My name is Habiba, and I am currently working on an environmental geosciences B.A. degree at Fort Hays State University. I was born and raised in Norfolk, Virginia, USA, but now live in Kano, Nigeria, where my family is originally from. Other than science, I love traveling, baking, and writing, but my number one hobby is reading! I read all genres and as much as I can.
As a budding scientist, I am interested in specializing in environmental science and earth sciences such as geology and hydrology. My passion for science lies where those two fields intersect: climate change, conservation, and sustainability.
I love science because I love solving mysteries and discovering new ones. My love for science is one of the oldest, most ingrained parts of my identity: both of parents are biology professors and made science and education a huge part of my life from the very beginning. Everything from astronomy to botany to engineering was discussed in our household, and trips to botanical gardens and various science museums make up some of my fondest childhood memories. I was taught from a very young age to admire and reflect on the marvels of the universe and everything that inhabits it, and that instilled an enthusiasm in me that never waned. I chose to focus on earth and environmental sciences as a career path because I believe it is where I can learn the most and make positive, truly impactful contributions.
My goal as a scientist is ultimately to learn as much as possible and share my knowledge with others. In my corner of the world, climate change and the exploitation of natural resources has left serious effects on the lives and livelihoods of the people here. I hope to do some work involving community outreach that will inform the public about the environment and educate them about what they can do to help preserve it. All over the world, more effort is needed to unite everyone in the goal of protecting and appreciating our planet, and I could not be more eager or ready to be a part of that!
I am still on the journey to becoming a scientist myself, but if I had any advice for someone who wanted to come along, it would be to seek as much knowledge as you can from everywhere possible. For every aspect of science there is an endless number of resources available to explore it. It is easy to get intimidated by technical language or imposing ideas but remember that all scientists have to start from somewhere, and when you do the only way to go is up! All you need is curiosity and determination.
Predation Scars Reveal Declines in Crab Populations Since the Pleistocene
Kristina M. Barclay, Lindsey R. Leighton
Summarized by Nicholas Stanton, a geology major at the University of South Florida. Nicholas is a Navy veteran who went back to school to follow his passion in the study of Earth’s history. Nicholas has worked for USGS for 2 years as a hydrographer, continuing his love for all things science.
Data that were used: The number of customers that visited Joe’s Crab Shack in a month was the determining…. JOKING. The data that was used in determining if there was a decline in crab populations is quite fascinating and it starts with snails. The Tegula funebralis to be specific, but to make it a little easier these can be referred to as a black turban snail. These snails are extremely helpful, telling stories of the past by their healing attributes. They leave remarkable healing scars after attacks from predators, also known as predation scars.
Methods that were used: So, we just count how many snails have predation scars and that accounts for how many crabs there are in the ocean right? Well, there are a few other factors that need to be eliminated before we can equate these two pieces of information. For example, can the failure of crab attacks account for fewer scars due to the snail shell never being penetrated to create a scar in the first place? Or, can the size of the snail and the size of the crab determine the amount of predation scars found? Well, it is a good thing science rules and we have a bunch of cool scientists that have already conducted studies to help in answering these questions. Other studies have inadvertently shed light on this by answering these questions, even though the purpose of their study was not to calculate crab populations. This other study ended up showing that a change in the success of crab predation is not an explanation for a change in repair frequency. Instead, it is likely that the change in repairs is caused by the change in crab population. In the study summarized here, fossil and modern specimens were collected to compare and determine the crab abundance dating back from the Pleistocene to present day, with the maximum geologic age for the fossils extending to 120 ka (thousand years). Most of the fossils were taken in southern California, specifically the Palo Verdes Hills and the San Diego area. The modern specimens also came from these same areas as to reduce biases in the study. A total of 712 fossil specimens were gathered, 261 from the Palos Verdes Hills area and 451 from the San Diego area. The modern specimens came from seven locations in the same two areas previously listed. Collecting these modern samples was tedious to ensure certain biases did not enter the study. Researchers would walk up and down in symmetrical lines spaced two meters apart collecting around ten to twenty snails on each line. This was done until a total of 1,152 snails total were collected.
Results: It was discovered that modern black turban snails have fewer scars than those fossils dating back to the Pleistocene. It was concluded from the study that changes in the frequency of repairs since the Pleistocene is indicative of a change in the number of attacks. The maximum size of repairs between the fossils collected and modern samples were similar, showing crab strength had not changed much over the years. This helped eliminate the thought that lower predation scars were due to the lower success of attacks. This tells the researchers that the crab population has declined since the Late Pleistocene, due to the decline in predation scars in snails.
Why is this study important? Paleontology is crucial for understanding the story book of Earth’s past. It is a nice guide in determining questions about Earth’s future, as well. Fisheries have poor data and little money to invest in expensive research on how to maintain their fishing numbers in the ever-declining industry. Overfishing is playing a huge part in the decline of not only crab population, but thousands of species of marine life. For example, Somalia was once a successful fishing port, but due to larger countries overfishing those waters, the economy collapsed. This is a devastating notion that an entire country’s economy can be significantly affected due to overfishing.
The big picture: This study has mapped an entire population of crab, and this can inform fisheries on how to sustain a healthy number, without depleting the entire species. Things such as climate change, long line fishing, and pollution are wiping out our marine diversity swiftly. Paleontologists, as well as all other scientists, understand the effects of climate change and pollution on Earth’s ecosystem. These scientists are on the front lines combating these realities with knowledge, with evidence, and with SNAILS!
