Finding Connection in Science – the Heart of SciComm

By Makayla Palm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Ancient Ocean Chemistry Might Have Increased Complexity of Life

Ediacaran Reorganization of the Marine Phosphorus Cycle 

Thomas A. Laaksoa, Erik A. Sperling, David T. Johnstona, and Andrew H. Knoll

Summarized by Makayla Palm

What data were used? The purpose of this study was to measure if changes in the phosphorus cycle were linked to changes in the chemical composition of ocean water hundreds of millions of years ago. The phosphorus cycle is the study of the element phosphorus as it travels from deep-sea storage and rock formations into organic life, and back to the seas again. Why study phosphorus in the first place? Phosphorus is essential to life because it is an important component in DNA and RNA structure. Specifically, at the end of the Ediacaran (~625–542 million years ago or mya), there was a jump in complexity in the fossil record (i.e., life became more complex) found in the transition from the Ediacaran to the Cambrian (~542–485 mya); it may be the case that this change in phosphorus can help us understand the changes to life on Earth during this time. Previously collected phosphorite samples (rocks with a high phosphorus content) and newly found samples from the Doushantuo Formation (Ediacaran, China) were used in this study. These phosphorite samples were examined for the following: evaporite volume, strontium isotope ratios, and content of phosphate. Changes in these samples’ ratios and concentrations allow researchers to hypothesize the impacts on water and life during the Ediacaran. Originally, scientists thought the changes may have been due to increased weathering of rocks, but researchers in this study hypothesized that there may have been more to the story. 

Methods: Researchers from this study hypothesized that a change within deeper Ediacaran ocean chemistry may be the cause for the phosphorus cycle change. They tested this hypothesis by using the variables collected (e.g., isotopes) in an equation that measures the possible effects of the phosphorus evaporite remineralizing into phosphorite (typically how phosphorus is stored in the ocean) This equation measures the amount of phosphorus taken out of the storage bank by measuring the fraction of total organic phosphorus that is removed in relation to the amount of phosphorus that reverts back to its original form in the storage bank. 

Results: The changes in ocean chemistry can be found on the atomic scale, where there are electron acceptors (also known as oxidizers) and electron donors (or reducers). The ocean, having been in a state of consistent reducing reactions, may have shifted to have more oxidizers, which would have increased remineralization – specifically, phosphorus remineralization. This remineralization would explain the difference that eventually modified the Ediacaran phosphorus cycle to the modern-day phosphorus cycle. In order for phosphorus to reduce, something needs to accept its electron. In the absence of oxygen (which early Earth was lacking in for billions of years), research indicates sulfate may be a suitable candidate. Samples of sediment did not indicate a change in phosphorus content, so the hypothesis was not supported. This means that the phosphorus was likely staying within the same system and being removed. The phosphorus cycle, similar to the water cycle or carbon cycle, describes the formation, use and recycling of phosphorus from the oceans, to land, and back to the ocean. The data from this study indicate that upwelling, the mixing of nutrients from the bottom of the ocean back to the top, is the reason for increased phosphorus. Upwelling can be caused by deep water currents coming into contact with continents, where cold, nutrient rich water is propelled closer to the surface and warms. The increased upwelling makes sense in the phosphorus cycle because of the extra circulation happening, which would explain the increased presence of phosphorus without an added source of the element. 

This figure represents three different kinds of information collected over the same period of time. The top graph is a bar graph that measures the amount of phosphate evaporite that was removed and not returned to the phosphorus storage bank. The middle bar graph measures the total amount of phosphate resources stored in the form of P2O5. This graph represents the amount in millions of tons. The line graph at the bottom of the figure represents the number of strontium isotopes found within the rock samples. This graph represents inconsistent intervals of small increasing and decreasing values, showing an overall increase through time in each graph. Across all three graphs, columns highlight the appearance of phytoplankton and large animals within the fossil record. The appearance of phytoplankton is approximately 700 million years ago, and the appearance of larger animals is around 720-699 million years ago. The appearance of both is marked by horizontal black bars at the bottom; with each appearance, there is an uptick in strontium 87. More complex life is marked by more phosphate and evaporites. These bars represent the appearance of organisms in all three line graphs.
The figure represents the three different kinds of data discussed in the paper. The top demonstrates the volume ( km cubed) of phosphorite evaporite, with a general trend of increasing evaporite over time.The middle graph represents the amount of phosphate resources stored in the “storage bank” in the ocean (in millions of tons). The bottom graph represents the change in Strontium isotopes, with ebb and flow in value over time, with a general trend that after a strong dip ~ 700 million years, trends upward. Ice ages are indicated with gray vertical bars across all three graphs, indicating a change in ecosystem. The dark horizontal bars at the bottom of the figure indicate when the appearance of phytoplankton and macroscopic animals occur, which is ~ 680 million years for the phytoplankton and ~ 650 million years for the macroscopic animals. The vertical gray shading represents Ice Ages that occurred in the timeline measured on the figure. The figure as a whole points to the correlation of increased phosphorite levels and the first appearance of relatively large animals in the fossil record.

