New Species of Chalk Forming Organisms and Further Accumulations Found within the Faafu Atoll, Maldives

New Species of Chalk Forming Organisms and Further Accumulations Found within the Faafu Atoll, Maldives 

Summarized by Nathan Baker, who is a senior and future geologist at the University of South Florida. His interest in the geosciences lie within geophysics and tectonics. He hopes to attend graduate school in structure and plate tectonic studies. Outside the classroom, Nathan enjoys going to the gym, hanging out with friends, and being active outdoors. 

Hypothesis: This research aims to pinpoint the distribution of coccolithophores, a type of algae and microorganism too small to be seen by the naked human eye (and the organism that chalk is composed of), in the Faafu Atoll of the Indian Ocean’s Maldives while introducing a new species, Alisphaera bidentata. The study delves into the variety of coccolithophore species in the ocean, examining the correlation between the number of species and water temperature through measuring a number of different variables, explained below. Moreover, this paper provides insight into the ecological and environmental impacts that these microorganisms have on the climate.

Data Used: The study analyzes the area surrounding the island using various data points, such as location, depth, time, weather, temperature, conductivity, pH, O2 levels, O2 saturation percentage, and the amount of chlorophyll in the water. Scientists also collected and identified samples of coccolithophores to determine species diversity. 

Methods: As part of this study, three water samples were collected from Faafu between November 2nd and November 6th, 2018. The samples were taken from both deep reefs (between 45 m and 3050 m deep) and flat reefs (which separate lagoons and the deep ocean). Each sample was recorded with a GPS device. Water temperature and oxygen concentrations were measured at each location. Surface samples of water containing coccolithophores were collected from a boat using a bucket off the coast of the islands. Along with this, vertical water samples at 0 m, 10 m, 25 m, and 40 m deep were collected using devices that can withstand high-pressure environments in the deeper ocean. Once the samples were collected, water analysis began. The first step in analyzing the samples was filtration. Samples containing two liters of water were sent through filters that separated the organisms from the saltwater. These organisms were then dried and viewed under a microscope to record the number, concentration, and types of coccolithophores.

Results: Scientists found that the density of coccoliths in surface waters was lower than that in waters with depths of 1-2 m, and the density continued to increase towards the bottom depths in both the lagoon and deep ocean environments. When investigating the vertical samples, scientists noted that there was a 1℃ decrease in temperature, observed from the surface to depths of 40m, along with a decrease in oxygen concentration within the lagoon environment. Within the open ocean environment, there was a 0.5℃ decrease in temperature, along with a decrease in oxygen concentration. Chlorophyll readings demonstrated overall low concentrations at all stations but showed a slight increase at larger depths.

Out of the multiple coccoliths species identified (16), only two were abundantly common within both open water and lagoon areas. The most abundant species were Gephyrocapsa oceanica and Oolithotus antillarum (as shown in figure 1). The concentrations of G. oceanica and O. antillarum increased with depths in both the lagoon and deeper ocean. Within these increasing depths, minor species also became more prevalent. An interesting find was that all 16 species of coccoliths existed in all of the sampled environments. Researchers also discovered a new species of coccolith (Alisphaera bidentata), which among the lesser commonly occurring species in these samples; further testing will be needed to understand the organism’s lifestyle.

Left: circular coccolithophore comprised of thin ridged plates with a bridge in the middle of each plate. The plates are layered on each other in a stacked orientation building on top of each other.Right: circular coccolithophore comprised of thin smooth plates with a small pit in the center of each plate. These plates are layered on each other with each plate’s connection oriented in the southern direction. Each organism is approximately 5–10 micrometers in diameter.
Figure 1: Gephyrocapsa oceanica (left) and Oolithotus. Antillarum (right); modified from

Study Importance: This study mapped the overall abundance of coccolithophores of the island of Faafu Atoll in the Maldives. The data showed that, of the 16 species found, the most abundant were Gephyrocapsa oceanica and Oolithotus antillarum. Along with these major species, numerous minor species were also detected within the waters around Faafu. Scientists, through this study, were better able to quantify how coccolith diversity is related to water conditions. 

Broader Implications. This study is important due to the effects coccoliths can have on the environment. Coccolithophores can affect the environment through the use of photosynthesis. By removing CO2 within the oceans and atmosphere, coccolithophores play a role in stabilizing ocean acidity and atmospheric conditions, and broadly  play a role in stabilizing climate and ocean health. Additionally, the pH in the ocean can be influenced by the amount of CO2 removed from the water, which, in turn, can prevent marine disasters such as coral bleaching and red tides. Furthermore, comparing the data of these coccoliths to other regions of the world can help identify the rate of CO2 absorption and possibly identify reasons why certain regions are affected by global warming more than others.

Full citation: Malinverno, E., Leoni, B., & Galli, P. (2022). Coccolithophore assemblages and a new species of Alisphaera from the Faafu Atoll, Maldives, Indian Ocean. Marine Micropaleontology, 172, 102110.

Discovery of new fossil net-wing insect species in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

A new fossil lacewing (Ithonidae) from the Lower Cretaceous (Barremian-Aptian) Sinuiju Formation, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

By: Kwang Sik So and Chol Guk Won 

Summarized by Karla Rodriguez, a senior geology undergraduate major at the University of South Florida. She has always had an interest in hydrology and geophysics. She is currently a water quality scientific technician at the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Once she graduates, she is planning to continue work in the private sector of hydrogeology. Outside of work, she loves playing competitive video games, hoping to join tournaments in the future.

Hypothesis: The purpose of this research was to describe the first fossils of a net-wing insect, belonging to the lacewings group, found in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and establish these finds as an entirely new genus and species. This paper describes the morphology of Sinuijuala paekthoensis gen. et sp. nov. (gen. et. sp. nov. means new genus and species), and compares it to known, related lacewings.