Tell us a bit about yourself. I am currently a junior in college. I am a transfer student; this summer, I am getting ready to transfer to Augustana College as a geology major from community college. While in community college, I published a couple of pieces in a literary magazine. The first is a creative work called Cole Hollow Road, and the other is a personal reflection piece called Est. 2001, Discovered 2021. Est. 2001, Discovered 2021 reflects on my mental health and growing into who I am. I work about 30 hours a week at a retail store called Blain’s Farm and Fleet. I have been working there since October of 2020. I work in Men’s Clothing, and I mainly sell denim jeans and work boots. With the little free time I have, I explore the outdoors with Noah, my boyfriend, work on my unpublished novel, The Gamemaker, read books on science communication, and write articles while participating in the Time Scavengers VIP SciComm Internship.
What kind of scientist are you, and what do you do? Since I am a junior in college, I am still figuring out what my role is within the scientific community. I love to read and write, and I aspire to be a science communicator, but I’m still figuring out what role best fits me. What I do know is there is a distinctive difference between an intelligent person and a good teacher, and I want to teach others about science in an engaging way.
One of my favorite things about being a scientist is seeing so many cool rocks and learning their stories! I’ve been collecting rocks and fossils since I was seven or eight years old! I enjoy showing others what fossils I have bought or found and telling the stories that accompany them. I also love public speaking and can see myself being successful in either an in-person capacity or creating videos/content online. I also think being a tour guide or research scientist for a National Park would be awesome! I am looking forward to exploring my options as I continue my education.
What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? My beginning journey into the scientific community is a little bit unusual. I was first introduced to fossils in a Worldview, Logic, and Apologetics class (which is about advocating for the Christian Faith). I worked on an extensive project that asked the students to study a field of science of their choice in order to find evidence in support of the Christian faith. It was a very intriguing and motivating project that has led me down a now six-year philosophical and scientific journey to figure out how these two pieces of my life, religion and science, can coexist. Because of this class, I wanted to be a geologist because I wanted to know as much about our origins as humans, but also what has happened to our planet in geologic time. I also want to know how to learn from nature about our history, but also what we can do to maximize our future.
I grew up with a stigma that in order to be a scientist, you needed to be an expert in math, lab activities, and memorization. I grew up attending a college prep school where STEM majors usually were pre-med or engineer inclined. I knew I was not interested in studying those fields (even though they are awesome in their own right!), and felt it was hard to keep up with kids in my classes because my focus was different. It was a very competitive environment, especially because I lacked confidence in my ability in the skills I thought were necessary. However, after learning what geology was about in college, I knew I had found my place. Geology integrated my love for weird creatures, writing, and being outside! Combined with my natural inclination to write, I quickly fell in love with the idea of becoming a science communicator.
How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? I once had a classmate tell me he used to be interested in paleontology, but they thought it was a “dead” science and became readily disinterested. The more I delved into the literature, the more I knew he was far from the truth! My goal as a scientist is to advocate for the amazing things we can learn about our world through science (but especially paleontology!), and to hopefully encourage aspiring scientists that they can find their place in the scientific community. One way I have begun to do so is by starting my blog called Perusing the Primeval. My blog currently has a Book Review Section that includes the latest books in science communication. I have a review template that shares how technical the book is to help the reader get a sense for who the book’s intended audience is. There are a wide variety of books available, and my goal is to help someone looking for new recommendations to find something they will enjoy. I am currently working on a Species Spotlight section that will highlight a certain extinct species represented in the fossil record.
What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? As I said before, I grew up in a competitive academic environment. I often felt like I was in academic “no man’s land”; I was bored in regular classes, but I was crawling to keep up in the advanced classes. I enjoyed school and wanted to challenge myself, so I was often comparing myself to kids who were more academically inclined in subjects that did not come naturally to me. I felt like I needed to compete against them in order to get a spot in a good college. Rather than focus on my strengths when applying to colleges, I pushed myself to do things I didn’t really like because I thought I needed to compete for my spot. I thought “being amazing at everything” was my ticket to a good school, but I found out very quickly that wasn’t true. If you are interested in going to college (or trade school or an apprenticeship), I would encourage you to lean on your strengths. If you have strong passions or interests, fuel the fire! Continue to hone in on those skills. If you aren’t quite sure of what you want, try different things and see what you like – but maybe not all at once. Your physical and mental health will thank you. If we as individuals were all “amazing” at everything, we wouldn’t need each other!
The youngest pangolin (Mammalia, Pholidota) from Europe
Claire E. Terhune, Timothy Gaudin, Sabrina Curran, Alexandru Petculescu
Summarized by Isabelle Snowball, a fourth-year geology student at the University of South Florida. She has a particular interest in GIS. In her free time, she enjoys various forms of art and spending time with her friends.
Key Terms: Pangolin – an armadillo-like mammal with scales covering its body, a long snout, long tapered tail, and long tongue which it uses to catch and eat insects; humerus – the bone in the upper arm of an organism; synapomorphy – a characteristic shared exclusively by a species and its descendants.
What data were used: Scientists in Graunceau, Romania uncovered a pangolin humerus–the youngest ever found in Europe. Specimens from this fossil collection are estimated to be from the Villafranchian age, a period of time ranging from the Late Pliocene to Early Pleistocene in an area scientists think represented a woodland environment. This dates the specimen to be around 1.8-2.2 million years old (Ma). The specimen is stored at the ISER (Institute of Speleology, Bucharest, Romania). Data from currently surviving species of pangolin were used to compare other humeri measurements to those of the Smutsia olteniensis humerus, the fossil central to this study.
