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., https://doi.org/10.1007/s41513-021-00172-1. 

How climate change and other factors have affected Caribbean reefs for 150 years

A century of warming on Caribbean reefs

Colleen B. Bove, Laura Mudge, and John F. Bruno

Summarized by Habiba Rabiu, a student of environmental geosciences at Fort Hays State University. Habiba is interested in all aspects of environmental science and conservation & sustainability. She would like to work in educating others about those topics. In her free time, she likes to read, write, and bake. 

What data were used? The researchers compiled data from three ocean temperature databases (HadISST, Pathfinder, and OISST) to assess changes in sea surface temperature (SST) and marine heatwave (MHW) occurrences in coral reefs situated in the Caribbean from 1871 to 2020. These data consisted of both in situ readings (those that were taken directly at the surface of the water from boats or buoys) and remote satellite readings. 

Methods: Using data from multiple sources, the researchers determined the locations of 5,326 coral reefs in the Caribbean. Referring to the World Wildlife Fund marine ecoregion classifications, these reefs were sorted into 8 ecoregions. From these data, they assessed the SST for the Caribbean basin as a whole, each ecoregion, and the individual reefs. They also assessed the frequency and duration of MHV events (periods of time, lasting at least five days, when the temperature of a marine area is abnormally high for that location and time) in the basin and the reefs. 

Results: Over the past 150 years, Caribbean coral reefs have warmed by 0.5-1˚C. As a whole, the Caribbean basin has experienced an increase of temperature at a rate of 0.04˚C per decade since 1871 and 0.17˚C per decade since 1981. The rate of increase in each ecoregion differed slightly, with the most recent measurements describing a range from an increase of 0.17˚C per decade in the Bahamian ecoregion to 0.26˚C per decade in the Southern and Eastern Caribbean ecoregions. 

 The frequency and duration of MHW have also increased, particularly since 2010. In the 1980s, MHW occurred once a year on average, which increased to an average of five times a year in the 2010s. This has drastically decreased the return time of the MHW events (the number of days between each event.) In the 1980s an average of 377 days elapsed between each MHW, while in the 2010s, an average of 111 days of return time was recorded. Additionally, recent MHW events have lasted for an average of 14 days compared to the 1980s when they typically lasted less than 10.

The figure shows a series of colored stripes, each of which represents one year from 1870 (on the left) to 2020. The higher temperatures are shown in dark red, which lighten to lighter red and pink as the temperature decreases. The coldest temperatures are shown in dark blue, lightening to paler blues as they get warmer. The left side of the figure (about 2/5 of it) shows mostly blue stripes, while the remainder is mostly pink and red, with the darkest red stripes on the rightmost side showing the late 2010s and 2020.
Stripe diagram showing the increase in mean annual temperature of Caribbean coral reefs, with warmer temperatures (max annual SST of 28.0) depicted in shades of red and cooler temperatures (min annual SST of 26.6) depicted in blue.

Why is this study important? Oceans make up the majority of the Earth’s surface, and the organisms that live there are being greatly affected by global warming and other degradational occurrences in the environment such as sewage pollution and pesticide runoff. Coral reefs are especially rich in biodiversity and contribute greatly to the overall health of the oceans. Given that most marine animals species are ectothermic (they have little to no internal/physiological control of heat and rely on their environment to regulate their temperature), drastic changes in temperature can affect their metabolism, alter their growth rates and caloric needs, cause disease outbreaks, and in some cases lead to the loss of a species entirely which further disrupts the food webs and other delicate systems of the ecosystem. 

The big picture: There are several factors that are causing the destruction of coral reefs, including overfishing (and other human activities), pollution, and overabundance of macroalgae (which thrives in warmer waters), but marine temperature increase has proven to be a primary factor, mainly due to how it causes coral bleaching (when algae is forcibly expelled from the coral, leaving it vulnerable). This is important because it shows that coral reefs are not only affected by regional and local activity, but also by global warming that is largely caused by the activity of first world countries, even if they are not necessarily close to the areas being affected. Halting the ruin of the reefs and other complex ecosystems will require global attention and effort, particularly from more populous, technologically advanced regions that use the greenhouse gasses that are increasing the temperature of the Earth’s surface.