Why is this study important? This study aims to see why the change in phosphorus occurred to better understand the geologic context that precedes a big change in the fossil record. There is a large jump in complexity from Ediacaran to Cambrian organisms, and ocean chemistry (changes in phosphorus levels in this case) may have had something to do with that. The cycling of phosphorus because of upwelling, influenced by continental placement, could have been a driving reason behind these big changes, ecological and evolutionary. 

Big Picture. This study proposes a mechanism for the change in the phosphorus cycle that is observed between the phosphorus cycle today and the phosphorus cycle of the Ediacaran as we know it. Many questions still exist as to how oceans have changed through geologic time and this study provides an important piece to the puzzle. Understanding changes in ocean chemistry, too, better helps scientists understand how life evolves in response. 

Citation: Laakso, Thomas A., et al. “Ediacaran Reorganization of the Marine Phosphorus Cycle.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 117, no. 22, 2020, pp. 11961–11967., 

Synchronized Shedders? Trilobites Molting Patterns and Implications on Defense Strategy

Synchronized Moulting Behavior in Trilobites from the Cambrian Series 2 of South China

Alejandro Corrales-García, Jorge Esteve, Yuanlong Zhao,  and Xinglian Yang

Summarized by Makayla Palm

What data were used? Slabs of trilobites found from Cambrian-age rocks in South China were discovered in large clusters of several hundred individuals. There were several species represented within these clusters. Were these full trilobites? These fossils did not have a cephalon, or a protective head “shield” that concealed sensory organs, indicating they were molts, or leftover exoskeletons that had been shed off after a molting cycle (much like modern lobsters and tarantulas, which belong to the same phylum as trilobites, Arthropoda). All of the trilobite specimens were measured; scientists planned to use this data to test the hypothesis that these specific taxa, or groups of trilobites, had the same molting patterns as other members of Arthropoda. 

Methods: Scientists recorded measurement data to estimate average specimen size for each species. Researchers performed other data analyses, as well, such as: if different species were clustered together (or not), the orientation of the trilobites, or the way they were facing (e.g., – dorsal, or back, up or down) to learn more about how they were buried, and how differently the exoskeletons had molted, by observing how they deviated from a typical, complete trilobite.

Results: The sizes for all the species were all relatively small, which is evidence to support the idea they had gathered to molt for protection. If they had clustered together for reproduction, various sizes would have been found together. The smaller sizes indicate these may have been juveniles that stuck together for strength in numbers, which is observed in modern-day arthropods. The researchers observed all of the previous molting patterns found in other trilobites in these four trilobite species, confirming a wide variety of species molted in similar ways. They also observed that each species was clustered together and they had not intermixed with one another. The fact that these species did not intermix implies group synchronization, which is found in extant species of arthropods as a defense mechanism. It is inferred that these trilobites coordinated their molts in order to protect themselves during the vulnerable process of molting, which leaves their softer insides more exposed to predation until their new exoskeleton hardens.

There are ten known ways of trilobite molting, with various parts of the body either missing or displaced, depending on the growth stage the trilobite was in or if the trilobite needed to replace any body parts.There are two rows of five configurations. All of these configurations are with a dorsal view. The first five configurations are where different parts of the body are omitted, but not disfigured or displaced. Configuration A is missing the top of the head that extends around and almost touches the side. Configuration B is missing the inner part of the head and retains the outer rim of the head. Configuration C is missing the segment that connects the head with the thorax. Configurations D and E are missing body segments in the thorax. Configuration F has the crown of the head displaced under the thorax. Configuration G is missing the crown of the head and the connection between the head and thorax. Configuration H has all parts, but they are disconnected. Configuration I has the head bent forward on top of the thorax. Configuration J has the crown facing down and behind the thorax.
There are ten different molting configurations found within the cluster of trilobites found in all species of the study. The molting patterns differ in where a segment of the exoskeleton is missing, a body part displaced, or a body part that has been shifted. For example, some of the head pieces have been removed or displaced to lay behind the rest of the body. There are pieces of the thorax missing in some, or shifted relative to the rest of the body. These different configurations represent the known molting patterns of trilobites and show clear similarities in molting patterns with extant arthropod species. The relatively small size of the trilobites indicates they may have banded together for protection against predators, and molted in groups for strength in numbers.