Methods: The pangolin humerus (Fig. 1) was appropriately photographed and cataloged, which included creating a 3-D model by scanning the specimen with an HDI 120 Blue Light scanner. The humerus was compared to data collected from the humeri of twelve other pangolin specimens—specifically examining measurements for length and width of a number of shoulder, arm, and leg bones.
Results: Scientists determined that the newly found specimen had all of the features of a modern pangolin, or Pholidota. Specifically, this specimen is more closely related to modern species of pangolin. Still, it boasted enough unique traits to earn its place as a new species of pangolin, Smutsia olteniensis. Given the woodland environment of the Graunceau site, we know it is possible that Smutsia olteniensis was open-adapted, meaning it preferred open woodlands as opposed to the tropical environments modern pangolins prefer.
Why is this study important? Little is known about the fossil record of the pangolin. They are believed to have emerged in Europe during the Eocene and disappeared from the European geologic record during the Miocene, potentially in search of warmer, more tropical environments. Up until now, the only evidence of pangolins’ existence during the Plio-Pleistocene came from Africa.
The big picture: With this newfound specimen dating back to the early Pleistocene, it appears that not only did pangolins stick around Europe longer than previously thought, but that they may have occupied a wider geographic range as well.Scientists have concluded two possibilities—the first being that pangolins may have remained in Europe as late as the Pleistocene, and the second being that they did migrate to Africa, but eventually made their way back to Europe by the Pleistocene.
Citations: Claire E. Terhune, Timothy Gaudin, Sabrina Curran & Alexandru Petculescu (2021) The youngest pangolin (Mammalia, Pholidota) from Europe, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2021.1990075
Linda and guest bloggers Blandine (hyperlink to Meet the Scientist) and David (hyperlink to Meet the Scientist) here – in August 2021 we packed our bags, hand lenses and sunscreen, and hopped on a plane to go on a field trip in Lourinhã, Portugal [Fig. 1]. This city is known as the Portuguese capital of dinosaurs because of its fossil-rich Jurassic outcrops. It even is the eponym (name giving location) for several taxa: sauropod dinosaur genus Lourinhasaurus, theropod dinosaur genus Lourinhanosaurus, sauropod dinosaur species Supersaurus/Dinheirosauruslourinhanensis. Today, Lourinhã is located on the Portuguese Atlantic coast. While small beaches exist, the majority of the coastline consists of tall, rocky cliffs. This area looked very different during the Mesozoic Era though.
When Pangaea fell apart and the North Atlantic began to open, the Lusitanian rift basin formed due to the extension of the crust in the area that is today western Portugal. The Lusitanian basin was likely bordered by the Berlenga horst in the west and by the Central Plateau of the Iberian Peninsula (Meseta Central) in the east [Fig. 2]. During the Late Triassic, the evaporation of sea water in the Lusitanian Basin led to the deposition of a thick and ductile salt layer, which later caused instability in the overlying sediments. The formation and movement of salt domes constantly changed the topography and thus modified the course of river beds. The relative sea level at the coast of this area was fluctuating during the Jurassic, and as a result we observe layers representative of large, meandering rivers and layers richer in terrestrial plant material when the sea level was at its lowest, occasionally marine intercalations (with shallow marine fossils such as oysters) and fine, muddy deposits from entirely marine environments.
The dinosaur fauna of Portugal is similar to the ones of the Morrison Formation in the US and the Tendaguru Formation in Tanzania, with several genera, such as Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus and Torvosaurus occurring in all three localities [Fig. 3]. This is remarkable since these regions were separated by the sea during the upper Jurassic; the former supercontinent Pangaea was already breaking up. That means that a faunal exchange between North America (Morrison Formation), the island Iberia (Lourinhã Formation) and Gondwana (Tendaguru Formation) was still possible, probably in times when the sea-level was low.
Day 1) Praia de Vale Pombas and Dino Parque Lourinhã:
We spent the morning of our first day at the Praia de Vale Pombas, a small beach south of Peniche. You very quickly forget the beautiful scenery when you spot a fossil. Within minutes we found large fragments of fossilized wood and got very excited when we found bones quickly after that. Most remains were fragmented and we could not identify them, but we found a theropod metatarsal (foot) bone [Fig. 5] as well as a small piece of a rib of an unidentified animal.
Please note: while fossil collection is permitted at this specific outcrop, the different municipalities in this area handle this matter very differently, many do not allow collection by private collectors but only professional scientific excavations for which you need to file a request. Always follow the local regulations when in the field, many fossils are beautiful, but not yours to take. Also make sure to always inform the authorities when you spot something potentially important.
In the afternoon we visited the Dino Parque in Lourinhã. A small museum in the park showcases the locally found dinosaurs with original skeletons and replicas, as well as methods and techniques used in the excavation process and during fossil preparation. The largest section of the park is a huge outside area showing life size reconstructions of different dinosaur species. We received tours behind the scenes and talked to the staff and preparators who explained their work to us. This was so much fun that we wrote a separate post just about our day in this park, check it out here [hyperlink to blog post]!
Day 2) Museu da Lourinhã:
On the second day, we visited the Museu da Lourinhã, the museum of the city of Lourinhã dedicated to the region’s geological and historical heritage. In the paleontological gallery, numerous locally found dinosaur fossils, including eggs with embryos of the theropod Lourinhanosaurus are presented. The museum’s archeological and ethnological exhibitions deal with human history in the region and show how people lived here in the past.