Citation: Bove CB, Mudge L, Bruno JF (2022) A century of warming on Caribbean reefs. PLOS Climate 1(3): e0000002. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pclm.0000002

Ecologically diverse clades dominate the oceans via extinction resistance

Ecologically diverse clades dominate the oceans via extinction resistance

Matthew L. Knope, Andrew M. Bush, Luke O. Frishkoff, Noel A. Heim, and Jonathan L. Payne

Summarized by Anna Geldert

What data were used? Researchers examined taxonomic data of marine organisms across 444 million years of geologic time. Taxonomic data relates to the level of biodiversity of organisms, and classifies them under different evolutionary categories (domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species). On the whole, this study examined 19,992 genera (species groups) from the fossil record and 30,074 genera of living marine species..

Methods: This study examined speciation (origination) and extinction rates of marine species over the past 444 million years. Speciation refers to the evolution of new species, while extinction occurs when a species dies out; both factors impact the overall level of biodiversity. Net diversification rates (i.e., the difference between speciation and extinction rates) were calculated for each period  of geologic time. Additionally, researchers graphed a relationship between the species richness and ecological diversity at different points in geological time. Species richness refers simply to the number of species in a group, while ecological diversity indicates the number of “modes of life” present, such as varying habitats, levels of mobility, and feeding methods.

Results: An examination of the fossil record found that a high biodiversity among species groups could be reached in two primary ways: firstly, by a relatively short period of high speciation, and secondly, by a gradual increase over time due to average speciation and low extinction. While the first category tended to reach high biodiversity faster, they were more vulnerable to mass extinctions than the second group. Most species groups alive today, therefore, evolved via the second route. With respect to the relationship between species richness and ecological diversity, this study found a positive correlation between the two factors, meaning that a variety of life modes can be tied to having more species. 

The figure compares ecological diversity and species richness over the past 444 million years of geologic time. Species richness is graphed as the log10 of the number of genera on the x-axis, while ecological diversity (in log10 of the number of modes of life) is on the x-axis. The x-axis spans from 0 to 4 in increments of 1, while the y-axis spans from 0.0 to 1.5 in increments of 0.5. Several slopes in different colors are shown, with a legend indicating the geologic time to which the slope corresponds. The geologic stages of time included are: Silurian to Devonian (443.4 to 358.9 million years ago), Carboniferous to Permian (358.9 to 252.2 mya), Triassic (252.2 to 201.3 mya), Jurassic to Cretaceous (201.3 to 66.0 mya), and Paleogene to Neogene (66.0 to 0.0117 mya). The slope of the modern relationship between species richness and ecological diversity is also shown. Slope values range from approximately 0.20 to 0.32 and appear generally to increase steadily over time, with some overlap between geologic stages. The modern slope is approximately 0.30, and lies in the middle of the range of slope values for the Paleogene to Neogene category.
Fig 1. Relationship between species richness and ecological diversity of marine species from 444 million years ago to present.

Why is this study important? The results from this study reveal that, in the long run, rapid diversification within a species group is not sustainable because the majority of this species group is likely to be wiped out during a mass extinction event. On the other hand, gradual diversification in species groups that are able to survive mass extinctions is a more probable explanation for modern levels of marine biodiversity. These species were most likely able to survive mass extinctions due to higher levels of ecological diversity, a theory which would also explain why ecological diversity has been increasing compared to species richness over more recent eras. This study is important because it calls into question an accepted theory that directly links ecological diversity to speciation rates. While the results from this study likewise recognizes a correlation between these factors, it also implies that the relationship between the two factors may be more complex. It is only because species groups with high ecological diversity were able to survive mass extinction events that this correlation is seen so clearly today.

The big picture: This study is important in the larger field of evolutionary ecology because it impacts our understanding of how species evolve and respond to extinction pressures over time. Researchers should not assume that the tight correlation between species richness and ecological biodiversity implies a direct causational relationship, because as this study reveals, in many cases the relationship is more complicated than that. Further research is needed to fully analyze the role that ecological diversity plays in survival of mass extinctions.