Data used: Recovered Sinuijuala paekthoensis specimens were encapsulated in a portion of shale (fine-grained sedimentary rock deposited in aquatic environments) within the Lower Cretaceous Sinuiju Formation, located in Sinuiju City, North P’yŏngan province of DPRK.  The lacewings were continuously buried by sediment, flattening the organisms. However, the burial allowed for unique preservation of wing features, head, and thorax (the middle part of the body). Wing venation provides one-of-a-kind patterns that can distinguish net-winged individuals, like lacewings, from other types of winged insects.

Methods: All recovered specimens were kept in the Paleontology laboratory at Kim II Sung University, which is in Pyongyang, DPRK. Microscope photographs of recovered Sinuijuala paekthoensis were taken with a Zeiss Discovery V20 microscope. Drawings of the images were created using Adobe Photoshop software. The number and positions of veins in the wing of the samples were measured using a microscope.

Results: This study provides the first documentation of lacewing fossils in DPRK. Researchers determined that Sinuijuala paekthoensis shares similarities with Ithonidae, a taxonomic family grouping of lacewings. Features like the lack of regular wing veining in part of the wing, and the branching of cross veins further in the middle anterior of the wing, as seen in Figure 1, are shared with the insect family, Ithonidae. Other fossils that have been found in the Sinuiju Formation are fossils of woody plants, indicating Sinuijuala was likely a woodland insect, similar to modern lacewings. 

The top two photographs are both sides of a recovered Sinuijuala paekthoensis gen. et sp. nov. sample, shown side by side. Black and white wing venation drawings are underneath their respective reference photographs. Vein abbreviations which specify parts of the wing are next to the drawings: R, radius; Rs, radial sector; MA, media anterior; MP, media posterior; CuA, cubitus anterior; R1, first branch of R; C, costa; Sc, subcostal. The photographs and drawings are shown with 2.0 mm scale bars. A US nickel is around 2.0 mm thick. The specimens are cemented in yellowish shale; wing, the thorax, and the head is clearly seen on the surface. The wings have Sc veins that start closest to the body, and branch out into Rs, MA, MP, and CuA veins away from the body.
Figure 1. Two photographs of a specimen of Sinuijuala paekthoensis gen. et sp. nov. (A, B) and corresponding line drawings (C, D) which illustrate observed wing venation in the sample image. Vein abbreviations are used to distinguish parts of the wing: R, radius; Rs, radial sector; MA, media anterior; MP, media posterior; CuA, cubitus anterior; R1, first branch of R; C, costa; Sc, subcostal. The wings have subcostal veins that start closest to the body as singular veins, and branch out into multiple veins veins away from the body. There were many subcostal veins observed, but fewer costal cross veins were present, which the authors noted as important in describing this particular fossil.

Why is this study important? The recovered specimens introduce a new genus and species of lacewings. This study was the first to find lacewings in DPRK, expanding the geographic range of these insects and increasing the total biodiversity of lacewings in the Early Cretaceous. The discovery of the net-winged insects here suggests the Sinuiju Formation may represent similar environments to other geological formations of the same age, such as the Yixian Formation in the People’s Republic of China, the Crato Formation in Northeast Brazil, and many others. 

Broader Implications beyond this study: Finding new species of lacewings in DPRK shows that new discoveries can expand the biodiversity and biogeographic range of fossil insects, which are not commonly preserved in the fossil record. The compaction of the shale allowed for rare preservation of their delicate wings and unique features. Knowing more about how they were preserved, too, may help us identify other places where delicate organisms may have been encapsulated in sediment and fossilized. There are many more insect species waiting to be discovered, including but not limited to, lacewings!

Citation: So, & Won, C. G. (2022). A new fossil lacewing (Ithonidae) from the Lower Cretaceous (Barremian-Aptian) Sinuiju Formation, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Cretaceous Research, 138, 105288.

Newly discovered fossil evidence of a close relative to all animals (Animalia)

First putative occurrence in the fossil record of choanoflagellates, the sister group of Metazoa

Carolina Fonseca, João Graciano Mendonça Filho, Matías Reolid, Luís V. Duarte, António Donizeti de Oliveira, Jaqueline Torres Souza & Carine Lézin 

Summarized by Jacob Fogg, who  is a student at the University of South Florida studying geology. All his life he has been interested in the natural world and how it works. He came into USF as an undeclared major and after taking an intro environmental science course, he was hooked. Jacob hopes to work in some capacity as a geologist when he graduates from USF in 2023. 

Purpose of Study: Choanoflagellates are single celled organisms that have been found to be the closest living relative to animals that we know of. We know this because sponges, which are a part of the animal kingdom, contain cells called choanocytes that behave in the same manner as choanoflagellates. Despite knowing a great deal about these organisms and their relationship with animals, scientists have never found evidence of them in the fossil record until now. With new fossil evidence of choanoflagellates, scientists can now study the structure and function of these organisms, in relation to how they work in animals, and the environment in which they lived many years ago.

Data Used: 22 rock samples were collected from the Betic Mountain System in southern Spain. These rocks are from the Cretaceous Period, approximately 100 million years ago, when this area was a shallow sea. The samples contained a material called kerogen, which is a form of organic matter that has undergone heat and pressure. If kerogen is continuously exposed to more heat and pressure, then it will eventually become the natural gas that we use in our everyday lives. It was in the kerogen that scientists were able to find the preserved choanoflagellate fossils.

Methods: Researchers crushed up the collected samples and treated it with an acid bath to remove the rock material. Then, they concentrated the kerogen using a heavy liquid and centrifuged the kerogen (meaning, the scientists placed the samples in a machine that spun the kerogen, causing it to separate from any excess water). The kerogen was then placed on slides and examined under a microscope and exposed to white and blue florescent lights to pick out organic particles. It was here where scientists were able to find choanoflagellate fossils. The fossils were then analyzed through the process of confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM). This process takes microscopic photos of the samples using high resolution imaging, which can be used to create a 3D model of what you are imaging. CLSM is a very sophisticated imaging process.

