an eldonid, a medusoid (e.g., like jellyfish) -shaped organism that scientists aren’t entirely sure what groups it belongs to. 

Methods: Associated fossils were classified into 4 types of relationships with P. guishouensis  (symbiosis (interacting with one another), co-burial, attachment of benthic taxa on P. guishouensis carcasses, and scavenging of carcasses after death.

The figure above shows a variety of organisms preserved in the fossil record showing different types of symbiotic relationships with Pararotadiscus guizhouensis. Parts 5 and 6 show the symbiotic relationships between this fossil and brachiopods and how many brachiopods could be found in association on one organism.

Results: I have broken this into the 4 sections defined above. Symbiotic Relationship: brachiopods, trilobites, and juvenile echinoderms in this area were found to have symbiotic relationships with Pararotadiscus guishouensis (P. g.). Benthic (lived on the seafloor): organisms latched onto P. guishouensis, taking advantage of the calmer water current, giving them an opportunity to expand their ecological niche. Co-burial: it makes sense that since many of the previously mentioned critters latch on to P. g, they’ve committed to life and death with their host. Additionally, a variety of fragmented and partial fossils (bits and pieces of trilobites, brachiopods, echinoderms and algae) buried around the same time are also associated with P. guishouensis. Post-Mortem Attachment: the carcass of P. guishouensis was an oasis of solid mass on the soft-sediment seafloor, leading to a multitude of species taking up life habits on the carcasses of P. guishouensis, including colonization by echinoderms. Post-Mortem Scavenging: Among the 628 specimens, 24% are preserved with squiggling traces of surface scavenging, associated with worm-like creatures called Gordia marina. No evidence of any other type of scavenging relationship has been detected.

Why is this study important? This study contributes to the growing body of evidence that the ecology of the Cambrian biosphere was more intricate and complex than previously suspected; originally, scientists assumed the Cambrian had a general lack of ecological diversity. Insights relating to organismal interactions during the Cambrian can help us further our understanding about the inter-complexities of life on this planet through a broad lens of time.

The big picture: This well-preserved group of organisms, such such as brachiopods, trilobites, echinoderms, and a type of ancient sea worm co-habituated and had multi-layered, complex biotic relationships with Pararotadiscus guishouensis at the site of the Kaili Formation in China, giving us insight into the lives of these ancient sea critters, contributing to our conceptions and understandings about Cambrian life.

Citation: Zhao, Y., Wang, M., LoDuca, S., Yang, X., Yang, Y., Liu, Y., & Cheng, X. (2018). Paleoecological Significance of Complex Fossil Associations of the Eldonioid Pararotadiscus guizhouensis with other Faunal Members of the Kaili Biota (Stage 5, Cambrian, South China). Journal of Paleontology, 92(6), 972-981. https://doi.org/10.1017/jpa.2018.41

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Big Bone Lick State Historic Site

Mike here –

I recently visited Big Bone Lick State Historic Site (Union, Kentucky) on the way back to Ohio from a weekend in Kentucky. I’ve been meaning to visit this place for years, so I’m glad I finally had a chance to do so! Big Bone Lick is an important site for paleontology, archaeology, and US history.

Big Bone Lick SP is the site of a salt lick, or area where animals come to obtain salt and other minerals by licking the soil for salt crystals. Natural salt and sulfur springs are the source of the minerals at Big Bone Lick, and they attracted animals from all over.

In historical times, white-tailed deer and North American bison visited the lick, but much larger mammals came during the Pleistocene epoch (2.5 million to 12,000 years ago), also called the “Ice Age.” The remains of extinct mastodons, mammoths, North American horses, ground sloths, and tapirs have been found here, as well as the still living bison, musk oxen, and peccaries. Some of them became stuck in mud and died, and their preserved skeletons became the source of the “big bones!”

Diorama of a modern bison taxidermy with ancient neighbors.

Paleoindians hunted the megafauna at Big Bone Lick, and left behind their tools at the site. Native Americans continued to hunt here into colonial times, and told the Europeans about the big bones found in the soil. President Jefferson ordered Merriweather Lewis and William Clark to stop here on their expedition to investigate these reports. Specimens were excavated and eventually sent to France for analysis by Georges Cuvier, an anatomist credited with developing the concept of extinction. He compared the remains of Asian Elephants, African elephants, and the “elephants” found at Big Bone Lick and determined that these remains came a type of elephant that no longer lived. He named this animal Mastodon, but these fossils had already been described under the name Mammut. The study of these remains has given this site credit for the birth place of vertebrate paleontology in the United States.

The visitor’s center is on Mastodon Trail!

Long after the bison were extirpated (no longer present in their native habitat, but not extinct) from Kentucky, Kentuckians mined salt and opened a health resort, at which people bathed in the mineral-rich water. 

I have always loved the Pleistocene megafauna, and I make a point to see these fossils whenever I can. Mastodons are tied with Moropus (a distant relative of horses and rhinos, imagine a draft horse with claws!) as my favorite fossil animal, and get so excited seeing them! 

The visitor’s center has nice displays about the megafauna found at Big Bone Lick, including fossil material and reconstructions of what they may have looked like. There is information about the Paleoindians that inhabited this region and their tools. Historical information about Lewis and Clark is also included in the displays. 

A mounted giant ground sloth skeleton, and a display comparing mastodons and mammoths.

Behind the visitor’s center are life-size statues that represent iconic Pleistocene megafauna. Many of them are“trapped” in the sediment, and are on their way to become fossils. This was the perfect opportunity for a selfie with a mastodon!

A trapped mammoth and a dying bison.
My selfie with a mastodon!
A giant ground sloth.