Citation: Knope, M. L., Bush, A. M., Frishkoff, L. O., Heim, N. A., & Payne, J. L. (2020). Ecologically diverse clades dominate the oceans via extinction resistance. Science, 367(6481), 1035–1038. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aax6398

 

44% of Earth’s land surface must receive conservation attention to stop the biodiversity crisis

The minimum land area requiring conservation attention to safeguard biodiversity

James R. Allan, Hugh P. Possingham, Scott C. Atkinson, Anthony Waldron, Moreno Di Marco, Stuart H.M. Butchart, Vanessa M. Adams, W. Daniel Kissling, Thomas Worsdell, Chris Sandbrook, Gwill Gibbon, Kundan Kumar, Piyush Mehta, Martine Maron, Brooke A. Williams, Kendall R. Jones, Brendan A. Wintle, April E. Reside, James E. M. Watson. 

Summarized by Michael Hallinan

What data were used? No new data was generated for this study, instead already existing data from different sources was combined in a new way. Spatial data about existing protected areas, key biodiversity areas, and ecologically intact areas was taken from the World Database on Protected Areas from February 2020 and 2017. In addition, data from the September 2019 version of the World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas was used, as well as animal distribution data from IUCN Red List and the BirdLife International Handbook. All this data was then merged to create an existing guide to important conservation areas as well as biodiversity. This is necessary to determine the existing species health and eventually predict future species health.

Methods: Using the animal distribution data, targets were set for what percentage needs to be conserved based on the range and quantity of each of the groups such as freshwater crabs, terrestrial mammals, and birds. Following this, an analysis on each species range and the determined important conservation areas was performed to identify what additional range may be needed as well as a potential lack of species in those areas. Then, a series of optimization analyses was performed on 30 x 30 km land units to determine which land would need to be conserved to reach those targets. Factors like cost, historical inquiry, human development, and the inability to perform agriculture as a result of conservation were also estimated. Finally, after all these considerations, potential areas for future conservation efforts were identified and outlined as different components. There are four components: Protected areas, which are areas outlined for general conservation; Key Biodiverse areas, which is land labeled for conservation of specific biodiversity; Ecologically Intact communities are ecological land which contain all the expected species within the ecosystem; and Conservation Priorities, which is land that requires conservation attention.

Results: Ultimately, the study estimates that the minimum land area that needs conservation attention to safeguard biodiversity is 64.7 million square kilometers (~24.9 million square miles), or roughly 44% of Earth’s terrestrial area. This 64.7 million comprises 35.1 million km of ecologically intact areas, 20.5 million of already existing protected areas, 11.6 million of key biodiversity areas, and 12.4 million km of additional land needed to promote species wellness in the smallest range possible. As for specific regions, this means 64% of the land in North America, and at least 33.1% of Europe’s land needs to be protected.

In addition to these spatial statistics, it’s also found that currently 1.87 billion people live on land that needs conservation attention, or approximately 24% of the world’s population with Africa, Asia, and Central America being the most affected due to high population density.  Approximately 55% of this land is located in developed economies such as Canada or Germany. As for the animal targets themselves, amphibians, reptiles, and freshwater animals were found to be below even half the target population . On the other hand, birds and mammals were found to be between 50 and 75% of the target population.

A map of the world, where terrestrial land is marked with protected areas, key biodiversity areas, ecologically intact areas, and additional conservation priorities identified. North America features many areas of key biodiversity with much of the United States being labeled as additional conservation priorities, specifically along the coast and the south-east. Canada is overwhelmingly labeled as ecologically intact with some already protected areas and some key biodiversity areas. Central America is heavily labeled as in need of conservation priorities with a relatively-high quantity of key biodiversity areas. South America consists of heavily protected areas in the Amazonas with many areas of additional conservation priorities along the coasts, and some key biodiversity areas. Large parts of identified areas in Europe are already protected, with some new conservation priorities near coastal regions and eastern Europe such as Belarus. Africa is mainly ecologically intact with the Sahara desert in the north, anda diverse mixture of protected areas, additional conservation priority areas, and key biodiversity areas across the whole continent. Next, Oceania has a large quantity comprising mostly protected areas and ecologically intact areas in central Australia with additional conservation priorities identified around the coast and neighboring island nations. Lastly, Asia is heavily ecologically intact towards the northern part of Russia, and becomes a mixture of protected areas, ecologically intact, and a heavy quantity of conservation priority areas as you go from the southern part of Russia through the rest of the continent. It’s also notable that China contains a large amount of the protected areas in the Himalayas.
This graph shows the protected areas (light blue), Key Biodiversity Areas (purple), and ecologically intact areas (dark blue), as well as new conservation priorities (green). The Venn Diagram to the left shows proportional overlap between features, showing that the majority of both the ecologically intact areas as well as the key biodiversity areas are currently not yet protected.