Why is this study important? Several different trilobite types in Cambrian strata were found clustered together, but the fossilized remains weren’t complete trilobites. These were molts or leftover exoskeletons they had outgrown and shed. Molting is a common behavior in living arthropods today, and there are certain ways these creatures can molt. Several of these molting patterns have been described and documented previous to this study in other trilobites, and this study expanded on knowledge of molting patterns. This study also shows evidence that trilobites may have worked together in synchronized molting as a protection mechanism.  

The big picture: Fossils like these preserved here, along with modern analogs, can help us understand more about the behavior of long-extinct organisms.  Evidence from extant species of arthropods today has shown groups of species molt together as a defense mechanism, and the hypothesis of this paper was that the four tested groups of trilobites did the same thing. By finding the different species separated in different groups with various molting patterns, the researchers were able to conclude these trilobites likely synchronized, or coordinated molting together in groups. 

Citation: Corrales-García, A., Esteve, J., Zhao, Y., & Yang, X. (2020). Synchronized moulting behaviour in trilobites from the Cambrian Series 2 of South China. Scientific reports, 10(1), 1-11.

Early Risers – A Study of Early Tetrapod Locomotion

Locomotory Behaviour of Early Tetrapods from Blue Beach, Nova Scotia, revealed by microanatomical analysis

Kendra I. Lennie, Sarah L. Manske, Chris F. Mansky and Jason S. Anderson

Summarized by Makayla Palm

What data were used?  Previous research has analyzed possible moving mechanics for the first tetrapods that lived on land (i.e., a four-limbed vertebrate), but most of the conclusions were made in inference, like by analyzing footprints. The researchers of this study aimed to find more direct evidence of how these early reptiles like Tiktaalik or Ichyostega moved in order to determine what lifestyles new fossils from Blue Beach, Nova Scotia had (aquatic/land). In order to test their hypothesis, they studied the limb bones of the new fossils and living creatures like cats and platypi in order to observe how these limb bones adapted to the stresses of gravity and hitting solid ground. The scientists used 3D scans of bones from both the modern and the fossil tetrapods; the living ones had a range of lifestyles from aquatic to terrestrial, for better comparison to the fossils.

MethodsThe researchers took 3D scans and measured the volume of limb bones from eight extant (or living species) and five extinct species (the fossils from Blue Beach, Nova Scotia). This information would give them the ability to tell how, or if, these creatures walked. The extant species were studied in order to observe how and where muscles were stressed during walking (and what clues that left behind in bone) in living creatures to find what patterns to look for in the fossil specimens; this created what is called a compactness profile. The compactness profile summarizes how the different tissues in the bones react to stress over time by observing the amount of trabecular tissue in a certain part of the limb bone. Trabecular bone is a kind of bone tissue that is made of tiny plates meshed together. The trabecular tissue arranges itself where the bone experiences the most stress; this is the pattern being observed in the compactness profile. The bones from each specimen were digitally sliced in a cross-section to observe the internally visible trabecular bone. The researchers observed the trabecular bone in extant species first because their moving mechanics are known. Once they established the pattern of where the trabecular bone was in extant species, they applied it to the extinct species to determine their moving mechanics.  

Results: The trabecular bone’s location shows where the most stress is being absorbed in the bones (think of swimming and the different muscle groups used in contrast to walking- a long walk and a long swim will leave one sore in different ways.) The study shows different stress in the trabecular bone across taxa, depending on if the creature was aquatic or land-living. They concluded that the aquatic species had trabecular bone in the midshaft, or middle of the bone because they would pump their legs while swimming. Terrestrial, or land-based tetrapods, had trabecular bone around the two ends of their femurs, indicating they walked. Some of the fossil tetrapods had less dense trabecular bone than some of the extant species, but it was at the ends of the limb bone; researchers concluded these fossils would have lived a semi-aquatic life (a modern alligator is semi-aquatic, for example). Based on the results of this study, it is likely that the Blue Beach tetrapods represented a range of different lifestyles, from fully aquatic, and semi-aquatic, to fully terrestrial, as all of the patterns of trabecular bone described above were found in the different taxa. 

Twelve cross-section samples of limb bones from different species and different lifestyles are shown with the trabecular bone visible. The figure shows the semi-aquatic genera first, the Blue Beach fossils second, and the terrestrial genera last. The cross sections of terrestrial creatures have a black ring with a white center, such as Felix, Uromastyx, and Eublepharis. Semiaquatic creatures have a thinner black ring with 50% white center and 50% gray center indicating some trabecular bone presence. These creatures are the Amblyrhynchus and Ornithorhynchus genera. Aquatic creatures have an almost completely full center, indicating a significant amount of trabecular bone. The aquatic control sample was from an Ornithorhynchus. The figure also has a graph showing the levels of compactness throughout the sample. Samples with more trabecular bone have a more consistent compactness level, whereas less trabecular bone has a steeper graph. The steeper graph is reflective of the absence of trabecular tissue.
All cross sections of the femurs from this study are shown here, along with a graph showing compactness profiles, which is similar to density. Since the specimens come from different environments and lifestyles, there is an expected difference in the cross-section density. These cross-sections come from the midshaft of the limb bones, so creatures with semi-aquatic or fully aquatic lifestyles should have trabecular bone in their cross sections. Those with terrestrial lifestyles should not. For example, the feline (Felix) cross section in the bottom right corner has an open circle in the center of its cross-section, indicating no trabecular bone, which is consistent with its terrestrial lifestyle. In contrast, the Ornithorhynchus (the modern-day platypus) cross section has a lighter amount of trabecular bone, which is consistent with its semi-aquatic lifestyle.