We were given a thorough tour of the geological and paleontological section by Carla Tómas, one of the museum’s preparators, who also led us behind the scenes into the preparators’ laboratory. Here, the preparator team works on the preparation and study of local and international vertebrate remains. While we were there, Carla explained to us that her specialty is to find new methods to stabilize very fragile fossils by preparing and treating them chemically. Some geological properties can lead to poor bone preservation, for example the presence of salt can result in extremely brittle fossils. It is therefore important to understand the chemical processes happening and stop the degradation of the material to preserve the fossil.
Day 3) Ponta do Trovão, the Toarcian GSSP
Not far away from our accommodation in the town of Peniche, just north of Lourinhã, there is a GSSP [Fig. 6]. GSSP stands for Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point and refers to physical markers between specific layers of rock, marking the lower boundary of a stratigraphic unit. For each stage on the geologic time scale, scientists are trying to identify one GSSP somewhere in the world, indicating exactly the boundary between two stages. The end/beginning of a geological stage is defined by a change, commonly a change in fossil assemblages such as an extinction event or the first appearance of an index fossil. Currently, less than 80 GSSPs have been ratified, the vast majority of which are located in Europe. The GSSP we visited is located at Ponta do Trovão in Peniche, and marks the beginning of the Toarcian (early Jurassic, 182.7 million years ago). It is defined by the very first appearance of the ammonite genus Dactylioceras (Eodactylites).
We spent the rest of the day exploring the area, looking for fossils in the layers below the GSSP (thus not in the Toarcian, but the previous stage, the Pliensbachian) and found thousands of belemnites [Fig. 7]. Belemnites are an extinct group of cephalopods, which looked similar to today’s squids but with hooks on their ten arms. They had an internal skeleton called the cone, of which only the calcitic guard (called rostrum) commonly fossilizes. In addition to belemnite rostra scattered around, we also spotted a few coprolites, the fossil remains of poop [Fig. 8]. It appears that something has been snacking on ancient “calamari”, but could not digest the hard, calcite guards. Between the large number of rostrum fragments, we also discovered a number of ammonites, some of which – especially when they were located in the intertidal zone and thus currently in contact with sea water – were beautifully pyritized [Fig. 9].
Since this is a special outcrop, a GSSP, we did not collect fossils here, but only marveled at their beauty.
Day 4) Praia Formosa, Praia de Santa Cruz, Praia Azul and excavation sites of the municipality of Torres Vedras
In the morning we joined a guided tour given by Bruno Camilo Silva, a local paleontologist. We learned about the geology at Praia Formosa and Praia de Santa Cruz, two beaches south of Peniche. The tall cliffs here show wonderful profiles of the rock layers of the Lower Jurassic, providing insight into the sedimentological history of this place. At the time, tectonic movements and underwater currents would cause sediments to slide down the Berlenga Horst from time to time. Those events formed a sediment known as turbidite, occurring here as massive conglomerates. We can see clearly where these turbiditic flows eroded the older sea-floor sediments, leaving irregular contacts between the layers [Fig. 10]. Considering that the Berlenga Horst was quite far away from the location these layers were deposited, it is difficult to imagine the sheer size of the sediment flows and the amount of material that must have been transported.
The layers below the turbidite in this area are unfortunately quite poor in body fossil content, despite numerous traces of invertebrate activity in the sediments. Based on those ichnofossils such as burrows, it is assumed the area had probably a rich benthic fauna, which has not been preserved in the sediment because the conditions were too unfavorable for fossilization. The fact that we know there was abundant life but all that’s left of it now are ichnofossils and we may never know which organisms once roamed the seabed here is quite humbling. After brooding about this, we chose to have our lunch break at Praia Azul, the blue beach. We used this occasion to search for fossils at the foot of the cliffs near the beach while eating our sandwiches. The most common fossils that can be found here are oysters, marking times of shallow marine conditions. Several large oyster banks are preserved [Fig. 10], though wood and other isolated plant fragments also occur frequently. In addition to these finds, coprolites, signs of bioturbation such as re-filled burrows, and – very rarely – small bones can be spotted in the cliffs of this beach.
In the afternoon, we visited active paleontological excavation sites, of which we promised to keep the locations secret in order to avoid people disturbing the ongoing work/research. A team composed of local volunteers, international students and experts, and employees of the municipality of Torres Vedras were excavating turtle and crocodylomorph remains. At a second location nearby an almost complete but at the moment of our visit still unidentified theropod dinosaur was excavated, ready to be covered in plaster and to be lifted and transported to a preparation lab to finally see the light of day again. Blandine picked up a rock very close to one of the sites and found a small tooth (identified by staff on site as possibly hybodontiformes, a sister taxon of sharks and rays), which she handed over to the excavation team so it can be included in the research. In the evening, to finish an exciting day, we paid another visit to Ponta do Trovão to search for fossils with the sun setting over the Berlengas archipelago, the remnant and eponym of the aforementioned Mesozoic horst structure, on the horizon [Fig. 12].