Why is this study important?: Land loss and conversion is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity. As climate change increases and human development expands, plants and animals become increasingly threatened and infringed upon leading to potential permanent damage, loss of life, and possibly even extinction. By performing studies like these, we can identify what areas are especially valuable, create action plans to remediate damage and support existing animal biodiversity.

This study identifies not only the amount of land needed, but also suggests where specific conservation attention needs to be focussed, as well as economic and social considerations that should be taken into account. In addition it needs to be kept in mind that historically, some conservation actions have adversely affected Indigienous people, Afro-descendants, and other local communities such as forcible removal of native populations off land in the name of conservation. By considering all of the social, economic, scientific, and historical factors that affect this issue, we can support the world around us better. 

The Big Picture: To safeguard biodiversity throughout future years, conservation attention needs to be given to an estimated minimum of 64.7 million square kilometers or roughly 44% of the Earth’s terrestrial land. This was estimated through mapping and data analysis of existing protected areas and existing species distribution data, which was then viewed on a global scale. Amphibians, reptiles, and freshwater animals are the furthest from the targets they need to meet to survive in the long run.The majority of the land which needs the most conservation efforts appears in developed nations. 

Citation: Allan, J.R., Possingham, H.P., Atkinson, S.C., Waldron, A., Di Marco, M., Butchart, S.H., Adams, V.M., Kissling, W.D., Worsdell, T., Sandbrook, C. and Gibbon, G., 2022. The minimum land area requiring conservation attention to safeguard biodiversity. Science376(6597), pp.1094-1101.

Climate Change Very Likely to Slow Plant Growth in Northern Hemisphere

Future reversal of warming-enhanced vegetation productivity in the Northern Hemisphere

By: Yichen Zhang, Shillong Piao, Yan Sun, Brendan M. Rogers, Xiangyi Li, Xu Lian, Zhihua Liu, Anping Chen, Josep Peñuelas

Summarized by: Michael Hallinan

What data were used? No new data was generated for this study, instead existing data from different sources was used and combined. The majority of the data used in this study comes from FLUXCOM, an initiative that uses satellite remote sensing, meteorological data, and site level observations at a global scale. In addition, data was also sourced from the World Climate Research Program, including from a variety of contributors such as the Canadian Center for Climate Modeling and Analysis and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. Information on temperature, precipitation, surface downwelling shortwave radiation, maximum near-surface air temperature, and total influx of carbon into an ecosystem were used.

Methods: An earth climate model was created using the relationship between surface air temperature, summer carbon influx, precipitation, and surface downwelling radiation for the Northern Hemisphere. This model featured a moving 20-year window from 2001-2020 all the way to 2081-2100. Then using this model, analysis on carbon influx and surface air temperature was performed to generate a predictive model for temperature. From here, bias corrections were applied using observed data from 2001 to 2013 to help correct the model. Finally, projected temperatures were then compared to the historically observed optimal temperature for vegetation productivity. 

Results: Through this study it was discovered that there is a positive correlation between carbon fixation during summer and temperatures, although the correlation becomes negative at lower latitudes, specifically less than 45 degrees North, which could be a result of water deficits. Furthermore, it was also seen that about 48% of Northern vegetative land will see a significant decrease in the quantity of carbon fixed as a result of warming by 2060. Most regions will also experience a reduction in vegetative productivity as early as 2030-2070. This development will likely not reach the northern regions prior to the end of the modeled time frame (2100). However, in the worst case scenario most latitudes south of 50 degrees north such as much of the temperate United States, Asia, and the equatorial regions of Africa and South America were affected. It is important to note that study does not account for any of the southern hemisphere. 