Why is this study important? The study of tetrapod locomotion, or movement mechanics, reveals how the earliest known walking creatures lived and moved. Previous research used proposed ideas on locomotion by inferring muscle and ligament placement on the limb bones of the tetrapods. This study uses direct evidence by looking at how the limb bones react to stress to determine how these creatures moved in various environments. 

The big picture  Researchers are using tissue evidence in order to better understand how the earliest walking tetrapods walked. The tissue, or trabecular bone, helps researchers see direct evidence of walking, rather than relying on inferred information about soft tissues. The analysis of trabecular bone is direct evidence for locomotion because it is re-arranged by stresses from gravity. The ability to observe these changes in soft tissue depending on lifestyle is a definitive classification of lifestyle for these early risers. Rather than saying “these creatures had the ability to walk”, the researchers are saying, “these creatures did walk.”

Article Citation: Lennie, K. I., Manske, S. L., Mansky, C. F., & Anderson, J. S. (2021). Locomotory behaviour of early tetrapods from Blue Beach, Nova Scotia, revealed by novel microanatomical analysis. Royal Society open science, 8(5), 210281.

I Like Big Plants and I Cannot Lie – Fruit Size Increases in Absence of MegaHerbivores

The megaherbivore gap after the non-avian dinosaur extinctions modified trait evolution and diversification of tropical palms

Renske E. Onstein, W. Daniel Kissling, and H. Peter Linder

Summarized by Makayla Palm

What data were used? Qualitative data from modern palm tree fruit, phylogenetic data, and palm tree fossils are used in order to observe changes over time in the taxon Arecaceae, or the palm tree, from the Paleogene Period. After the end-Cretaceous extinction that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs, mega-herbivores, or any herbivore larger than 1,000 kg ( ~2200 lbs), were nowhere to be found. For the most part, small mammals were left foraging for food, and angiosperms (flower-bearing plants) were able to catch a break. The combination of mammalian seed-spreaders and lack of large herbivores preying on angiosperms (palms in this case) meant that the plants were able to increase in numbers without worrying about defenses. These furry seed-spreaders (small animals that pooped out their seeds) were still spreading, allowing plants to grow and didn’t evolve many defense mechanisms like rough leaves or spines. The researchers hypothesized that they would observe three things about palm diversity in the fossil material from this time: the origin of plant armature (or defense structures like spikes) in the Cretaceous Period because of many large herbivores, the decrease in armature during the Post-Cretaceous Paleogene Megaherbivore Gap (PMHG), and the change in fruit size over time as the plants were able to diversify. 

Methods: Measurements of the palm tree fruit fossil material were taken in order to compare how fruit size changed over time within the megaherbivore gap and observations were made on when these changes in size happened, which supplemented the phylogenetic analysis. Living palms were observed in modern habitats, as were  their interactions with larger herbivores of modern times to better understand how the fossil palms may have interacted with herbivores from the Paleogene.

Results: The hypothesis that the first armature appeared in the Cretaceous was confirmed by fossil material, which indicates an increase in defense likely due to megaherbivores. The armature of plants with larger fruit decreased over time, which also supports the hypothesis of losing these defense structures over time with less predation. Despite the disappearance of megaherbivores in the end-Cretaceous, fruit size stayed relatively large (above 4cm). Plants with larger fruit diversified on a constant scale over time, whereas plants with smaller fruit decreased in diversity, counter to the second hypothesis. Overall, some hypotheses were supported, and some were not. 

 The six graphs each have three columns representing before, during and after the Paleocene MegaHerbivore Gap. Graph (a) represents a consistent speciation rate among large fruit (defined to be >4cm in length). Graph (b) represents a speciation of armature in leaves and stems, showing a negative dip during the PMHG with an increase before and after. Graph (c ) represents speciation of stem armature, with a similar pattern to Graph (b), showing a dip during the PMHG. Graph (d) represents the rate of fruit size evolution (from small to large) increasing during the PMHG, and a constant state before and after the gap. Graph (e) represents a transition of evolving armature in leaf and stem, decreasing during the gap and increasing again afterward. Graph (F) represents the evolution of just stem armature, which stays constant before and after the PMHG, but dips significantly during the event itself.
This box and whisker plot tracks the changes of palm trees from before, during, and after the Paleocene MegaHerbivore Gap (PMHG) following the Cretaceous extinction. The median value (middle value of data)is represented by the bar across the yellow box. The graphs show that armature decreases immediately following the extinction ~66mya and the speciation of fruit staying constant. These also show the increased fruit size during the PMGH.