Day 5) Foz do Arelho and Parque de Merendas
While we spent most of our Portugal trip in the fossil rich localities along the coast south of Peniche, we planned to explore some places north of the city on day 5. After checking geological maps of the region in order to find promising localities we decided to head to the cliffs of Foz do Arelho first. While the place itself was a spectacular sight, we didn’t find any fossils there. So, we went further north to the cliffs of Parque de Merendas near Serra do Bouro. Again, this was an amazing locality, but with very few fossils. We found interesting green minerals on and around plant remains. Bone fossils, however, were very rare, but Blandine, our dinosaur expert, found a large fragment of a dinosaur bone that could not be further identified [Fig. 13].
Day 6) Praia de Porto Dinheiro, Praia do Zimbral and cliffs near Porto Batel
We spent the next day going to Praia de Porto Dinheiro (the town is the eponym of the dinosaur genus Dinheirosaurus) near Rebamar and to Praia do Zimbral, where we met with the local paleontologist and the geologists we had already encountered a few days earlier. While the group was excavating an unidentified fossil bone fragment, David found another piece in the rubble that had fallen from the cliff into the beach, extracted it [Fig. 14], and handed it to the local paleontologist so it could be included in their work.
For lunch we went to a local restaurant just next to Praia de Porto Dinheiro, which has a large Sauropod bone being showcased under glass plates below the floor in the entrance. The owner of the restaurant showed us a large Torvosaurus tooth from his private collection. Even the sink in the bathroom is made out of a piece of fossil oyster bank. Later that day we met again with the other geologists and paleontologists at the cliffs near Porto Batel. At this locality dinosaur footprints can be found: The group showed us large theropod tracks [Fig. 15], and the filling (negative) of a deep Sauropod footprint up in the cliff [Fig. 16]. Although way too far above for us to check, we were told that skin impressions can be found in this footprint.
All in all, our trip to Portugal was very exciting. We could observe plenty of fossils including dinosaur bones in the beautiful scenery where the Atlantic ocean is inexorably gnawing away at the rocks that once were the walking grounds of the giants of the past. If you know where to search it is impossible not to find nice fossils, though please remember: Collecting fossils is not permitted everywhere in this area! Inform yourself prior to your trip and stick to the local laws and regulations! The city of Lourinhã itself, its museum, and dinosaur park are also worth a visit; the geological heritage of the region is felt everywhere in the streets, the people in this area live and breathe dinosaurs, with many shops, restaurants, businesses and cafés including the term ‘dino’ in their names and life-size dinosaur models and art found in many places.
In case you haven’t had enough, here are some additional impressions of our trip [Fig. 17-22]:
Coexistence of Indarctos and Amphimachairodus (Carnivora) in the Late Early Hemphillian of Florida, North America
Qigao Jiangzuo · Richard C. Hulbert Jr.
Summarized by Eric Kastelic, who is a geology major at The University of South Florida. Currently, he is a senior. Starting in Fall 2022, he will be pursuing graduate studies in hydrogeology focusing on groundwater recharge and once he earns his degree, he plans to work as a research hydrologist or become a research professor. When he’s not studying geology, he loves to go on walks with his friends and explore nature!
What data were used? ~ 7.5–6.5 million year old Indarctos fossils from the Withlacoochee River 4A Formation in Northern Florida, USA. These fossils were compared to previously collected specimens from elsewhere in the United States and China.
Methods: This work descriptively compared ~ 7.5–6.5 million year old Indarctos fossils form Northern Florida with corresponding Indarctos fossils from formations in Kansas, Texas, Oregon, California and Nevada. Additionally, fossils from Northern China were reviewed to connect a possible ancestral relationship.
Results: This study investigated at least four Indarctos individuals found in the Withlacoochee River 4A Formation of Florida. As it is uncommon to find numerous individuals in one site, this fossil find marks one of the most comprehensive groupings of Indarctos fossils in in North America. These four individuals made it possible for the researchers to compare jaw, dental, neck, pelvic, and heel properties between the specimens at the formation and other Indarctos fossils worldwide. The similarities in dental characteristics between Indarctos of the Withlacoochee River 4A formation and I. oregonensis, a species of Indoarctos, paired with differences in slenderness of postcranial bones between the Florida specimens and I. oregonensis (skeleton excluding the skull) shows a at least two variations of postcranial bones in North America. What does this mean about the Florida Indoarctos? Is it a new species? This works makes no definite support or rejection of the Indarctos of the Withlacoochee River 4A Formation being a previously unknown species, but acknowledges the need for further research to determine this.
Why is this study important? This study shows a possible unique species of Indarctos that hasn’t previously been identified. Indarctos throughout North America show a differing type of bone robustness, despite not being geographically separated. This work documents that Indarctos may haveancestors in northern China, showing a possible movement to North America from Eurasia in the geologic past. This work, paired with fossils of other fauna (animals) and climatic data, may be able to show shifts in ecosystems as a driver in the migration of Indarctos.
The big picture: New fossil finds strengthen understandings of how organisms moved across the globe in geologic time. The information gained form comparing Indarctos fossils provides insight into how other mammals may have moved.
Citation: Jiangzuo, Qigao, and Richard C. Hulbert. “Coexistence of Indarctos and Amphimachairodus (Carnivora) in the Late Early Hemphillian of Florida, North America.” Journal of Mammalian Evolution 28.3 (2021): 707-728.
The evolutionary relationship between arm vertebrae shape and ecological lifestyle in brittle stars (Echinodermata: Ophiuroidea)
Mona Goharimanesh, Fereshteh Ghassemzadeh, Barbara De Kegel, Luc Van Hoorebeke, Sabine Stöhr, Omid Mirshamsi, and Dominique Adriaens
Summarized by Emma Nawrot, who is a geology major at The University of South Florida and is currently a senior. Once she graduates, she plans on pursuing a career in Volcanology and Igneous Petrology. In her free time, she enjoys playing video games, hiking, and going to the beach!