The site is actually quite large, and features a campground and several hiking trails. I took one of these trails to see the salt/sulfur springs. I could smell the sulfur as soon as I reached this point in the trail. It was pretty awful, and it amazes me that people came to bathe in these waters for the “medicinal properties” centuries ago. 

A salt/sulfur spring with salt crystals.

I continued along a trail which follows Big Bone Creek. Fossils and artifacts are still exposed as the sediment washes away, and modern excavations occur when fossils are found on site.

These signs are all over the site.

 

Big Bone Lick Creek. Fossils are still exposed as the sediment is washed away through erosion.

Informational signs are included along the trails about the history of the site and about the animals that once lived in this region. 

The park maintains a small herd of American bison (Bison bison) on its grounds. The animals are rotated around their paddock to allow the plants time to recover from grazing and trampling. Unfortunately for me, they were located too far away for me to see with them with my limited time. It is hoped that the ecosystem will be restored to its condition before the bison were extirpated from this area. 

There be bison. Somewhere…

I had a great visit to Big Bone Lick State Historic Site! If you enjoy ice age megafauna, and are in or near Kentucky, consider stopping by! For more information, visit Big Bone Lick State Historical Site

Collection Management

Jen here – 

A graphic I made for Science-A-Thon this year explaining what a collection manager actually manages!

I recently started a new position as a Research Museum Collection Manager at the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology (UMMP). I am in charge of taking care of the invertebrate fossil collection, which are housed at an off campus facility with all of the other natural history museum collections (anthropology, zoology, and the herbarium). My position involves a lot of moving parts. I took over for someone who had moved the collection twice in the past several years – which is an astronomical endeavor. I have started with working to get a lot of paperwork organized. Specifically the loan paperwork. Research museums loan out specimens to other institutions and borrow specimens from other institutions! Usually there is a lot of paperwork associated with this but not everything is always organized or clear. I’ve spent quite a bit of time working to make sure I know who has specimens of ours and trying to reach out to others to return specimens. I’m nowhere near done but I have a good handle on the last decade, which I consider a victory!

I have recently employed several undergraduate students to help me get a better handle on what is actually in our collection. All of the type and figured specimens are in our local database but they were entered from the card catalog rather than examining the specimens and specimen labels. So, we want to make sure all the information matches and update it if it doesn’t! We are also working to take images of the types to attach them to the specimen records. This is a huge task and I am happy to have some help. 

Here is a peak inside one of the cabinets! The drawers are filled with specimens and how we store them is important for the longevity of the fossils and materials!

I also have been organizing the collection, after the move there were lots of boxes and pallets with miscellaneous fossils and I’m working to figure out what is what. Some of this was easy, some of it involved going through some really nasty old news paper that was used as packing material decades or even a century ago. It’s really important that the collection stay clean because the specimens are housed in compactor shelving. Meaning that if you are trying to get to one area you may have to move other cabinets and it can be difficult to try to look in different time periods or collections at the same time.

Part of my job includes bringing people into the collection. This could be researchers to study the different animals in the collection or conduct geochemical analyses or even high school students looking to pursue a career in paleontology. Every week I have at least one visitor, which is great for the collection. Next week, two folks from the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department are coming to explore some of our Cenozoic material as they are interested in understanding the ancient climate along the eastern coast of the United States. To do this, they use shells from the collection to reconstruct what the environment may have been like!

Understanding the Permian-Triassic transition with fossil data before and after the mass extinction event

Environmental instability prior to end-Permian mass extinction reflected in biotic and facies changes on shallow carbonate platforms of the Nanpanjiang Basin (South China) 

Li Tian, Jinnan Tong, Yifan Xiao, Michael J. Benton, Huyue Song, Haijun Song, Lei Liang, Kui Wu, Daoliang Chu, Thomas J. Algeo

Summarized by: Baron C. Hoffmeister. Baron Hoffmeister is currently an undergraduate senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in Environmental Science and Policy with a minor in Geology. After graduation, he plans to attend a graduate program for environmental management. When graduate school is complete, he plans on working for the National Parks services. Baron is apart of the geology club as well as the fishing club and spends his free time hiking, fishing, and socializing with friends.

What data were used? Fossil taxa found in Southern China carbonate platforms that date back to the Permian-Triassic extinction event, ~251 million years ago. This data sheds light on the mass extinction event that spans the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras. 

Methods: Analytical evaluation of fossils present from three separate stratigraphic areas across South China, from before, during, and after the Permo-Triassic extinction event. 

Results: In this study, the fossil data evaluated at each site led to the discovery of common trends. Each formation had similar fossil accumulations, even though the formation would have been located a far distance apart. This means that each location was affected similarly  by the same event for the accumulation of similar fossils to appear in the corresponding strata. This is hypothesized to be the late Permian mass extinction. Another similarity between the three areas was that each section had a foraminifera gap between strata boundaries. At the same time, each boundary represented a different aspect of a shallow marine environment. For example, the Wennga Formation had strata before the extinction boundary that was littered with Permian fauna fossils that occurred in shallow marine environments. Post-extinction boundary strata didn’t possess these fossils. This is another indication of the severity of the mass extinction event. The Taiping section had different types of rock formations with different compositions; the transition of the rock from before the extinction to after showed a rapid die-off of organisms living in this area. Finally, in the Lung Cam section, there were fewer fossils than the other two (most likely due to poor fossil preservation conditions); however, the fossils that were found resembled those in the other sections studied. Further, the Lung Cam section had foram gaps consistent with the other sections.

Skeletal composition within strata at each study section. The three sections had similar organisms preserved in each and even showed similar gaps in fossil occurrences, indicating where the extinction event happened.