 Why is this study important? A lot of end-Cretaceous Period studies focus on the end of the dinosaurs, what caused the mass extinction, and how the age of mammals began. This study shows a different perspective on a well-studied time period by using a combination of paleobotany and vertebrate paleontology, and observing how the absence of large herbivores affected how ancient palm trees changed ecologically. This documented diversity opened new doors for angiosperm evolution and led to an increase in forests, setting the stage for the next era of geologic time in North America, the Cenozoic. 

The big picture: The Paleogene megaherbivore gap is a time in geologic history where the absence of large herbivores after the non-avian dinosaur extinction greatly affected ecosystems and the change in the landscape to more dense forests. The lack of large herbivores to eat plants allowed plants to evolve fewer defensive structures and larger fruit, which allowed them to spread farther distances and in greater numbers, because of the increase in seeds. 

Article Citation: Onstein, R. E., Kissling, W. D., & Linder, H. P. (2022). The megaherbivore gap after the non-avian dinosaur extinctions modified trait evolution and diversification of tropical palms. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 289(1972), 20212633.

Surprise Spinosaurid in Southern England…the Biggest in All of Europe??

A European Giant: a large spinosaurid (Dinosauria, Theropoda) from the Vectis Formation, (Wealden Group, Early Cretaceous) UK. 

Chris T. Barker​,  Jeremy A.F. Lockwood, Darren Naish, Sophie Brown, Amy Hart, Ethan Tulloch, and Neil J. Gostling

Summarized by Makayla Palm

What data were used? Fossil remains of a new theropod dinosaur from Southern England were discovered and excavated over several months’ time. These bones consisted of post-cranial fragments, or the parts of the skeleton below the skull. Most of the vertebrae, parts of the pelvis, and some ribs were identified from this specimen, also known as the White Rock spinosaurid. Measurements were taken of the fragments, and an evolutionary (phylogenetic) analysis was inferred to see where this theropod may fit on an evolutionary tree. 

Methods: Scientists measured these new bone fragments, and over 1,000 characteristics of the fragments were cataloged in a computer and compared to other theropods in a character database. This database categorizes dinosaurs by the features found within their bones, and accounts for the smallest of variations to be as specific as possible. These features also help place the theropod on a family tree by using computer programs that arrange all of the characters to identify which dinosaurs are closely related to one another.  

Results: This theropod’s size and other morphological features indicate that it is likely closely related to Spinosaurus, but may or may not be in the genus Spinosaurus. There is a lot of weathering of the fossil remains, which makes more specific categorization not possible at this time. The presence of canals within the bones suggests that post-death, something began to eat away at the theropod’s bones. Scientists have seen very similar features before in other Cretaceous theropods, and the canals are likely due to beetle pupae that dug their way through these bones after the dinosaur had died. The phylogenetic tree did not provide enough resolution to confirm a more specific group that this specimen belongs to, but the likelihood that it represents a new type of spinosaurid is high. This specimen is not only the first of its kind found in this geological location, but its size rivals all of the known specimens in Europe. 

A black and gray map indicates the size of the Island of Wight, where the spinosaurid in this paper was found and excavated. The Island is just south of England, and is ~50 km in length. The Spinosaurid was found on the northeastern side of the Island near Compton Bay. The closeness of the spinosaurid to the bay could indicate it was a coastal predator.
A geographical map of the Island Of Wight, just off the coast of Southern England. The spinosaurid indicated on the map is where the fossils were found. They are not far from Compton Bay,where the fossil was excavated.

Why is this study important? This study provides insight into the geologic history of Southern England with the presence of the first known large theropod. First, the Lower Cretaceous geological formations of western Europe have been defined as the origin of the spinosaurids. Secondly, the White Rock spinosaurid appears in the fossil record later than any known spinosaurid on the Island, indicating the presence of spinosaurids to last longer than before. The size of this spinosaurid may have warded off other predators, which might explain why fossils of other theropods have been found this late in other known Spinosaurus– bearing locations. This specimen is classified as a spinosaurid and not a Spinosaurus, because its bones were not preserved well enough to confirm a new taxon of Spinosaurus. More phylogenetic analysis, and the discovery of new material, will provide future insight into its taxonomic placement. 

The big picture: A new theropod has been discovered in Southern England, and its large size and location implies it is not only a new spinosaurid, but also one of the largest theropod dinosaurs in Europe to date. Its presence improves the known range of spinosaurids and may provide new insight into taxonomic variation within the spinosaurids. 