What data were used? This study examined species of Ophiuroidea (brittle stars) that were specifically chosen to cover a large range in both species type and lifestyles that corresponded to distinct functions of their arms. Samples were gathered from fossils of the Persian Gulf and Oman between December 2017 to March 2018 and were classified based on their lifestyle and joint type.
Methods: This study used a 3D analysis of a range of brittle star species to determine the structural relationships of their arm vertebrae (here, meaning the distinct pieces of their arms). Species were carefully chosen to cover a range of operational lifestyles associated to different usage of their arms. This included prehensile (grasping) and non-prehensile (non-grasping) species. At minimum, one specimen per species was utilized, across to seven families throughout the broader groupins within the ophiuroids. To obtain a better resolution of the structures, portions were removed from the middle and outer part of one arm per sample of brittle star for CT scanning. Every sample was CT-scanned using a HECTOR scanner. The vertebrae were digitally segmented from the CT scans produced and 3D models were created using a software called Amira. The acquired 3D model of each arm skeletal piece was then transformed into data that the computer could use to determine the differences in shapes between each of them.
Results: The study showed that there was a significant amount of variability found in the arm vertebrae of different species of brittle stars. The results reflect how these structural differences represent specific adaptations, such as having the ability to hold onto other objects and creatures. Furthermore, unique shapes of arm vertebrae in brittle stars were found to be directly correlated to their functional and environmental lifestyles. It was observed that some species that were not strongly related, still converged to a comparable design in arm shape. Perhaps the most remarkable results that came from the study were the patterns of how the shape of brittle star vertebrae is directly associated to unique evolutionary adaptations. For example, the species Ophiura sarsii has longer distal arm skeletal pieces than Ophiocamax vitrea, which is a non-prehensile organism, meaning it cannot grasp onto objects. Ophiura sarsii is known to take part in significantly more hunting behaviors than Ophiocamax vitrea, and these longer arm skeletal pieces create a greater yielded force. This is an indispensable factor for its hunting activities as an active predator.
Why is this study important? This study sheds light on the intricate nature of shape deviations in brittle stars and how these changes relate to their distinctive adaptations. It is the first study to connect morphological attributes of brittle stars to their modes of life using 3D modeling of their vertebrae. Through this modeling, insight was gained on the unique functional and ecological lifestyles of different species of brittle stars. Without understanding this relationship, we can’t begin to understand how these organisms changed over time and the evolutionary patterns they show.
The big picture: Ultimately, this study will be extremely helpful in the future for inferring information that we can apply to the fossil record. For example, paleontologists often find disarticulated bits of ophiuroids where it’s difficult to ascertain their origins and morphological traits, so this could be helpful for researchers in pinpointing these patterns when there’s not much other data to go on.
Citation:Goharimanesh, M., Ghassemzadeh, F., De Kegel, B., Van Hoorebeke, L., Stöhr, S., Mirshamsi, O., & Adriaens, D. (2021). The evolutionary relationship between arm vertebrae shape and ecological lifestyle in brittle stars (Echinodermata: Ophiuroidea). Journal of anatomy.
Evolution, diversity, and disparity of the tiger shark lineage Galeocerdo in deep time
Julia Türtscher, Faviel A. López-Romero, Patrick L. Jambura, René Kindlimann, David J. Ward, and Jürgen Kriwet
Summarized by Austin Crawford, a senior obtaining a Bachelor of Science in geology at the University of South Florida. Austin’s current career interests involve several fields in hydrology/hydrogeology, engineering geology, geologic/environmental consulting, geophysics, mine geology, oil and gas (OG), and geomatics. Aside from education, Austin enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle, watching sports, listening to music, and spending time with family and friends.
What data were used? 569 isolated teeth of both extinct and the extant (still living) tiger shark were examined for the basis of determining the geometric morphometrics, which is a method used to quantify shape of the teeth and disparity, which indicates differences between teeth of Galeocerdo. The ages of the teeth were also recorded.
Methods: The 569 teeth samples (Figure 1) were each photographed with a labial aspect representation, which is the surface towards the lips. In addition, 18 published illustrations were included to compensate for more complete representation. The specimens were analyzed using a two-dimensional geometric morphometric system using landmarks. This means that the same 64 locations on each tooth were marked in a computer program (tpsDIG2). These landmarks were analyzed using a Generalized Procrustes analysis (GPA), which compared the differences in shapes across all of the teeth and summarized how different each of the shapes were. These data were analyzed using a Principal Components Analysis (PCA), which plots all of the variables’ differences into a 2D plane for easier analysis. Qualitative shape analysis by the researchers was also considered in the later portion of the study to describe features that weren’t included in the prior study, such as serrations in the teeth that are key identifiers for species within the genus Galeocerdo.
Results: The conclusion of the procedure yielded three identified genera: Galeocerdo, Hemipristis, and Physogaleu and two unclear species, G. acutus and G. triqueter . The three genera and two species groupings were identified from the PCA, which showed the three distinct genera plotted on the graph. From the original 23 identified species of tiger shark, researchers here determined only 16 were legitimately considered because seven lacked illustrative characteristics. The distribution of these 16 species of Galeocerdo was made using the same processes used for the broader classification of all 569 shark teeth. The disparity through time for the tiger sharks falls into geologic time spans of Paleogene and Neogene-Quaternary. The PCA showed groupings of sharks by time spans, too. Paleogene sharks (G. clarkensis, G. eaglesomei, and G. latidens) occupy a distinct area of the principal components chart, indicating they are similar in shape. Tiger sharks within the Neogene-Quaternary are notably different in shape.