A model of the earth, showing when temperature increase will begin to have a net negative effect on vegetative growth. Much of the northern hemisphere below 50 degrees north experiences this in 2030 or earlier. Slightly north of those regions the estimate is closer to 2070, with regions near the Artic and Tibetan Plateau not experiencing this till the end of the modeled time frame of 2100.
Map identifying the worst case scenarios climate model, showing timing of when temperature increase will begin to have a net negative effect on vegetative growth.

Why is the study important?: Climate change includes an increase in temperatures, which has caused an increase in vegetation productivity in the extratropical Northern Hemisphere since 1980. However, as climate change has begun to speed up, the positive benefits are estimated to change into a net negative effect on growth as temperature increases further. This study delves further into this idea and creates estimates based on different regions of when that will occur. This in turn can allow for preparedness, such as advancement of remediation plans to help us offset the negative effects of extreme temperatures on plant growth. 

The Big Picture: Vegetation is essential for agriculture, ecosystem balance, and general quality of life, so understanding the potential threat this aspect of climate change holds is essential for long-term sustainability and survival. Climate change has had a positive influence on plant growth in the extratropical Northern Hemisphere as early as 1980. However, this study has shown a shift in this to being a net negative influence as early as 2030 especially in regions below 50 degrees North. Regions closer to the Arctic and Tibetan Plateau are much less (or much slower) affected though, with a worst-case scenario not showing a tipping point prior to 2100 when net negative effects occur. Using these estimates, we can plan for this decrease in vegetative productivity as well as try to adapt and mitigate to minimize future negative impacts induced by the temperature increase.

Citation: Zhang, Y., Piao, S., Sun, Y. et al. Future reversal of warming-enhanced vegetation productivity in the Northern Hemisphere. Nat. Clim. Chang. 12, 581–586 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-022-01374-w

Identifying new-found Complexities in Chimpanzee Communication

Chimpanzees produce diverse vocal sequences with ordered and recombinatorial properties

Cédric Girard-Buttoz, Emiliano Zaccarella, Tatiana Bortolato, Angela D. Friederici, Roman M. Wittig, and Catherine Crockford

Summarized by Michael Hallinan

What data were used? This study uses 4826 recordings of 46 wild adult chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) from Tai National Park located in Ivory Coast, West Africa. The chimpanzees recorded were fully accustomed to human observers, and comprised three different chimpanzee communities. These observations were performed by focusing on each of the 46 chimpanzees individually and continuously recording throughout January and February of 2019 as well as December 2019 to March 2020.

Methods: These recordings were classified by trained listeners into Grunts, Hoos, Barks, and Screams with variation on the sounds being panted or unpanted, meaning that they were either emitted singly (unpanted) or released as a string of sounds with audible breaths in between (panted). In addition to type classification, other information such as frequency level, noisiness, and occurrence were also collected. Each call was examined to identify which sounds occurred in association with other sounds or by itself. The data was analyzed to answer the following research questions: First, is there flexibility, can most sounds or calls used be combined with most others? (Can A, B, C, be AB, CB, BA, etc.?) Second, is there a specific ordering? (Does AB mean the same as BA?) Lastly, can short sequences be combined  into longer sequences? (Can AB occur as ABC, or can AB and CD occur as ABCD?)

Results: Initially, there were slightly over 400 sound units identified suggesting nearly 400 “words” within their vocabulary. It was found that chimpanzees could flexibly combine as well as recombine single units across those identified, with 11 out of the 12 single unit sounds also appearing in sequences together with 4-9 other sounds. Many of the single-unit calls could be emitted within two-unit calls and two-unit calls could be added to another unit to produce three-unit calls. Additionally, 52.6% of all two unit calls were produced reversed and forwards at least once (BA and AB) with 57% of the tested two unit calls showing bias for appearing in a certain order. Although some of the single units could appear at the beginning or end of calls, there generally was bias suggesting a more complex grammatical structure and ordering pattern. That being said though, to identify a more complex grammar structure and how that could be used to understand meaning, more research needs to be done. 