Results:  Using the 3D model from CLSM (Fig. 1), scientists were able to directly observe the structure of the choanoflagellates. In the model they created, scientists could see how the choanoflagellates form colonies. The choanoflagellates do this by constructing intercellular bridges and using their filopodia (similar to antennas) to connect their cell bodies together and create a large colony. Scientists were also able to make out the cell bodies of individual choanoflagellates and their flagella (similar to tails). When analyzing the organic material of the rocks, scientists were able to find other microorganisms, such as freshwater microplankton. This suggests that the choanoflagellates in the samples collected were in freshwater environment. Now, in the future, if we find choanoflagellate fossils somewhere in the world, we can infer what type of environment was likely present when the choanoflagellates were living.

Photos A-F look like a hairy ball. The ball is composed of the individual cell bodies of the choanoflagellates which looks like smaller round structures. The hair coming from the large ball is the flagellate of the individual cells. The hairy ball is approximately 60 micrometers in diameter. That’s 0.06 millimeters!
Figure shows the 3D model of choanoflagellates constructed from CLSM. Photo A shows a choanoflagellate colony. They bind together and use their tails (flagella (flagellum singular), the wavy lines that come off of the round structure) to grab food and bring it into the colony. Photos D and F show the cell body of an individual member of the colony.

Why is this study important?  This study is important because choanoflagellates are the link between bacterial organisms and sponges, which are likely among the earliest evolved animals. This means that choanoflagellates are one of the most closely related living things to animals, despite not being animals themselves. . Understanding how these organisms form colonies and sustain themselves can give us insight into how the compare to similar cells that are contained in animal bodies. We can then get a better understanding of how animal cells work.

Broader Implications beyond this study: Now that we have fossilized evidence of choanoflagellates, we have a link between animals and eukaryotic cells. With further research, we may be able to find transitional fossils that show how choanoflagellates became incorporated into animal cells, like in sponges. 

Citation: Fonseca, C., Mendonça Filho, J. G., Reolid, M., Duarte, L. V., de Oliveira, A. D., Souza, J. T., & Lézin, C. (2023). First putative occurrence in the fossil record of choanoflagellates, the sister group of Metazoa. Scientific Reports13, 1242.

Geology from the air

By Stephen Hill and Amanda Fischer. Stephen wrote the text and Amanda provided the images.

The geology you can see from an airplane is truly spectacular- the sights of the world below have enchanted most everyone who has taken an airplane. In this post, we walk you through the geology behind some of the sights you might see from the skies going across the western United States. Next time you take a flight, look out the window and learn more about the geology all around us! 

Most people are aware that there are volcanoes in the western United States (U.S.) thanks to the frequent headlines of some of the large strato-volcanoes (e.g., more cone-shaped volcanoes, like Mt. Saint Helens) in the Cascades of Washington and of course the “doomsday” headline-maker, the Yellowstone caldera or “super-volcano.” What many folks are not aware of are the many smaller volcanic fields that dot the South-Western U.S. including Arizona and New Mexico, even though they are often responsible for some of the iconic mesas and plateaus associated with those states. The 8,000 square mile (about the area of Vermont) Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field of New Mexico is one such example. 

The first occurrence of volcanism at the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field in New Mexico is thought to have occurred around 50 million years ago and has had sporadic eruption events to as recent as 30,000 years ago. Image 1 was taken while flying over this volcanic field. Visible in the center of the frame is a textbook example of what geoscientists call a cinder cone (or scoria cone) volcano: this one in particular is called Capulin Volcano. Cinder cones are the most common type of intraplate volcano (i.e., a volcano not located on the boundary of a tectonic plate) and are formed when fountains of lava erupt from a volcanic vent. As the lava is ejected into the air, it cools into rock and ash and begins to collect around the vent. Over a period of constant or spaced-out eruptions, this accumulation will form the cone shape you see. Capulin represents some of the younger activity in the field, estimated to be 30,000 years old which is why it retains its textbook shape–– it hasn’t yet been weathered away, like some of the older features of the field.

View from airplane of topography and some meandering rivers of light-colored rocks. In center is a cone shaped volcano.
Image 1. Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field (New Mexico, USA). In the center is the cinder cone volcano, Capulin Volcano

The older a feature is, the more time it has spent exposed to the weathering processes of Earth’s surface; this can drastically alter the way some volcanic features look. If we look at Image 2, we can see an expanded view of Image 1. Now, a second cinder cone is visible at the bottom of the frame. In between the two cinder cones, we can see two features that look like squiggly outlines with flat tops. These are called mesas now, and they’ve been worn down over many, many years of weathering and erosion, primarily from wind and rain. 

View from airplane of topography and some meandering rivers of light-colored rocks. In lower left corner is a cone shaped volcano. A lot of the topography has been worn down from erosion, so features are flatter than they were when they would have formed
Image 2. Another view of Capulin Volcano (lower left) in the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field, with mesas throughout, formed from weathering and erosion

Weathering and erosion are also responsible for some of the most spectacular aerial scenery you will see over the Western US (e.g., the Grand Canyon). Visible in Image 3 is Glen Canyon, which, just like the Grand Canyon, has been cut by the mighty waters of the Colorado River. The geology of this area is primarily dominated by sandstone (i.e., Navajo & Wingate sandstones) which have been eroded by the flow of the river over the course of millions of years. The meanders of the river are cut into the sandstones and leave traces of the river’s path from years gone by: this produces many spectacular views. Viewing erosive patterns from a bird’s eye view can also help inquisitive minds better understand runoff and the creation of rivers/watersheds, as seen in Image 4.

Canyon- features formed from a river- evidence of the river is currently still there, winding around and evidence of where the river was years ago is, too, as evidenced by the rock patterns where water cut into them
Image 3. Glen Canyon, formed by water of the Colorado River
patterns of water run off cut into rocks from a bird’s eye view: water ran down the tops of higher topographic features and cut into them, leaving behind patterns of how the water moved down it.
Image 4. Patterns of erosion from wind and water movement leave behind these gorgeous views that we can appreciate from above

Using Modern Rainforests to Study Fern-Insect Interactions in the Fossil Record

Fern-Arthropod Interactions from The Modern Upland Southeast Atlantic Rainforest Reveals Arthropod Damage Insights to Fossil Plant-Insect Interactions

Summarized by: Haley Vantoorenburg is a geology major at the University of South Florida. Haley currently researches encrusting organisms on Paleozoic brachiopods and plans to work closely with fossil preparation and preservation studies in the future.