Why is this study important? Evolution, diversity, and disparity of the tiger shark lineage Galeocerdo in deep time serves an important part within the paleontology of Galeocerdo as a whole. The simple acknowledgement is beneficial to the genus. The authors state that this shark has been neglected compared to the other apex shark genera. The article is important to both the diversity and disparity between those diverse species of Galeocerdo throughout the Cenozoic. In doing so, the paleobiology of Galeocerdo can help with knowing phenotypes (the physical expressions of the genetic makeup) of the extant tiger sharktoday as well as its trend in the future.
The big picture: Apex sharks such as Galeocerdo serve an important purpose in the Earth’s oceans as they maintain the population of other prey. This results in an ecosystem balance for the plenty of other organisms that they feed off. Evidence shows that oceanic sharks and rays have been in decline globally since 1970 meaning a deteriorating diversity of higher order ocean species. Consideration of scientific studies on shark evolution is a way we as humans can protect the future of shark ecology.
Citation: Türtscher, J., F. A. López-Romero, P. L. Jambura, R. Kindlimann, D. J. Ward, and J. Kriwet. 2021. Evolution, diversity, and disparity of the tiger shark lineage Galeocerdo in deep time. Paleobiology, 47:574–590.
Time Scavengers is collaborating with the International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 390/393 to showcase the scientists recovering sediment and rock cores, and conducting science at sea! Click here to learn more about IODP, and visit the Research Vessel JOIDES Resolution website here to read more about the drillship. To learn more about IODP Expeditions 390 and 393, click here!
You can follow the JOIDES Resolution on Twitter @TheJR, on Facebook @joidesresolution, and on Instagram @joides_resolution!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Tessa Peixoto and when I was younger I was referred to as shark girl. I was super obsessed with sharks, which is what got me into science. Outside of science though I am a fan of doing art, specifically painting and building things, and I like baking for friends and family. Movies are a go to past time for me, and I am one of those people that really like b-rated sci fi movies. For instance, Tremors, highly suggest watching it. I am a science enthusiast so when I go out for walks on the beach, hikes in nature, or anywhere else I am still observing what kind of life I see. It is a way of connecting with the planet for me. However, my friends just give me a pat on the head when I yell excitedly about finding Codium fragile on the beach. One time, I found a carcass of a skate on a beach and I ran to anyone who saw me holding it so I could show them.
What do you do?
So I studied marine biology as an undergraduate student. During my studies and soon after I was able to conduct or participate in research on intertidal blue mussels, describing freshwater stingrays, and describing the morphology and function of the armor for a family of fish called Poachers. Soon after I was able to be a seasonal aide for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and got exposed to doing trawling surveys in river tributaries.
After graduating and my bopping around the US for a variety of temporary science positions, I found myself working as a museum educator. It was the funnest thing to be around so many specimens for every kind of field of natural sciences. Plus, I was able to use a lot of those specimens as part of my teaching practice during classes that field trips could sign up for. Unfortunately, as the position was part time, life demanded I find a position that could provide me benefits that would support me more efficiently. I now work as a science instructor for an Adult Education program in Boston, MA. It is truly a rewarding position because as I get to share my love and fascination of science with my students, I know I am helping them get closer to obtaining a high school diploma, which only improves their job prospects.
What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science?
When I was younger, I remember my brother was always doing something with his hands. I remember always seeing him carve up soap bars and for some reason I understood it to be science, or rather an experiment. I also was really into ocean documentaries, anything on Discovery Channel that highlighted the ocean or environment would be something I would pay attention to. And yes my attention was even more peaked if sharks were in it. At one point during our youth my brother told me that if I wanted to keep learning about sharks that I would have to be someone who studies marine biology. And thus began my stubborn journey in declaring I will become a marine biologist.
Fast forward to college, I entered Northeastern University to study marine science, as I had stated repeatedly since I was younger. Interestingly enough, the more science classes I took the more I realized I just liked science, all of it. It took a bit of time for my fisheries teacher to get me to let go of my stubborn obsession with sharks, but I would say once I did, my understanding of marine biology as a whole was improved. Bachelors of science is where my formal education ends, therefore I have not yet become a marine biologist. Nevertheless, my enthusiasm for science has not dwindled away. It is still very present and of course with a slight favoring of anything ocean.
I have enjoyed the opportunities I had in college and since college because I kept getting to learn from the people around me. Especially, in the two science conferences I participated in. I love being able to see other people’s posters and discuss with them their thoughts and their research.
How does your work contribute to the betterment of society?
As much as I did not for-see myself as being an educator, I am happy I am in it. Mainly for the reason that I can finally share science with adults that avoid science because they had horrible experiences from their last time in education or didn’t really get a chance to do formal education in their youth. So when I teach I aim to be open and caring of their learning journey, and to never dismiss their questions. It benefits society as they become great learners and more confident in their skills. Being an adult educator is very important because it can help disseminate science in a way that helps the world presently. Essentially, I work with individuals that have the current and immediate ability to be stewards of the planet as their understanding of the world improves. As much as education of children is very much needed, I want to improve the science literacy of the adult population. A future goal of mine is to help increase options that are free, supportive, and open to questions that adults have about science, and the inner workings of the planet.