Citation: Barker, Chris T.,  Lockwood, Jeremy A.F., Naish, Darren, Brown, Sophie, Hart, Amy, Tulloch, Ethan, Gostling, Neil J.   “A European Giant: A Large Spinosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Vectis Formation (Wealden Group, Early Cretaceous), UK.” PeerJ, vol. 10, 2022,

The Eastern Kunlun Tectonic Event and How It Intruded in the First Place

Silurian-Devonian Granites and Associated Intermediate-Mafic Rocks along the Eastern Kunlun Orogen, Western China: Evidence for a Prolonged Post-Collisional Lithospheric Extension

Jinyang Zhang Huanling Lei Changqian Ma Jianwei Li Yuanming Pan 

Summarized by Makayla Palm 

What data were used? The goal of this study was to gain insight into how the Kunlun mountain formation and surrounding area were initially formed. The Kunlun Mountain range primarily has an intermediate and mafic composition, with felsic granite intrusions, or dikes. Dikes are intrusions of magma that cut across previously formed layers and are an indicator of a secondary formation process. Depending on the mineral composition, or silica content, of these dikes (or intrusions) they will be either felsic, intermediate, or mafic, with felsic rocks containing the most silica. There are several kinds of secondary igneous rock formations found in the Kunlun called dikes. If the composition of the dike is different from the surrounding rock, this will provide insight into how the dikes formed in the Kunlun and how it can be explained using plate tectonic theory. 

Granite is a commonly found felsic rock in the Kunlun and is formed intrusively (or underground). The mineral contents of the granite can tell the researchers how fast or slow the magma cooled, which will ultimately help answer the question of how the dikes formed. Within the granite, there were zircon crystals present with radioactive uranium decaying into lead. These ratios were recorded in order to estimate ages within the mountain range to determine when the different magma-cooling events took place. To summarize, this paper uses physical samples of the igneous rocks in the area to study mineral composition and isotope data from these rocks, too. 

Methods: The samples that were collected from different rock types in this area were studied under a microscope in order to observe the composition and individual mineral grains. In plate tectonics, there are two kinds of plates: continental plates and oceanic plates. Granite (felsic) comprises less dense continental plates, while basalt (mafic) comprises a denser oceanic plate. In the Kunlun, the researchers observed several granite inclusions surrounded by mafic rock. The isotope ratios of uranium to lead were recorded and radiometrically dated. These data determine if the different intrusions formed at the same time, or if they formed during several events. This would help support or reject the hypothesis they posed that when the continental and oceanic plates collided, creating the Kunlun Mountains, the edge of the oceanic plate broke while bending under the continental plate (the oceanic plate always goes underneath a continental plate, due to higher density).

Results: The radiometric dating of the granite inside the intrusions (the magma formations added after the formation of the surrounding rock) indicated four different formation events, with the earliest taking place 427-414 million years ago (mya) and the latest from 373-357mya. (For more about how radiometric dating works visit Geologic Time.) The variation in the composition of the rocks (felsic, mafic, etc) indicates a complicated tectonic history; along with the multiple events of granitic intrusions, scientists also found ophiolites (oceanic crust that was pushed onto land during an oceanic- continental plate collision), which indicates that a piece of the oceanic plate was pushed up and broken off during the collision. 

A volcano sits on top of igneous rock layers. The volcano is not erupting, but has a magma plume underneath it. There are also intrusive igneous rock formations in the figure. There is a pluton (depending on its size, it is either a stock or batholith) and there are dikes cutting through the rock layers. The rock layers are labeled on the left side, in order of fastest cooling, smaller crystals on the top, to slower cooling, larger crystal sizes on the bottom. The pluton lies at the very bottom of this image with yellow magma.
This figure demonstrates the relationship of cooling rates to crystal sizes. Since the granite of the Kunlun has large crystals, it would be represented by a dike that was set deeper into the rock layers because of longer cooling periods. The lower horizontal layers represent the mafic layers of the Kunlun, which also had large crystals. Figure Citation: Beckett, Megan. Flickr, Siyavula Education , 23 Apr. 2014, Accessed 30 June 2022.

Why is this study important? This study looked to test the hypothesis of a broken oceanic plate’s impact on the formation of the Kunlun mountain range and gain more specific knowledge of its origin. By taking inventory of its intrusive rock formations, getting radiometric dating for these intrusions, and noting the differences in mineral compositions, they were able to confirm their hypothesized four magma events. These events represent different periods of magma formation, which confirms the researcher’s hypothesis about oceanic plate breakage during a collision. 

The big picture: Clues from igneous geology, such as large crystal size, rock type, and mineral composition can give researchers details on how large formation events took place. Isotopes within radiometric dating were used to separate events from one another and place them in chronological order. This particular study answered questions about the origin of the Kunlun Orogen, or mountainous landscapes.