What was the hypothesis being tested (if no hypothesis, what was the question or point of the paper)? Ferns were some of the first plants to have evolved broad leaves (fronds) in the fossil record (the earliest known records are about 360 million years old). These broad leaves allow large areas of insect damage from insects present while the plant was alive to be preserved. Modern and fossil ferns can be compared against one another to understand what insect interactions were present throughout geologic time, and the ways these interactions have either changed or remained constant. 

What data were used?: This study examined 17 types of damage (grouped into categories by the method used to cause the damage or by the area of the leaf affected; see Methods below) caused by insects, using both fossil ferns from multiple collection sites and modern ferns from a rainforest in southern Brazil. Ferns were chosen because, as opposed to other plant types, their broad leaves increase access for insect predation and modern broad-leafed ferns are very similar to some of their fossil relatives. Ferns became abundant in the Carboniferous (359.2–299 Mya). In the Carboniferous, records of arthropod (spider and insect) damage to plants also became more frequent. While insects are often not preserved with the fossil ferns, the types of damage that prehistoric insects caused are very similar to the damage types observed today, even if we don’t know if the types of insects that made the damage are or aren’t similar. Because fossil ferns are so similar to their living relatives, and because ferns are one of the first broad-leaved plants, scientists can use modern ferns as models to study the oldest plant-arthropod interactions. 

Methods: This study used an area of rainforest with high humidity, many fern species, and high fern density to study modern ferns. A census of the ferns present and any records of insect-fern interactions were collected over a transitional area from the lower broad-leaf forest to the upland grassland. The damage type, richness per leaf, and damage size were recorded using hand lenses, calipers, and macroscopic and microscopic photography. Functional feeding groups (FFG) were made to categorize the types of insect damage. Damage from egg-laying and traces were also recorded. Damage was recorded using a damage type guide that described 413 different damage types. This was compared to compiled fossil fern data from many sites. 

Results: Even with 413 pre-established damage types, one new damage type was discovered in this study. This new damage type is a sub-type of surface feeding that features a series of rounded damage marks that was observed in both modern ferns and in multiple fossil ferns. Some types of damage were found rarely in modern ferns, but never in fossil ferns (hole feeding – the creation of separate holes in the leaf tissue – and galling – the development of waxy or swollen layers). Margin feeding (consuming only the edges of a leaf) was found in both fossil and modern ferns and included the most common damage types (46% of the damage observed). Surface feeding (damaging but not completely breaking through the leaf tissue) was recorded on both fossil and modern ferns (10%). Some types were found in modern and fossil plants, but some types were only found in angiosperms (i.e., flowering plants) in the fossil record and not fossil ferns (piercing and sucking, small points of damage or swollen leaf sections, 15%, and mining, creating subsurface damage, 8%). 

A bar chart with the number of observed instances on the left y-axis to match the bars and the types of functional feeding groups on the x-axis. It is overlain by a line representing the cumulative percentage. From left to right: Margin feeding, 220 instances and 46% of the total. Piercing-and-sucking, 73 instances, the cumulative total 61%. Hole feeding, unlabeled but about 52 instances, 72% the cumulative total. Surface feeding, 50 instances and 83% of the cumulative total. Mining, unlabeled but around 40 instances, 91% of the cumulative total. Hole feeding, 34 instances, 98% of the cumulative total. Galling, nine instances, 100% of the cumulative total.
Figure: A bar chart of the recorded damage types by functional feeding group, showing the dominance of margin feeding in the modern ferns in the Sao Francisco de Paula National Forest, municipality of Sao Francisco de Paula, Rio Grande do Sul, southern Brazil.

Why is this study important?: This study showed that modern ferns can provide a better understanding of the marks that different insect feeding methods cause and of the fossil record of these marks on similar ferns. Researchers found that the levels of precipitation impacted the amount and types of fern-insect interactions in modern ferns. This means that studying modern ferns can create models for studying past environmental conditions using fossil fern data. Additionally, there are fossil and modern instances of insect interactions that show a specialized association with specific ferns.

Broader Implications beyond this study: The similar rates of predation by insects on both modern and fossil plants show that ferns were important to herbivorous (plant-eating) arthropods throughout history. All FFGs identified in the fossil record were found in modern ferns, so understanding interactions in modern environments can be used to determine the environmental conditions of different fossil assemblages, such as the projected precipitation level of their environment. The prevalence of fern-arthropod interactions throughout history means that it can be used to study changes in these fern-arthropod relationships in geologic time and we may be able to use them to model the influence of climate change. 

Citation: Cenci, R., & Horodyski, R. S. (2022). Fern-Arthropod Interactions from the Modern Upland Southeast Atlantic Rainforest Reveals Arthropod Damage Insights to Fossil Plant-Insect Interactions. Palaios, 37(7), 349–367.

How the ability to swim affects crinoid arm regrowth rates

Ability to Swim (Not Morphology or Environment) Explains Interspecific Differences in Crinoid Arm Regrowth

Biography: Delaney Young. She is an undergraduate student at the University of South Florida. She is currently working on her geology B.S. and will graduate in the summer of 2023. She then plans to obtain her geology M.S. starting in the Spring of 2024. 

Point of the Paper: The main point of the paper was to determine how arm regeneration rates of feather stars (occurring after injuries), a kind of crinoid, vary. Scientists examined the swimming ability of crinoid species, available food supply, severity of the injury, water temperature, number of regenerated arms, and the total number of arms in order to understand what drives differences in regeneration rates. The authors of this study found that the swimming crinoids regenerated arms up to three times faster than non-swimming crinoids. 

What data were used? 123 adult feather starts from eight different species were collected at depth in the ocean during two sessions (December 2016 – April 2017 and June – October 2018) in Malatapay, Negros Oriental, Philippines. The respective maximum arm length, the maximum number of arms, and the arm regeneration were compared. 