What advice do you have for up and coming scientists and educators?
Something I want everyone to know is to not judge yourself on your performance in classes. Just because you might have gotten a lower grade in a science class does not mean you would be a bad scientist. I also want to say the science or career you might think you want to do might be a completely different field of science or career by the time you graduate, finish a PhD or look for private corporation positions. If you are reading this as someone in high school or college, try out different internships. I know when I was younger I would only look for internships with sharks, and that stubbornness sometimes prevented me from just learning about different fields. Therefore be open to options that come your way. If you are reading this as someone that is mid career, I would say to talk to people in the field that you are interested in. Find others interested in a similar field and hang out with them. For example, there are many groups of mycology fans that meet up every now and then to go foraging and talk mycology. Science in its purest form is about curiosity and asking questions, so keep asking questions and explore our wonderful world.
What is something exciting you are doing at the moment?
I currently am the outreach officer for the JOIDES Resolution that falls under the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). This position provides a great view into the world of science communication that is different from the that of the communication done in a formal education position. The outreach officer has the chance to reach out to anyone in the world and share the life of living on the ship and doing research on the ship. This is just a temporary position for the summer, but offer the chance to learn about geosciences, and other ways to explore the Earth. If you are reading this know that you can call into the ship during an expedition and get a tour of your own, it might not be with me but it will be an outreach officer that has the same excitement as I do. (https://joidesresolution.org/about-the-jr/live-video-events-with-the-joides-resolution/)
Climate change mitigation beyond agriculture: a review of food system opportunities and implications
Meredith T. Niles, Richie Ahuja, Todd Barker, Jimena Esquivel, Sophie Gutterman, Martin C. Heller, Nelson Mango, Diana Portner, Rex Raimond, Cristina Tirado, Sonja Vermeulen
Summarized by Taylor Dickson, who is a senior currently majoring in Environmental Science at Binghamton University. They are an environmentally conscious and dedicated student with a hunger for knowledge. Taylor plans on pursuing field experience prior to the continuation of their education. Outside of the realm of education, they enjoy immersing themselves in nature as well as participating in and appreciating the arts.
What data were used?The data utilized in this article are derived from other research articles and compounded to create a bigger picture encompassing all aspects of the food system. This article incorporates important information regarding areas beyond the direct scope of food production. Such areas included are transportation and refrigeration methods, which have greenhouse gas emission consequences.
Methods: Combining and integrating recent research and expanding the exploration of mitigation opportunities by reviewing the relevance and effectiveness of these opportunities in several areas throughout the food system including pre-production and post-production. This study goes below the surface issue to expose the root areas that need to be addressed to create a more sustainable food system.
Results: The results incorporate all aspects of the food system while considering agricultural climate change mitigation. Included in these results are aspects of food production many people may often forget about including the transportation and storage of the food produced. Certain foods have higher emissions associated with them due to the necessary storage required for these food products as well as the circumstances surrounding the growing and harvesting of such products.
Food loss is experienced at all levels of consumption within the food system, including the pre- and post-consumer levels. Annually, about one third of all food products produced on a global scale result in being wasted or lost throughout the production process. At the production level of the food system, a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions is related to the production of synthetic fertilizers used for agricultural practices. This information demonstrates how vast the scope is of the food system discussed.
Greenhouse gas emissions are significantly higher regarding diets rich in animal derived products. This article utilizes other works which provide information and insight that shifting toward a more plant based diet will be beneficial to the environment in lowering greenhouse gas emissions as well as leading to a decrease in human mortality rate accompanied with an increase in health benefits.
Generally, refrigeration is necessary for around half of all food produced. Lower income countries often lose crops at the production stage due to a lack of technologies related to refrigeration and drying methods. Inadequate drying technologies lead to the development of mold and eventual spoiling of food products such as grains. Almost one fifth of the energy utilized by the food system in the United States is from household refrigeration. Transportation related emissions can be reduced primarily by shifting to more efficient modes of transportation. With many food products requiring refrigeration throughout the transportation process, greenhouse gas emissions of refrigerated transportation can reach up to 140% when compared to the emissions associated with non-refrigerated transportation vehicles.
Why is this study important? This study brings together results from previous studies in a cohesive paper which encapsulates information from several areas within the food system. Incorporating the many aspects of the food system in this study provides the reader with a broader understanding of the depth of each component within the system. A single issue of agriculture is broken down into multiple specific and more manageable subcategories where mitigation strategies are indulged. This study goes a step further and provides possible outcomes to the proposed mitigations and discusses potential consequences of these mitigation strategies.
The bigger picture: Climate change is an inevitable universal issue that everyone will face at some point in their lives, and one that demands immediate attention and mitigation. This study exposes the underlying issues of the food system that are significant contributors to climate change. It draws attention to the root causes of greenhouse gas emissions within the food system. The food system is much more than agricultural production. It includes often overlooked aspects related to pre-production and post-production such as packaging, transportation, and storage of the food produced. Although these issues begin at the production level with corporations, consumers hold some power and have the ability to aid mitigation strategies in their success. Some opportunities for these consumers to participate in as described in this article are to adopt a more plant based diet, refraining from over consumption, and understanding that perfection is an illusion and food does not have to be pleasing to look at for it to be nutritious and serve its purpose.
Citation: Niles, M. T. et al.Climate change mitigation beyond agriculture: a review of foodsystem opportunities and implications. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 33, 297–308(2018).