Why is this study important? This study strengthens what we know about the Permian-Triassic transition. These fossils, across multiple areas, were present in a shallow marine environment and were greatly affected by environmental instability during this time. The strata at each location, Wengna, Taiping, and Lung Cam, are remnants from the fatal conditions in the marine environment at this time. This can better help us understand and conceive how shallow marine organisms could be affected today during climate change. 

The big picture: This study shows the significant changes in fossils from  before and after the largest extinction event in Earth’s history. There is consistent evidence within and between each section studied, indicating a widespread event that negatively affected shallow marine life during this time.

Citation: Tian, Li, Jinnan Tong, Yifan Xiao, Michael J. Benton, Huyue Song, Haijun Song, Lei Liang, Kui Wu, Daoliang Chu, and Thomas J. Algeo. “Environmental instability prior to end-Permian mass extinction reflected in biotic and facies changes on shallow carbonate platforms of the Nanpanjiang Basin (South China).” Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 519 (2019): 23-36. DOI: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2018.05.011

A fossil-rich rock formation at the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary in Mississippi, USA indicates environmental changes before mass extinction

A fossiliferous spherule-rich bed at the Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) boundary in Mississippi, USA: Implications for the K–Pg mass extinction event in the Mississippi Embayment and Eastern Gulf Coastal Plain

James D.Witts, Neil H.Landman, Matthew P. Garb, Caitlin Boas, Ekaterina Larina, Remy Rovelli, Lucy E. Edwards, Robert M.Sherrell, J. KirkCochran

Summarized by Mckenna Dyjak. Mckenna Dyjak, who is an environmental science major with a minor in geology at the University of South Florida. She plans to go to graduate school for coastal geology; once she earns her degree, she plans on becoming a research professor at a university. Mckenna spends her free time playing the piano and going to the gym.

What data were used? A fossil and spherule-rich rock formation in Union County, Mississippi exposed by construction. The formation contains the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) boundary, which marks the end of the Cretaceous and the beginning of the Paleogene, estimated at ~66 million years ago. This boundary is characterized by a thin layer of sediment with high levels of iridium which is uncommon in Earth’s crust, because it is almost exclusively from extraterrestrial sources.  The K-Pg boundary is associated with a mass extinction: a significant, widespread increase in extinction (ending of a lineage) of multiple species over a short amount of geologic time. The iridium indicates that the extinction was likely caused by an extraterrestrial impact; the spherules found support this idea as well, as spherules are formed from ejecta after an impact. 

Stratigraphic (ordered) section of the rock formation showing the rock units, type of
sedimentology (sand, silt, clay), and fossil type. The K-Pg boundary is marked by the horizontal
dashed line. The black arrows point to calcareous nannofossils and the white arrows point to
dinoflagellate cysts.

Methods: The fossils present in the rock formation were identified and compiled into a complete list. In order to find out the composition of the rock formation. 14 sediment samples were collected; these samples were used to construct a biostratigraphic analysis: corresponding relative rock ages of different rock layers to the fossils found within them. The mineral composition and grain size were determined to construct this analysis. The mineral composition (mineral percentages present) of the sediment samples were determined by using a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and a Diffractometer (type of X-ray). The grain size analysis of the sediment samples was determined by using a sieve (mesh strainer) to sort into different sizes. The Carbon-13 levels of the sediment samples were analyzed: Carbon-13 can be used to determine the amount of plants that were present at the time.The data collected was used to construct the stratigraphic section shown in the figure below.

Results: There was a significant decrease in the amount of micro and macro fossils present. Along with the decrease of fossils there was a positive shift of Carbon-13. The positive shift of Carbon-13 indicates that there was an increase in plant matter buried in the rock record. Sedimentary structures such as weak cross-bedding and laminations (indicates flowing water and fluctuating energy levels) An important layer was analyzed: 15–30 cm thick muddy, poorly sorted sand containing abundant spherules (sphere pieces) that were likely a product of  the Chicxulub impact event.

Why is this study important? The findings suggest that there was a quick, local change in sediment supply and possibly sea level due to the significant variation in facies (body of sediment), fossil changes, and different geochemical data that coincided with the extinction event. 

Big Picture: This study helps us understand how different areas were affected locally before the mass extinction event, which can help us understand how recovery from mass extinctions take place. 

Citation: Witts, James, et al. “A Fossiliferous Spherule-Rich Bed at the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) Boundary in Mississippi, USA: Implications for the K-Pg Mass Extinction Event in the MS Embayment and Eastern Gulf Coastal Plain.” 2018, doi:10.31223/osf.io/qgaj

Recently excavated human skulls provide insight into human migration from Southeast Asia to Australia

Somewhere beyond the sea: Human cranial remains from the Lesser Sunda Islands (Alor Island, Indonesia) provide insights on Late Pleistocene peopling of Island Southeast Asia

Sofía C. Samper Carro, Felicity Gilbert, David Bulbeck, Sue O’Connor, Julien Louys, Nigel Spooner, Danielle Questiaux, Lee Arnold, Gilbert Price, Rachel Wood, Mahirta

Summarized by: Lisette E. Melendez. Lisette Melendez is a geology major and astronomy minor at The University of South Florida. She is currently a junior, but has her sights set on going to graduate school for planetary Geology. She loves rocks, space, and everything pink.

What data were used? Newly excavated human remains from three test pits in Tron Bon Lei
(Wallacean Islands, Indonesia) are being compared to human remains from Asia and Australia to test for similarities. Other elements that were found in the excavation include shellfish, fish remains, and fish hooks were used to characterize the living environment.