Citation: Zhang, Jinyang, Huanling Lei, Changqian Ma,  Jianwei Li,  Yuanming Pan. “Silurian-Devonian Granites and Associated Intermediate-Mafic Rocks along the Eastern Kunlun Orogen, Western China: Evidence for a Prolonged Post-Collisional Lithospheric Extension.” Gondwana Research, vol. 89, Oct. 2021, pp. 131–146.,

The Scars of a Mastodon’s Tusk and the Story it Reveals About the Mastodon’s Bachelor Experience

Male Mastodon Landscape Use Changed with Maturation (late Pleistocene, North America)

Joshua H. Miller, Daniel C. Fisher, Brooke E. Crowley, Ross Secord, and Bledar A. Konomi

Summarized by Makayla Palm 

What data were used? The tusks from a single male mastodon specimen (the “Buesching” mastodon, housed in the Indiana State Museum) that died in its early thirties were analyzed in two stages of its life (teenage and adult) in order to understand how, as a bachelor, it moved away from its herd and interacted with other adult mastodons in what was likely a breeding ground. The skull and tusks of this particular specimen have scratches, dents and markings likely caused from fighting with other males over potential female mates. These marks inspired researchers to focus on mating behavior; they hypothesized that the place where the mastodon fossils were found was the same location as its summer breeding ground. Scientists also examined modern-day relatives like elephants, which added insight into the following data: isotope changes in both oxygen and strontium and the growth “rings” of the tusks during teenage and adult years, which shed light on how the mastodon might have moved seasonally. 

Methods: In order to test the hypothesis of the mastodon’s seasonal moving in his later years, scientists examined and compared changes in tusk growth throughout its life. The exterior damage on the tusks was observed and recorded to factor into results. The mastodon tusks grew each year by depositing a ring of dentin, which is dense tissue that is bony, similar to what makes up teeth. By looking at the differences in the rings, scientists can determine changes in lifestyle. In particular, to learn about where the mastodon traveled, two different isotopes were measured: one to determine seasonal temperature changes (an oxygen isotope) and the other for change in environment and age (a strontium isotope).

Results: The visible damage observed on the mastodon’s skull is consistent with a hypothesis scientists proposed of males fighting for territory and mates. This happened in seasonal periods of musth, an annual event where male mastodons experienced extra fighting based on increased aggression while on the search for a mate, leading to increased clashing tusks in the height of mating season. The dentin growth deposits show evidence of low nutrition value in the same growth years the male would be expected to separate from the herd. There was also a noticed abundance of nutrients a couple of years later, inferring it had become successful on its own as an adult. Oxygen and strontium isotopic changes in the tusk show that the mastodon traveled to a warmer location around the same time each year; the two isotope ratios indicate a pattern of more frequent visits to its summer ‘bachelor pad’ (or breeding ground) and as the mastodon got older, it was able to travel further from its typical location. 

Two graphs represent the frequency in which the mastodon visited his breeding grounds. The first graph (on the left) represents his teenage years, and the second graph (on the right) represents his adult years. The adolescent years show no interaction at the fossil location site (where the mastodon bred and was later excavated), but consistent travel far away from the breeding ground. The adult graph shows consistent interaction at the breeding site, indicated with a red horizontal bar above the “near fossil location” label. The adult graph indicates the same consistent travel away from the breeding grounds as the adolescent graph, implying the addition of the breeding ground travel was an addition he found as he sexually matured.
The figure represents the changes in the oxygen isotope that indicate warmer temperatures. The warmer temperatures are inferred to be the mating grounds for this particular mastodon. This figure shows no interaction at this site in its adolescent years, but consistent interaction there as an adult. There is a consistent pattern where it left the breeding grounds in both teenage and adult years. The fossil location is where the mastodon was excavated.

Why is this study important? A male mastodon perished after fighting to the death for a mate. Its tusks were analyzed for growth patterns and changes in trace isotopes to better understand where the mastodon went, its pattern of seasonal travel, and its behavior throughout its lifetime.

The big picture: This story sheds light on the behavior of mastodons as they matured over time, as well as male behavior displayed during mating season. The quality of the preserved tusks allowed researchers to learn about this mastodon’s teenage and adult life and compare the differences over time. 