Methods. To study the rates of arm regeneration amongst swimming and non-swimming crinoids, the animals were collected at depths ranging from 5 to 35 meters. In the 2016 expedition, the individuals were captured and had a few arms removed by researchers. The researchers would pinch a feather star’s arm until it was voluntarily released as a means for amputation. The mechanism of voluntary release is used as protection for the crinoids. Researchers caused the crinoids to amputate an average of 3–5 arms, but some amputated up to ten arms. The animals were brought back to their original habitat after they amputated their arms and scientists measured their regrowth rates. In the 2018 expedition, the animals were caught and put in bamboo cages with mesh material on every side. The mesh allowed food particles to enter the cage, and the cage dimensions allowed the feather stars with the longest arms to extend them to the fullest. To mark a starting point for every animal, the measurements of maximum arm length and maximum arm number were taken for each feather star. The swimming or non-swimming ability of eight species from Malatapay, Negros Oriental, Philippines, was recorded and compared to the respective maximum arm length, the maximum number of arms, and the arm regeneration rate. 

Results. Of the eight tropical feather stars collected in Malatapay, Philippines, the rate of arm regeneration ranged from 0.29–1.01 mm/day (Figure 1). The species included two swimming and six non-swimming feather stars. The swimming feather stars experienced regeneration rates of 0.89–1.01 mm/day. The lower of the two rates (0.89 mm/day) was higher than the highest non-swimming arm regeneration rate. The impacts of total arm number and total regenerating arm number on rates of regeneration were larger in non-swimmers than in swimmers. There was no notable relationship between the number of removed arms and the rate of regrowth.

Image showing a graph of arm regeneration rates by color-coded species of feather star, with regenerating arm length on the y-axis and time on the x-axis. The image shows the arm length (millimeters) over time (days) and the mean regeneration rate of eight tropical feather stars. The six non-swimming feather stars of Family Comatulidae (Anneissia bennetti, Capillaster multiradiatus, Clarkcomanthus mirabilis, Comaster nobilis, Comatella nigra, Phanogenia gracilis) are shown in shades of blue. The one swimming family Mariametridae (Oxymetra cf. erinacea, Stephanometra indica) is shown in shades of red, orange, and yellow. The 95% confidence interval of each curve is shown in gray. Oxymetra cf. erinacea and Stephanometra indica show higher rates of growth.
Figure 1: Modified from Stevenson et al. (2022). This graph depicts the arm regeneration rates per species used in this study. Swimming crinoids showed higher rates of regeneration than non-swimming crinoids.

Why is this study important? The researchers found that swimming ability alone best explains the differences in arm regeneration rates amongst the swimming and non-swimming feather stars. Swimming ability in feather stars is thought to be an adaptation from the need to escape predators that live on the seafloor. Feather stars that lost limbs while escaping predators would need to regrow limbs quickly, as having missing limbs would negatively affect the animal’s ability to escape predators in the future. The rate of regeneration, while controlled primarily by swimming ability, is still affected by temperature, but to a lesser degree. In cold water, biological processes slow down, so crinoids in cooler waters with other forms of protection would have had better chances at survival. Scientists could relate this to the way that fossilized crinoids look to help understand the environment they lived in.

Broader implications. This paper can be related to paleontology because knowing if a crinoid was swimming or non-swimming can inform scientists of the likely regeneration rate of arms of organisms in the fossil record. Knowing these pieces of information can potentially give researchers more clues about the predation pressures that a fossil crinoid may have faced. We could hypothesize, for example, that crinoids in cooler waters may have had other forms of protection or retrieval, as a survival mechanism for the slowed biological processes caused by cooler water. The results of this paper could be compared to fossilized crinoids, so researchers can understand the ancient marine environments and ecology of crinoids. 

Citation: Stevenson, A., Corcora, T. C. Ó., Harley, C. D. G., & Baumiller, T. K. (2022). Ability to Swim (Not Morphology or Environment) Explains Interspecific Differences in Crinoid Arm Regrowth. Frontiers in Marine Science, 8. 

Meet the Museum: Alexander Koenig Zoological Research Museum

Figure 1: This large diorama showcases elephants, zebras, lions, baboons, guinea fowl and much more, all in natural poses. The longer you wander around and look at it, the more you discover.

Linda and guest blogger Blandine here, for a little museum visit report! 

Figure 2: Deep in the tropical jungle you find these two chimps, a grown up and a baby, hidden between the bushes. A video is projected on the floor nearby, showing typical chimpanzee behavior.

Last year we visited the Alexander Koenig Zoological Research Museum or Museum Koenig for short,  located in Bonn, Germany. The museum is part of the Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change

Its main focus is the rich, high-quality taxidermy collection used to educate people about animals and their habitats, as well as environmental issues. The collection is also – as the name and affiliation of the museum implies – heavily used for biodiversity and zoology research. The museum was named after its founder Prof. Alexander Koenig, who worked on zoology with an expertise in bird biodiversity in the 19th and early 20th century. The museum still hosts many specimens that were collected by Koenig himself (for example two giraffes and many bird eggs).

Upon entering the building, visitors are greeted by a quite impressive diorama of African savanna fauna and flora ensembles, with naturalized pieces in dynamic poses (Fig. 1). Each animal seems almost alive, with real water dripping out of  the mouth of a zebra drinking in a pond, while a leopard bites an antelope’s throat. 

Figure 3: The desert room not only exhibits taxidermied animals, but also has a strong focus on geology related topics, for example it explains how dunes form and wander. Visitors are also encouraged to investigate different sands under the microscope to discover the diversity of sediments!

In addition to telling interesting stories, the diorama scenes allow the spectators to learn more about animals’ habits and behaviors. Often, audio tracks of both animal and environmental sounds are played in the background and many information sheets and panels (in German and English) are displayed on a variety of scientific topics. 

Figure 4: This exhibit on the history of the museum hosts a large variety of specimens, all of them older than 100 years! This includes a taxidermied pelican, the skull of a giraffe, several european fishes, sand boas, a beaver skeleton and much more.