Methods: This study used dating of various elements and observation of skull traits to estimate ages of the cranial remains. The first element studied was the amount of carbon- 14 in the specimen because carbon-14 can date items up to approximately 50,000 years old. Uranium and Thorium are both elements that are preserved in fossilized teeth and those elements were also measured to reinforce the reliability of the age estimates from carbon. Physical traits of the skull fragments were analyzed to estimate the age and sex of the samples. Age estimation was based on how worn down the teeth were and degree of cranial suture closure (tissues that fuse together as you get older).

The human remains recovered from Tron Bon Lei (Wallacean Islands, Indonesia).

Results: The dating measurements of these Wallacean specimens suggest that the skeletons were buried around 11.5 to 13 thousand years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch. They are smaller than any of the other cranial remains from Indonesia, Australia, and New Guinea, but the small size of these remains are similar in size to Holocene- age remains, supporting the model that southeastern Indonesian populations were isolated.

Why is this study important? This study helps us unravel the environment of southeast Asia and understand living conditions thousands of years ago.

The big picture: This study shows that the Wallacean islands may be an example of island dwarfing, suggesting that these populations may have been relatively isolated, at least up to the late Pleistocene. Island dwarfing typically occurs when there is a scarce amount of resources on an island, which was only exacerbated by the genetic isolation that occurred on this island.

Citation: Samper Carro, S. C. et al. Somewhere beyond the sea: Human cranial remains from the LesserSunda Islands (Alor Island, Indonesia) provide insights on Late Pleistocene peopling of Island Southeast Asia. J. Hum. Evol. 134, 102638 (2019). Online.

Niba Nirmal, Plant Geneticist, PhD Candidate, Creative

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I’m Niba and I create notes about science (biology, especially plants!) and style (fashion, makeup, skincare)! I write in a physical journal, share photos on Instagram, and create videos on YouTube. I have always loved science – logical thinking, rationalizing answers, learning how to learn—and I also love style—fashion, beauty, skincare, modeling. As a scientist, I am taught logical thinking and rationalizing while cultivating a desire to learn. However, my life as a model is based on fashion trends, creating beauty, and skincare health. For a long time, these concepts existed as incompatible, separate parts of my personality. As I continue my journey as a female scientist and young model, I have integrated the different parts of my life to create my own distinct and compelling self. As I learn more about science and style, I would love for you to join me on my path at Notes by Niba . I’m now modeling, blogging, and beginning my third year as a PhD student studying the genetics of plant development.

I have always loved the process of learning, which led me to the scientific method. The scientific method can be applied to literally everything – working out, training my cat, as well as my experiments in the lab. In lab, I’m discovering how plants express genes to grow and develop. I am trying to understand how a gene control module puts tissues in the right place. This is a huge question in development because proper developing needs careful gene expression in time and space. Because gene networks control every biological process, my research benefits many other fields. For example, many human diseases are caused by impaired networks (ex. Cancer).

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Specifics: My research looks into the SCARECROW plant gene, which forms two tissues – the cortex and endodermis. This is done by a certain kind of cell division, where one cell becomes a cortex cell and the other becomes an endodermal cell. Without the SCARECROW gene, the original cell never divides and is just one fat mutant cell that acts like BOTH a cortex and an endodermis at the same time. Just like how the SCARECROW in Wizard of Oz doesn’t have brain tissue, these plants are also missing a tissue. But we don’t know what the proper SCARECROW expression is to form these two tissues. My research is to determine what kind of SCARECROW gene expression–not just the amount but also at what time–is needed to form cortex and endodermis. By using existing gene modules, I can create different gene circuits to figure out what kind of SCARECROW expression will make the cell divide and get the proper tissues in plant roots. I can see this division in real time in living plants with a super powerful microscope in my laboratory.

Plant research is essential, resulting in drought-resistant food crops, more effective medicines, clothing and fashion, etc. More than 30 THOUSAND plant species are medicinally used (ex. anti-cancer drugs and blood thinners). The world’s food supply is under threat due to population growth, water scarcity, reduced agricultural land, and climate change. As potential biofuels, plants are also important as a potential source of renewable energy. That means it’s critical to be able to detect, learn from, and innovate with our green plant friends. Our past, present, and future depends on plants.

As a scientist, I am pushing the boundaries of what humanity knows – it’s an incredibly fulfilling job and I am grateful for this privilege. 

Keep up with Niba’s updates by following her website, YouTube, or Instagram!

Eco-friendly Holiday Celebrations

Sarah here –

It’s hard to believe, but the holiday season is fast upon us! I know you’re probably already thinking of all the things you want to do to prepare- decorate your home, inside and out, send holiday cards, buy presents, bake delicious cookies, etc. This post today is about ways we can all take to make sure that our holiday celebrations are more eco-friendly! 

Decorations 

One thing to notice is that thrift stores are FULL of great holiday decorations! Why buy new when you can get awesome decorations for a fraction of the cost? Just this weekend, I was in a thrift store looking for a nightstand, when I came across a ton of great holiday decorations. I walked away with enough outdoor string lights to decorate the trees in my yard for a total of $4, all working and in great condition. There were artificial Christmas trees there, Hanukkah decorations, and more- all for a low price. Consider buying used to keep these types of things out of the landfill. Try to stay away from balloons, plastic streamers, plastic confetti, and decorative grass (like the kind you find in Easter baskets a lot of the times)- these are not recyclable and there are paper alternatives for many of them! As for balloons, many of the times, their pieces get stuck outside and animals try to eat them- causing illness and even death.  

As so much of this is made out of plastic, decorations will absolutely last in a landfill for years to come. Reduce the amount we all collectively purchase from stores, save yourself some money, and reduce the landfill- it’s a win- win- win! 