Citation: Miller, Joshua H.,  Fisher, Daniel C., Crowley, Brooke E., Secord, Ross and Konomi, Bledar A.  “Male Mastodon Landscape Use Changed with Maturation (Late Pleistocene, North America).” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 119, no. 25, 2022,

Using Dinosaur Models to Learn More About Their Behavior

Digital 3D Models of Theropod Dinosaurs for Approaching Body Mass Distribution and Volume

by: Matías Reolid, Francisco J. Cardenal , Jesús Reolid

Summarized by: Makayla Palm 

What data were used? This study picked physical dinosaur models from eight different genera, or groups of dinosaur species, to scan and create 3D computer models. These models were used, alongside measurements collected from previous studies on each genus, in order to infer how these dinosaurs may have hunted, moved, and lived. The eight genera in the study were: Coelophysis, Dilophosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Allosaurus, Carnotautus, Baryonyx, Tyrannosaurus, and Giganotosaurus

Methods: Each model was scanned by a 3D printer in order to make a digital image. After the eight models were scanned, data on body length, collected in other studies, was added to the models. information was used in order to calculate body mass, volume, and skull length. These calculations were then used to make three ratios: skull length/body length, surface area/volume, and length/mass. 

Results: The three ratios calculated, skull length/body length, length/mass, and surface area/volume reveal information about these genera that wouldn’t be easily found by just observing the fossils, such as metabolism, eating habits, and overall roles in the ecosystem. The study first looks at the skull length/body length ratio. The larger a skull the dinosaur had, the larger and more expansive their jaws were. This is directly correlated to a higher demand for energy and higher body mass; a large skull was required to take down enough prey to fulfill energy demands. . If a dinosaur had a smaller skull, it was less equipped to take down larger prey, so this limits the kind of prey it had access to. In the case of Coelophysis, the oldest and smallest genus in the study, its skull/body length ratio infers that its small jaws were suited to smaller prey on land, but also small fish. In contrast, the larger theropods, Tyrannosaurus and Giganotosaurus, had the ability to hunt larger prey because of their large skull/body ratio. 

The next ratio observed was the length/mass ratio. This ratio considers differences in body plan that the skull/body length ratio does not. For example, Carnotaurus had a short skull in comparison to the other genera in the study, so it is the outlier in the group. However, the length/mass ratio accounts for its build, which recognizes its ability to hunt larger prey. Similarly, Baryonyx has one of the largest skull/body length ratios, but its long snout shape, similar to modern crocodiles, suggests it fed exclusively on fish and other swimming organisms, rather than large land-living prey. This ratio also sheds light on locomotion possibilities for these theropods. Allosaurus, a mid-size theropod, had longer arms than most other large dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus. This suggests it may have used its arms when taking down large prey unlike its larger theropod comparisons, which are famous for their seemingly useless arms. 

The final ratio observed in this study is the surface area/volume ratio. This was used to study the efficiency of the dinosaurs to release excess heat, which has strong implications for metabolism. If an organism can release heat efficiently, it can have a higher metabolism, because high-metabolism organisms need that heat release. Researchers found that the smaller the dinosaur, the higher heat release, therefore a high metabolism and vice versa. This is consistent with the study’s findings on feeding habits. Coelophysis preyed on smaller organisms, but was probably able to do so more frequently. Tyrannosaurus hunted larger prey, but most likely needed to rest in between for significant periods of time because of its slower metabolism. 

A scatter-plot graph represents the different body mass and skull/body ratios of each theropod dinosaur genus . The overall trend is a positive exponential growth, which represents a consistent increase in these ratios over time, with Carnotaurus as the outlier because of its shorter skull shape. Coelophysis, the smallest of the studied genera, has the smallest body mass and skull-to-body length ratio and plots on the x-axis. Dilophosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Baryonyx, Allosaurus, Giganotosaurus and Tyrannosaurus all follow the curve of the graph and are listed here in order from smallest to largest skull to body length ratios. Carnotaurus, the outlier on the graph, has a point on the graph that lies close to the origin despite its slightly larger body mass.
This scatter plot displays each dinosaur’s body weight by skull-to-body ratio. As body weight increases, so does the skull/body length ratio. The outlier in the group is Carnotaurus, as its shorter skull gives it a smaller skull/body length ratio.

Why is this study important? This study allows observations of theropod dinosaurs to be made that would not be possible from studying just the bones. This data strengthens previous ideas about theropod behavior, such as larger dinosaurs need more energy and need to hunt larger prey. Therefore, their body structure is reflective of a creature able to take down the kind of prey it needs. This study also provides new information previously not available because of new data about metabolism and body surface area, such as a surface area/volume ratio, which indicates what dinosaur metabolism may have been. 

The big picture: This study of 3D scans of theropod dinosaurs infer information from new data by scanning to scale models. These data allow researchers to compare new measurements like surface area and volume to better understand what dinosaur metabolisms and body plans may have been like, which may confirm or reform what we already know about their roles in their respective environments. 

Citation: Reolid, Matías, et al. “Digital 3D Models of Theropods for Approaching Body-Mass Distribution and Volume.” Journal of Iberian Geology, vol. 47, no. 4, 2021, pp. 599–624., 

Makayla Palm, Science Communicator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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