In the next room you find yourself in a tropical jungle, where light effects play a huge role in the display of the naturalized specimens (Fig. 2). Here, the interactions between animals, plants and their environment are the main focus of the dioramas. The extremely realistic appearance of plants inside the cases is fascinating, as each and every of the hundreds of thousands leaves and twigs are actually plastic replicas that were hand painted by skilled artists, no two leaves are the same. In the dark forest, you can sit and watch short documentaries about apes or listen to an audio guide explaining interactions between ants and mushrooms in the tropical forests. The day we visited, on the first floor, we couldn’t visit the canopy of the rainforest, as the displays were still under construction. It has since then been opened to the public: A massive forest canopy diorama and multiple activities educating visitors further about the impact humans have on the rainforest, and people taking action to protect it. 

Figure 5: The interactive ‘consumer’s table’ allowing visitors to see the effects of their lifestyle choices immediately.

The museum then takes you along on a trip around the world, from Antarctica (seemingly the oldest part of the permanent exhibition, that maybe needs to be updated a little bit from a public outreach point of view, especially when compared to the brilliantly done new tropical forest exhibition) to the deserts, which has surprising and very educative, interactive displays (Fig. 3).

A substantial part of the permanent exhibition is dedicated to the history of the museum and the problems associated with it (e.g. colonialism), and its historic specimens (Fig. 4). This section also tackles the role of humans in the disappearance of species and the destruction of natural habitats. These themes, along with other important topics such as climate change, are brought up in several instances all across the museum. Visitors are invited to sit at the ‘consumer’s table’ interactive display, a great (but also eye-opening and saddening) tactile table with graphic representations that estimate and illustrate your use of natural resources and your impact as a consumer on deforestation. As you select lifestyle choices such as updating your phone for the newest model, selecting a car or public transport, choosing exotic woods over locally produced items, selecting your food choices, you can watch the forest deteriorate or heal with every choice you make (Fig. 5). On the other side of the first floor is an exhibition dedicated to the beautiful and colorful world of insects (Fig. 6). This area also gives insights into research work including an interactive exhibit of a taxonomist’s lab, including microscopes, maps, games and many many books. 

Figure 6: A large number of beetles are shown in this exhibit, of which we only captured this small section to showcase the diversity in color and shapes that beetles can have! Beetles are the most diverse order of animals on this planet, roughly ¼ of all living animal species discovered so far are beetles!

Then, there’s the more ‘ancient’ part of the collection, displaying naturalized specimens in glass cases with a systematic approach (for example showing a large number of birds together regardless of their habitat), and some more amazing, though old, dioramas that transport you to the seaside, into the forest or into a field, with a focus on the local german fauna. 

Figure 7: A replica based on the CT-scans of a Eurohippus specimen from Messel. This way of presenting it allows the visitors to look at the specimen from all sides.

The museum’s top floor is dedicated to temporary exhibitions. At the time of our visit, one side consisted of a huge photograph exhibition, highlighting the beauty of nature through the seasons. The other side was dedicated to an exhibition showcasing horse evolution and especially the eocene horses of the Messel pit (Fig. 7). The main element of this exhibition was an exquisitely preserved specimen of Eurohippus; an extinct genus of a relative of modern horses, discovered in Messel. The Messel pit is an eocene maar lake in which hundreds of fossils from a large range of plant and animal species have been preserved exceptionally well  (a location comparable in age, fossil assemblage, environmental conditions and depositional setting as the Eckfelder Maar we already wrote about, though much larger)  – including several specimens of Eurohippus –  allowing paleontologists to have a good insight into these extinct animals’ biology and life. Several specimens have been preserved so well, their internal organs could be investigated and at least 6 specimens are known to have been pregnant when they died. 

In this exhibit, Eurohippus was shown both as a replica of a fossil, as well as as a reconstructed version.  An entirely white model was used as a canvas, the visitors could play with different patterns and colors of light being projected on the model, mimicking extant animals’ fur patterns to show possible colorations the extinct horse relatives could have had. As the color and patterns of Eurohippus’ fur is still a mystery, this is still up to imagination (Fig. 8).

Figure 8: Visitors could project a variety of coat patterns onto a white Eurohippus model, here we set it to resemble the coat of a baby tapir, but many other stripes, spots, shadings and colors were possible. This exhibit was not only meant to be interactive but also to show the general public that certain properties shown in reconstructions are educated guesses rather than facts.

One of the previous temporary exhibitions of the Museum Koenig was called ‘Big, bigger, dinosaurs’, and because this was not only very cool, but our local paleontological preparator Blandine also got to help dismantle it in the end, we will cover this exhibition in a separate post very soon! Until then, you can already find a post on her instagram about the dismantling (together with a large range of various dinosaur-related content) @dinosaur_forensics 

A bit more than half of the informative text appearing on screens and panels in the permanent exhibition is also available in English, as well as much of the audio and video content. Apparently, the museum is working on translating their content from German as they redesign display areas. 

In addition to their efforts in making the museum accessible to english-speaking, we also noticed a large amount of available seating throughout all of the rooms, lifts in addition to stairs, and playing areas for children, making the museum a very welcoming environment. 

We highly recommend a visit! 

Here are some more impressions of our visit (Figs. 9-12):

Figure 9: Visitors were encouraged to compare the digits of a variety of small reptiles in this exhibit. Some geckos (on the right) have wide and flat finger and toe tips while fringe-fingered lizards (bottom left) have – you guessed it – fringed fingers and toes.


Figure 10: This Pleistocene Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus) greets visitors upon entering the building. Irish elk were first described by Irish researchers, but have since been found in many places ranging from western Europe to central Russia.


Figure 11: The tropical jungle diorama is so incredibly detailed, they even included individual ants, or in this case an Orb-weaver spider in its web.


Figure 12: Since this is a zoological museum, only few exhibits focus on extinct species. This replica of one of the world’s largest ammonites (Parapuzosia seppenradensis) was quite impressive, so Blandine decided to pose next to it. Most of the biggest ammonites ever found have been discovered in the vicinity of the city of Münster in Germany!