Ugly Sweater Parties and Holiday outfits

Skip Target and Walmart and go straight to the thrift store. So many people buy Ugly Sweaters, wear them once, and then donate them! I am not advocating for people to go to thrift stores and buy perfectly good, used clothing that’s cheap as a practical joke (many people use thrift stores as their primary clothing source- and for good reason! It’s accessible to a range of budgets) store, but there are *plenty* of Christmas themed sweaters at the thrift store that were made for the purpose of wearing to holiday parties! The clothing industry is responsible for an extreme amount of landfill waste and microplastic pollution in the ocean. Holiday sweaters often have glitter, sequins, and other items on it that definitely contribute to that- buy used!

There are also so many kids’ outfits in brand new condition at the thrift stores, as well as holiday party outfits for any age! Go there before going to a store to buy a new outfit! 

Cards and wrapping paper 

I love sending holiday cards and getting them. But there are ways we can send and receive holiday cards with a bit more thought to the environment. 

First, and easiest, make sure to recycle the holiday cards/envelopes you choose not to keep! Second, try to select cards and envelopes that are devoid of glitter and anything that isn’t strictly paper- it cannot be recycled as well. Make sure that the cards and envelopes you’re disposing are recyclable, as well.

As for wrapping paper, don’t buy wrapping paper with any metallic foils or glitter- they aren’t recyclable. Skip the ribbons and bows- you can get some great all paper options that look great but can be recycled! One fun thing you can do is use paper you already have to wrap your gifts. It might not be holiday-themed, but it can reduce your waste output (I’m actually using the wrapping from my toilet paper rolls! I use a company (https://us.whogivesacrap.org – the toilet paper is made from recycled paper, so no more trees*!) and their rolls are wrapped in cute paper (no plastic at all!) My partner and I decided the paper was too cute to throw away, so we’re wrapping gifts in them. 

Here’s what a lot of thrift stores look like right now- tons and tons of holiday decorations! Go there first, stock up, and save them from the landfill! Encourage your friends to do the same (image from https://livingthegoodwilllife.wordpress.com/tag/holidays/)

Gifts

This is a big conversation. Simply put, we have to do something to reduce our constant purchasing of new things that will eventually end up in a landfill. That doesn’t mean we have to change our gift-giving traditions, but there are ways of gift-giving without the carbon footprint. 

Appliances. How many of us are looking at new tablets, phones, robot vacuums, or instant pots this holiday season? So many of the Black Friday sales are dedicated to these types of gifts right now. 

First, we really need to consider holding on to our phones and tablets and other devices for as long as possible- these things use Rare Earth materials that, as you might have guessed, are rare- we can only mine them for so much longer. So consider holding on to your current devices until you absolutely need to get a new one. 

If you really want a new kitchen appliance, try going on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace! For example, my partner has really been wanting to try out an instant pot, but neither of us were willing to buy one. In our area, people are listing their used instant pots that they used once or twice and decided they didn’t want them! Try buying a gently used one for a holiday gift- it saves a ton of money and you’re reducing your carbon footprint by not buying a new appliance. 

There are SO many things you can buy used or refurbished- just try! Books, furniture, appliances, children’s toys, and more can very often be found almost brand new for so much less. Before buying something new, see if you can find it used, instead! Last week when I was thrift store shopping, the section of children’s toys was huge! All of the toys looked to be in great condition- for those of you shopping for kids out there, see if you can’t give a toy a second home. Often, that toy only needs a little TLC to make it as good as new (seriously- I think the entire stock of Paw Patrol toys was there!). 

Experiences. This holiday season, consider giving the gift of something to do. How about buy a loved one a zoo or aquarium membership, tickets to see the latest movie, a gift certificate for a massage, or a chance to go to a museum they’ve always wanted to see? Gifts like this, that can be shared together, can make wonderful memories that won’t contribute nearly as much to a landfill.  I don’t know about you, but I cherish the time spent with family much more so than any gift. 

Practical gifts. We can also consider giving someone practical gifts! I know this might sound weird, but my mom’s annual holiday gift to me while I was in graduate school was paying for my bunny’s annual checkup at the vet office. It was a gift of love, for sure, and made me smile because it was something I really needed. Consider giving the loved ones in your life things that they could use- maybe a pack of silicone, plastic free sponges? A set of plastic free freezer bags? Maybe take your friend who’s in grad school grocery shopping? There are all kinds of great gifts that will be useful and not get discarded are great! 

Holiday Baking. Really, my favorite part of the holiday- cookies and cakes! Consider not using plastic wrap to wrap your goodies, if you can help it. Wrap them in paper, or beeswax, or go to the thrift store and pick up a dozen of those holiday themed tins (seriously- there are so many there!) Consider that the wrapping will often be discarded, so try to move away from stuff that can’t be recycled or will end up in the landfill. Also, baking is a great gift if you want to move away from giving someone an item that might not be used or might end up in a landfill! Do you have a killer banana bread recipe? Do you love making cute iced cookies? Make someone’s day and bring them some! 

I hope all of you reading this have a holiday season filled with joy, time with loved ones, and relaxation. If we all make a few small changes to how we approach the holiday season, we can all reduce our carbon impact! Happy holidays, everyone! 

*This toilet paper company is not giving me any kickbacks for this site link! I just really like them for their environmentally friendly policies!

Using glacial erratics to study nautiloids in eastern New York

Nautiloid cephalopods from the Rickard Hill facies of the Saugerties Member of the Schoharie Formation, eastern New York, USA (late Emsian, Devonian): A case study in taphonomy 

Martin A. Becker, Harry M. Maisch IV, Rebecca A. Chamberlain, John A. Chamberlain Jr., Christi G. Kline, and Clint F. Mautz

Summarized by Leighanne Haverlin. Leighanne Haverlin is a geology major at the University of South Florida. She will graduate in December of 2019 and plans to enter the workforce in the field of environmental consulting, coastal geology, or geophysics. After some time working, she hopes to further her education and earn a master’s of science in one of the fields previously mentioned. In her free time, she enjoys running, kayaking, and listening to music. 

What data were used? Glacial fragments containing Nautiloid cephalopods found in the Rickard Hill facies (RHf; facies refer to a certain group of rocks that share the same characteristics) of Lower New York and northern New Jersey were compared to outcrops from the Helderberg Mountains near Clarksville, New York. 

Methods: This study used petrographic thin sections (microscope analysis of the rock) along with hand samples to look at chemical and physical erosion to determine depositional environment (the environments in which rocks were formed in) and lifestyle of nautiloids, animals closely related to the octopus today. 129 specimens in glacial fragments from the RHf were examined. 

Results: By studying the nautiloid assemblages, the study determined that the depositional environment was an inner shelf reef. The glacial erratics (rock that is different than the surrounding rock where it lies) that were found in the Lower Hudson Valley of New York were similar to the rock found in the Helderberg Mountains of New York which are approximately 200 km to the north. The erratics contain nautiloid fossils with coiled and orthoconic (long and narrow) shapes. They were physically and chemically weathered when the Laurentide Ice Sheet, the major ice sheet that covered much of northern North American approximately 20,00 years ago) moved. The nautiloid fossils that were found were determined to be assembled after their death in an area that sustained living organisms. This deposition occurred during a sea level regression (a sea level drop). The RHf glacial fragments featured jointed bedding that is also present in the outcrop in Clarksville, NY. For 5,000 years, the nautiloids were eroded during the movement of the ice sheet and experienced dissolution (meaning they and the rock they were contained in began to dissolve over time) which exposed and preserved structures. The study determined that the depositional environment was an inner shelf reef that harvested great biodiversity (a high number of species of animals). To confirm this hypothesis, it was argued that it is uncommon for dead organisms (especially nautiloids) to drift very far distances after death because the shells would sink to the sea floor. It was determined that juvenile nautiloids lived in a different depositional environment than adults, which explains the large size of the nautiloids in the RHf. The nautiloids were continually buried and unburied due to storm events and sea level change. This same hypothesis was used to understand the fossil assemblages of the Wadleigh Formation in Alaska, the Cherry Valley Limestone in NY, and the Trebotov Chotec Limestone in the Czech Republic

Nautiloid casts from RHf glacial erratics. Both orthoconic (long and narrow) and coiled forms are depicted in the image.

Why is this study important? Prior to this study, no research had been conducted that explained the conditions that resulted in the large numbers and sizes of both coiled and long and narrow (orthoconic) nautiloid cephalopods. This study provided evidence that indicates that much of what we thought we understood of cephalopod ecology (where an animal lives and how it interacts with other animals) and preservation needs to be revised. This was also the first study that used glacial erratics and principles of sequence stratigraphy to address the lives of an assemblage of nautiloids which makes this study unique. 

The big picture: This study used a new method of using glacial erratics and principles of stratigraphy to determine the lifestyle of a species. Nautiloid adults and juveniles are not found in the same depositional environment. The glacial erratics that do not belong to the RHf show similar assemblages of nautiloids which can be analyzed using the same method. Overall, the study brought in a new method of studying taphonomy which could be used in future studies.   

Citation: Becker, M.A, Maisch, H.M., Chamberlain, R.A., Chamberlain, J.A., Kline, C.G. and Mautz, C.F.., 2018, Nautiloid cephalopods from the Rickard Hill facies of the Saugerties Member of the Schoharie Formation, eastern New York, USA (late Emsian, Devonian): A case study in taphonomy : Palaeontologia Electronica, 21.3.42. https://doi.org/10.26879/896

Hidden Disabilities: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

This post is part of a new series on Time Scavengers about Hidden Disabilities and how these affect us during graduate school, throughout our careers, and in the field and lab.  We welcome contributions from our community, friends, and colleagues to this impactful series.


Please welcome Ranjeev, a guest blogger here at Time Scavengers (click here to read more about Ranjeev and his research on our Meet the Scientist blog)!

What is it really like to be me

Imagine you are perfectly “normal” (a term that is used by “society” to refer to people that conform to the accepted morphological, physiological and/or behavioral norms) on the outside but on the inside, it is a whole different story, a complete nightmare where you are trapped inside a body constantly working under a “battery saving mode”: unable to stick to a schedule; living constantly stressed and anxious unsure of how the day is going to be or at work in pain and in mental distress so much so that you are unable to concentrate on anything but you make a conscious effort to keep a “poker face” so that you don’t worry your peers. Can you imagine? If so, welcome to my world. Hi! My name is Ranjeev, I am a PhD student and I suffer from several hidden disabilities including Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a complicated chronic illness of the gut, which troubles me the most and is the basis of this writing. I should send out an early warning to the readers as this post is ironically written from the gut. Thus, if bowel movements are not your cup of tea, this is definitely not something you should proceed reading.

I have had IBS probably all my life, but recently, flare-ups have been more frequent and prolonged making my life interesting and challenging. Having said that, life is not always going downhill. There are good times and times that we are able to persevere through pain and discomfort. With IBS and several other hidden illnesses, I have accomplished a fair bit in my professional and personal life. I have been employed as a Probationary Lecturer (Junior Faculty), a teaching assistant and research assistant; completed a Bachelors and a Master’s degree, topping the batch in both; published and presented research, and I am about to start the third year of my PhD program. This post is not meant to provide any medical advice or by no means a success story. The content provided below are purely based on my own experiences and I’m well-aware that my methods of coping are not perfect. The objective of this post is to share my journey in the hopes that there will be bits and pieces that are relatable and helpful, and to create awareness about hidden disabilities within academia.