How evolutionary analysis results in bowfins show species diversity and lineages of a ‘living fossil’

Phylogenomic analysis of the bowfin (Amia calva) reveals unrecognized species diversity in a living fossil lineage

Summarized by Colton Conrad, a proud geology major at the University of South Florida. He is a senior who is as a geologist at ASRus (Aquifer Storage Recovery). Colton’s life revolves around fishing, hunting, exercising, and creating things out of metal. He is a great taxidermist and a fine creator of swords and shields.

Hypothesis: The purpose of this paper is to categorize bowfins into evolutionary groups by collecting samples to determine their diversity and evolutionary history.

Data: The data here is a collection from 94 individual bowfins found from the eastern United States. From phylogenetic analysis, which is a way of understanding species evolution from genetic data, the researchers involved with this project were able to find and sort out genetic variations in the DNA of the bowfin known as SNPs (single nucleotide polymer) to determine which species were most closely related. The sorting of SNPs is finding nucleotides that have changed but are still found in the population. They used specific lengths of DNA to define changes in the four nucleotides (adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine (A, C, G, and T)) in bowfin lineages and to find diversity among the population. 

Methods: Scientists ran the data using evolutionary tree computer programs to find the most supported configurations of bowfin relationships. Figure 1 shows the evolutionary reconstructions and the genomes from bowfins after comparing the phylogenetic population structure in bowfins. The researchers also ran a bootstrap analysis to test the likelihood of their results. Bootstrapping means that the analysis is re-run multiple times and the number of times the original answers are returned is counted as a percentage (e.g., the bootstrap support is 100% when the same tree structure is returned 100 times). 

Figure one is a circular chart showing the relations and patterns in the bowfin as an evolutionary tree. The four different colors red, blue, green, and yellow show the different species clusters. The larger dots colored green represents 100% bootstrapping, and the descending gray dots represent the percentage getting lower.


Results: The results of this study have revealed species diversity of bowfins populations (Figure 2). By analyzing SNP of the bowfins from all the locations the study revealed diversity in the population by showing the molecular and genetic data collected from these species can be traced back to two species of prehistoric fossil bowfins. This means that at least two bowfin species from this study are quite similar to the fossil forms and are considered ‘living fossils’

Why this study is important? This study is important because it gives us insight into what prehistoric fish species were like and how other species may have evolved to give us the diversity we see today. 

Broader Implications beyond this study: This study has added an deeper perspective to the DNA variations found in bowfin to help understand evolutionary adaptations found in soft ray fined fish, helping in our understanding of modern fish and terrestrial species. 

Figure two is a picture of the diversity of bowfins collected from the study. The bowfins in this figure vary in color based on environmental surroundings. Species A is a lighter brown color with reddish fins and a white belly. Species B is darker brown with a tan belly. Finally, species C is a blackish green color with a lime-colored belly. The fins, gills, and body types are all the same. The dorsal fins of the bowfin are a long soft ray design with a large, rounded tail. The pectoral fins are small compared to the body’s size and are rounded shape much like the other fins. This image shows what a bowfin looks like and gives a visual into the diversity of bowfin.

Citation: Wright, J., Bruce, S., Sinopoli, D., Palumbo, J., & Stewart, D. (2022). Phylogenomic analysis of the bowfin (Amia calva) reveals unrecognized species diversity in a living fossil lineage. Scientific Reports, 12, 1–10. 

Quinton Vitelli-Hawkins, Geochemist

My name is Quinton Vitelli-Hawkins, and I am an adjunct instructor at the University of South Florida (USF). I received my Bachelor’s of Science in Geology and a minor in Astronomy in 2020 and my Master’s of Science in Geology in 2022 from USF. 

I have always had a love for space. Initially, I wanted to be an aerospace engineer designing rockets that would take us back to the Moon and eventually to Mars. However, in my first semester at USF, I took a course called “History of Life” where I discovered the field of astrogeology and found my passion.

As an undergraduate, I worked in Dr. Matthew Pasek’s astrobiology lab with Chris Mehta, a former USF graduate student, on the ability of meteors to deliver organic compounds to Earth. I assisted in calculating the minimum velocity necessary for a carbonaceous asteroid to enter the atmosphere of the Earth. We discovered meteors only provide trace amounts of organic matter to the surface and other processes (i.e., hydrothermal vents) are most likely responsible for many of the organic constituents necessary for life on Earth.

A white man with short hair wearing a white lab coat and gloves looking at something in a series of handheld tubes
I am synthesizing organic compounds using electric discharges in an environment simulating Earth’s primordial atmosphere.

My master’s thesis focused on ice deposits in lava tubes in west-central New Mexico as archives of past volcanic eruptions and climate change. Currently, the Southwest is experiencing a “megadrought” phase. My thesis had an important objective: is the current megadrought plaguing the Southwestern United States a result of anthropogenic (i.e., human) warming? To answer this question, I conducted field work at El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico where I extracted a 1.1 m long ice core from a lava tube. I then melted the ice and transported it to the USF geochemistry lab, where I conducted geochemical analytical techniques (stable isotopes, tracer elements) to unravel the Southwest’s paleoclimate. The ice also contained charcoal deposits from Ancestral Puebloans that used it as a source of drinking water during precolonial droughts. By examining past droughts and determining their possible causes, I am potentially able to learn how significant human factors may be causing the current megadrought. Trends in the Southwest’s paleoclimate record demonstrate that the Southwest should be undergoing a period of wetter conditions from stronger summer rains; however, the current megadrought suggests this is possibly being inhibited from occurring by anthropogenic effects. Furthermore, the ice in the lava tubes at El Malpais is rapidly depleting, making their examination a priority. 

3 people standing in a cave of dark gray rock looking at the camera. Wearing hard hats.
I am in a lava tube at El Malpais National Monument with my lab partner, Laura Calabrò (center), and national park service member, Laura Baumann (right).

I am also a member of the Scientist in Every Florida School (SEFS) Program in which every couple of weeks I speak with primary and secondary education students about what I do. I feel it is extremely important to make an impression on children in the American education system of the importance that science has in today’s world and help inspire them to pursue a career in STEM. 