A hidden disability is basically a disability that is not visible on the outside. IBS, in my opinion, is indeed not apparent to the outside world at first, but there are many indications that clearly suggest that there is something wrong. With IBS, there are many possible symptoms which vary from person to person. Commonly there will be food intolerances, altered bowel habits, nausea, cramping, stomach pain, etc. The part that would be most apparent to the outside are behavioral changes like being always late or taking excessive leave from work, lack of energy, not participating in social gatherings, isolating yourself, and periodic weight loss. What triggers IBS flare-ups? Well, it could be anything from stress to what we eat and drink or in my case, trivial variables like what toothpaste I use or changes in the weather. Basically, I recognize the controllables (i.e. eating the right food in appropriate portions), moderate controllables (i.e. minor stress levels) and the uncontrollables (severe stress, weather, etc.). These are indeed interrelated and typically follow a cyclic pattern.

IBS and Grad School

The first point I would like to highlight is that success in grad school, in my opinion, is not maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA or publishing like a printing press. Rather, it’s doing your best and enjoying what you do. Grad school can often be a challenging if we mix up these two, and thus provide the easiest source of triggers for IBS and associated mental health woes.  As a graduate student, IBS offers some unique challenges to me. When I first stated grad school in 2015, I would always be late for the morning classes. It is no secret that people with IBS have a hard time getting out of their homes, because our bowels have a mind of their own and the phrase “trust your gut” does not work with us. Although I had already discussed with my advisor about my issues, I was initially reluctant to say why I was late for my classes. Obviously, no one likes to talk about the things that leave your body, nor would anyone want to listen to something like that. This is, in a way, a result of how most of us are brought up by society where we elaborate on all its glory on the food we eat but not on the excretory processes, which makes it so much harder for people having health issues to communicate or seek support. Subsequently, it came to a point where my professors thought I was being disrespectful, and I then let everything out. My professors were very understanding and supportive.  Since then, even after moving to a new college, I have communicated with all my professors about my IBS and the possibility of me missing, showing up late or leaving class early. I assured them that my absence does not mean that I will be taking things easy. Actually, it meant more work on my part because I would have to go through material on my own and possibly end up reading a lot more reference articles.

However, by communicating with my professors, what happened was almost a miracle. My anxiety and stress levels dropped, and my GI was more manageable. I performed well in classes, got my teaching and grading done efficiently and my research was going well. But there are always potholes on the road. For me, flare-ups tend to occur close to finals and when I get work piled up. The best way I would address these is have a regular schedule and place deadlines on myself, making sure I am on top of things. In doing so, my week is pre-structured, and I would get things done more effectively. Additionally, one piece of medical advice I got was to stick to a daily behavioral pattern, i.e. waking up, ablutions, eating and going to bed consistently at the same time each day. However, we all know that this is not always possible.  At an extreme end, we have all pulled all-nighters. They are indeed helpful but there should be limit where the benefit of getting work done is offset by the lack of awareness, the inability to concentrate and your bodily functions thrown out of whack.

Maintaining this balance is highly subjective and you should never compare your peers’ functional patterns and capabilities with yours. When I feel that my anxiety is getting out of hand because of exams or any other college related issue, I often have a pep talk with my GI and my head because they have a tendency to plot things together. Remember, your best is all you can do, so don’t over think, just do it, do it in the best possible way under the given circumstances! We often spend a lot more time (over)thinking about a task rather than the time we spend on actually doing it. This is more prevalent among people with hidden chronic illnesses because (A) our illness is not visible, and (B) we have to always be prepared and have alternatives ready just in case things go pear shaped. But in reality, “doing” is the easy part and thinking too much is what over-complicates things leading to panic attacks and flare-ups, but anxiety is part and parcel of chronic illnesses and needs to be managed with or without help.

Grad school is undoubtedly an eventful period in our lives. Professional gatherings like conferences provide excellent opportunities to learn and talk cool science, meet your favorite researchers, present your work and get insights on improvements, share your ideas with the community and, importantly, de-stress. Personally, I find such meetings and networking challenging.  For me the thought of leaving my comfort zone brings in a lot of anxiety which can turn into a bad flare-up. So, what do I do? I prepare myself in several ways.

Taking Care of the Controllables

  1. If this is my first time going to a specific meeting, the first thing I do is talk with my advisor and discuss our expectations and ask for any advice. This I find to be very important because my advisor obviously has been to similar conferences and has great insight and tips for successful participation, which in turn can reduce a lot of the anxiety caused by the unknowns. Once you have been to one such meeting, your confidence is often boosted, and you will experience less anxiety in the future.
  2. Preparing your meals and medication: If I am traveling outside, I would make sure to have my “safe foods” packed and ready. But this is not always feasible. You really can’t carry one weeks’ worth of food to a conference in a different state. Thus, I would do a thorough web search on restaurants that would cater food that agrees with me. Most professional meetings also provide food and inquire about food restrictions from their participants. I would also have medication sorted in a travel friendly arrangement because you never know when they can come in handy.
  3. It’s no secret that IBS sufferers frequent restrooms more regularly. Thus, I would have a good idea about locations of restrooms. There are a number of apps now available to find the nearest restroom (check out a list of a few of these apps here).
  4. One of the biggest mistakes that I do is eat less prior to travel or presentations. Believe me it’s a bad idea. I recommend having your regular meals and patterns rather than confusing the already sensitive digestive tract.
  5. Anyone in academia, however senior they might be, have had butterflies in their stomach at some point in their professional career. However, in IBS sufferers this benign and innocent form can change into fire breathing dragons simply by hitting the panic attack button. The method I follow to avoid panic attacks is trying to focus my attention on something totally different. If by any chance, you hit the button, I try to be mindful that what I’m imagining, often the worst-case scenario imaginable, was created in my head and communicated to the stomach. In reality, it’s just a false alarm because you have followed all necessary dietary precautions and there is no real reason for you to become sick. If this fails, I would calm myself by talking with a friend, getting some fresh air or by just going to the restroom. The interesting thing is that once you get into your presentation or meeting, your butterflies and dragons calm down and go back to sleep like magic.