A person standing in front of a group of people sitting at desks wearing a mask. Kids are in the desks. Person is a white man wearing a long sleeve shirt
I am giving a presentation about my research to a class of 3rd graders.

I plan on pursuing a career in planetary science and eventually obtaining a PhD so I can work for a NASA research center or academic institution, and my ultimate goal is to be an astronaut.

When I am not working, I am most likely playing or watching hockey. I have been playing since before I can remember, and my favorite team is the Nashville Predators. Additionally, since I currently live in Florida, I have the privilege of seeing rocket launches. I typically take the perilous trek on I-4 from Tampa on the west coast to the Kennedy Space Center on the east coast at least once a month to catch one. Some of the memorable launches I have been to are the Space X Crew Demo-2, STS-133, Curiosity, and Artemis I. 

Follow Quinton’s updates on Instagram @the_real_blanket

Species distribution models and predictions tend to skew data trends and create bias predictions in biodiversity

Using species distribution models only may underestimate climate change impacts on future marine biodiversity

Summarized by Stephanie Sanders, a Geology major at the University of South Florida. She is currently a senior. Stephanie plans to attend Graduate school in paleobiology and once she graduates would like to work in the marine conservation field with a concentration in geographic information system (GIS) for mapping marine species. Outside of her studies, Stephanie enjoys the outdoors, drawing, and fostering kittens. 

Main point of paper: Anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change has affected a various number of species. We are seeing shifts in geological range, population counts, and environmental conditions. Species distribution has been affected due to these changes. Species distribution models (SDMs) are used to assess geological insight and predict distributions across different landscapes and time. SDMs use observations and estimates to make predictions on species occurrence and location. Many of these modeling software has ready-to-use generic software that is globally accessible. This ease of use has created databases that may not consider a wide range of important data sets that are crucial in interpreting the data. Some of these data sets include predation, species interaction, competition, and adaptation. This additional information that is excluded from many SDMs has created data bias. These biases include overestimating gains in data and underestimating losses in data. When only looking at the SDMs, we are losing vital data and creating data sets that may not accurately represent the species data. By only using SDMs data we may be overestimating the number of species present in certain times and locations which lead to distortion in data and predictions for future marine biodiversity. The consequences of this can be inadequate data for conservation efforts of species. The authors ask in this paper: Is generic SDM data enough to correctly predict future biodiversity or are additional data sets required to accurately represent species changes from anthropogenic climate change?

What data were used: Data from 100 species of various vertebrates and invertebrates from the Mediterranean Sea were used, downloaded from different online databases. Both a hybrid SDMs model of multispecies modeling and a hybrid OSMOSE-MED modeling (explained below), which allows for key life processes such as population growth, reproduction, and morality, were considered. 

Methods: The Mediterranean Sea served as a perfect spot for a comparison because it has a rare mix of biodiversity and is a global change hotspot. SDMs data is compared to other data modeling such as OSMOSE-MED. OSMOSE-MED allows for additional data sets to be considered (Figure 1). One hundred marine species such as fish, invertebrates and gastropods from the Mediterranean Sea, collected from the Global Biodiversity Information System (GBIF), the Ocean Biogeographical Information System (OBIS), the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Geonetwork Portal, and the FishMed database were compared with both SDMs modeling and OSMOSE-MED modeling. Two data sets were compared, a present day (2006-2013) and a future prediction (2071-2100). 

Results: Under the 100 species comparing SDMs to OSMOSE-MED, the following results were found: more species were found to have an increased geographical range in the SDMs model than the OSMOSE-MED model. Fewer species were found to have a decreased geographical range in the SDMs model than the OSMOSE-MED model, and three more species were projected to become extinct in the OSMOSE-MED model then the SDMs model. When using SDMs alone, a more optimistic projection of species distribution is observed. Without the inclusion of key life process data to predict future trends, the SDMs data alone could predict inaccurate data.  When we compare the two data sets, there is a clear discrepancy. SDM overestimates the positive data and underestimates the negative data. When looking to SDM alone, without the addition of extra relevant data sets, we can get a bias determination on future conservation data. This can include area prediction of where species are now inhabited or the number of species that are alive within a certain species. This can lead to improper protection areas or conservation efforts for a certain species. 

The figure above is a conceptual representation of a SDMs model showing the limited layers of species richness and dissimilarity index compared to the OSMOSE-MED model that allows for extra parameters to be added to fine tune the model to allow for more accurate representation of the model. OSMOSE-MED allows for more layers and is represented by a picture of those layers such as growth, morality, predation, and reproduction.
Conceptual representation of SDMs model vs. OSMOSE-MED model to accurately represent data and the projections that are compiled depending on the inclusion of extra data sets. OSMOSE-MED allows the addition of additional datasets that can more accurately represent the data of biodiversity that generic SDM data cannot.

Why is this study important?: Anthropogenic climate change is affecting a variety of species constantly. Many of these species will encounter a dramatic loss in population and even extinction. In order to put protective measures in place to help the longevity of threatened species, correct data is critical. If present and future studies are only utilizing generic models that don’t consider vital variables like predation, location predictions, and taxonomies. we may lose accurate calculations. The real-world implications of skewed data can be present in inaccurate locations of species, inaccurate population counts, and misinformation of vital data needed in the protection of threatened species. 

Broader Implications beyond this study: This specific study of SDMs vs. more in depth distribution models focuses on 100 species in the Mediterranean Sea. However, tracking anthropogenic climate change and the effects on species distribution is a global effort. In order to create accurate data sets, a global and local collaborative database is essential for comparative analysis of biodiversity. There are potentially major issues with inconsistent taxonomic standards applied when using SDMs data only. As the climate crisis begins to affect more species, additional data to create a global standard will be required. If we are to effectively create conservation efforts for threatened species, these standards need to be adapted and used regularly. 

Citation: Moullec, F., Barrier, N., Drira, S., Guilhaumon, F., Hattab, T., Peck, M. A., & Shin, Y.-J. (2022). Using species distribution models only may underestimate climate change impacts on future marine biodiversity. Ecological Modelling, 464, 109826.