Moderate Controllables and Uncontrollables

The best comforts you have as an academic who suffers from a hidden disability is your family, advisor, and peers. I am blessed with a wonderful and caring family, advisor and friends who understands my limitations and needs and help me in every way possible.  The fact that I don’t have to hide anything about my disability reduces the anxiety and gives me assurance and comfort that I have support  I can rely on.

Often times however, the anxiety and IBS are at levels that you cannot deal with yourself. This is a good time to make use of the mental health resources offered by your university, which in most cases are actually free of charge or part of your school fee. I have had several appointments and had excellent results from my sessions. You should freely talk about your concerns however crazy you may think they are. In all honesty, you are not the only one imagining such scenarios and in my experience the professionals have heard almost every story possible. I cannot stress this enough, there is no shame in getting help for mental health. It does not by any means make you inferior nor should be subject to be ridiculed or be judged. Actually, once you have had some good sessions, you are more likely to be mentally capable to face challenges better under stressful situations than others.

Fieldwork and IBS

Can someone with IBS become a paleontologist? Yes! Paleontology is often seen as a highly field based discipline. This is not exactly accurate. There are many aspects of paleontology that you can do “indoors”. Some examples include database associated analytical work and research on museum samples. I started out as a field-based paleontologist but at present my research is mainly lab-based due to my IBS. However, one should remember that one type is not inferior over the other. When doing field work, I would follow the same procedures mentioned earlier. It is always a good idea to be prepared well in advance and one thing that I experienced is that once I’m in the field, I forget my gut completely. But sometimes, you come to the realization of your limits. This should not be seen as a blow, but rather an opportunity to prospect for novel opportunities brought up as a result of your health. Quoting my advisor “you can do more to your field of research by taking good care of yourself”. Thus, self-care is good for both you and your field of research.

Supporting People with IBS

I do agree that it is hard at first, to understand how the minds and bodies of people with hidden disabilities work. And inadvertently, through no malicious intent at all, you are bound to say something that will make us uncomfortable. In such an instance, we are never angry but are put into a place where we are unable to provide a “sane” response. In a nutshell for most IBS sufferers, almost all conscious decisions we make, how trivial they might be, goes across our guts before it’s put into action. So the productivity or simply the ability to do something often rely on the stability of our guts. The best way to help someone with IBS or any other hidden disability is to be knowledgeable about the condition, know the limitations and remember that you are not there to cure but to give support.

De-stressing and managing anxiety are important components of managing IBS. However, people often mistake and sometimes irritate us by saying “oh! it’s all in your head”. There is a definite connection with your head, but it is never the sole reason. The only way that can happen is doodled below.

For Others with IBS

There are number of ways I de-stress. Taking frequent short breaks; talking with my friends; walking around campus; listening to music, etc. In the new age of technology, we can be connected to people with IBS on the other side of the globe with a simple click of a key or a swipe. Social media I find to be a very comforting source to vent and to seek support from fellow “warriors”. I use social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to share my story, provide support to anyone in need and doodle funny memes about my condition. The latter not only to de-stress but also can be used to create awareness among the general audience and within academia. However, this should be done in a conscientious way such that you are laughing together than laughing at someone! The online community in my experience has been extremely supportive because they understand and can relate to what you are feeling. Not only do you get a chance to meet people, you can have the chance to inspire and be inspired by the struggles shared. However, NEVER compare your health condition with that of another. This is a big NO NO because you will inadvertently neglect self-care because someone else has it much worse!

Another point I would like to remind my fellow “warriors” is not to indulge and always be mindful about your food intake. Often times, I would CONSCIOUSLY consume a trigger food (e.g. ice cream) well aware of its consequences. This is often the case when either I’m stressed to a point that I don’t care and/or to celebrate a personal achievement (treating yourself) or in lieu of a long holiday. The justification of the latter two is I will enjoy this now and suffer later. But when you suffer, you not only go down into a mental low but also lose a lot of productivity because you may need a substantial recovery time. So my advice is not to let your five senses override your mental calmness and misdirect you to indulge in trigger foods/drinks. Having a lot of food intolerances, it is important to check with your healthcare team if you require supplements and/or figure out a good diet plan. Without the proper nutrition, it is obvious your productivity will be low.

In this post, I intentionally avoided discussing how our personal lives and interactions (with spouse/partner/family etc.) are affected by hidden disabilities. Your close family is definitely the best source of comfort, help and support in your academic life. But this would be a whole different topic. But I do want to highlight an important point which is often not talked about at all. Typically, we the hidden disability bearers receive the most care and support from the outside world. But our immediate families also go through almost the same level of trauma and we should be mindful to do our best to limit the stress and provide them with as much comfort and support as possible. Typically, mental health and other forms of support available to you are also available to your spouse and /or immediate family members. Be aware of them and make use of these resources.

In sum, I would like to conclude by suggesting you all to share your story to inspire, to let others know that they are not alone, share tips and tricks that worked for you and share your story to create awareness and de-stigmatize! Personally, as someone with a hidden disability, there is no greater pleasure than reading someone else’s story about how they overcame their adversities.