A bar chart with length of speech units displayed across the x-axis and number of recordings the units appeared in on the y-axis in a log scale. The frequency of sounds recorded decreases as the unit length of the sounds increases, with the exception of single-unit panted sounds, which appears slightly less frequent then two-unit sounds. Once the units reach a length of 7 units, only females are recorded making sounds of these lengths up till 10 units. Generally, 1 through 4 unit length sounds appear very frequently with over 40 appearing, until it drops off to 32 at 5 units, 20 at 6 units, 10 at 7 units, and finally 4 at 8 units, and 2 for 9 and 10 units.
This bar graph shows the number of different utterances, with the number of units in each utterance displayed across the x axis, while the y axis shows the number of recordings on a log scale. The number of individuals using the unit at each length appears on top of each individual bar. The dark blue bars represent male and female generated sounds and the light blue bars represent only female-generated sounds. Last, the red box indicates the data used for two-unit analysis and the yellow box for three-unit analysis.

Why is this study important? Language is one of the biggest challenges in evolutionary science. Although different species such as certain types of birds, non-human primates and bats have been identified to have specific sound sets used to communicate, there is a huge limitation to our understanding of its development since what we know as language can not be fossilized. Comparative studies like this are therefore our main resource for understanding language and how it has evolved throughout time. This study reveals that primate language is more complex than we previously thought it was, showing more complex structures, and therefore has the potential to convey more meaning and more intricate speech. 

The Big Picture: Chimpanzees have been identified to produce and order sounds using a more complex grammatical structure than previously thought. This was observed through multiple sound units being combined together in patterns beyond random chance, in multiple fashions with bias towards certain structures. Although we don’t understand the content of their sounds, this reveals a more complex nature to their communication and with more research we might be able to potentially decipher their meaning. 

Citation: Girard-Buttoz, C., Zaccarella, E., Bortolato, T. et al. Chimpanzees produce diverse vocal sequences with ordered and recombinatorial properties. Commun Biol 5, 410 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-022-03350-8

A data-driven evaluation of lichen climate change indicators in Central Europe

Matthew P. Nelson and H. Thorsten Lumbsch

Summarized by Anna Geldert

What data were used? For this study, researchers obtained collection data on 35 of the 45 lichen species designated as climate change indicators from the Global Biodiversity and Information Facility (GBIF). Data for this study focused on patterns found in Central Europe, and most specifically, Germany.

Methods: GBIF data on the lichen species were categorized into two age groups: before 1970, and 1970 to present. 1970 marked the year where reductions in the use of sulfur dioxide pollutants was implemented in Europe. Because pollution levels also play a role in the survival of lichen populations, it was important to create this distinction to separate this variable from other population changes due to climate change. Lichen species with fewer than 10 historical records were deemed unreliable and excluded from further analysis, leaving only 17 out of the 35 species. To determine the lichen’s preferred habitat, researchers combined historical distribution records of where the different species of lichen were found over time with a map of climate variables (temperature, humidity, soil composition, etc.). Using a computer model, they were able to predict the lichens’ preferred habitats with 95% accuracy, and generate a map to represent these predictions spatially. The map was compared to modern data to evaluate potential changes due to climate change.

Results: The results of this study revealed that approximately half of the 17 primary species studied were found in significant numbers outside their historical range, while the other half still resides primarily in the same regions as they did prior to 1970. Species other than the primary 17 did not have sufficient historical data to recognize specific trends in geographic distribution. However, researchers noted that only one third of these additional species saw an increase in abundance in recent years, while the other two thirds saw equal or reduced numbers compared to the limited historical records.

The map shows the distribution of Opergrapha vermicellifera over time. The map spans 10° of latitude, from 45° North to 55° North, and 20° of longitude, from 5° East to 25° East. The map is divided into suitable and unsuitable habitat for Opegrapha vermicellifera, which are shaded in dark green and light green respectively. The suitable habitat makes up only about 10% of the image, and is composed of a narrow, uneven band running from 46° North, 5° East to 55° North, 14° East. Approximately 11 historical (before 1970s) records of lichen distribution are marked by yellow triangles on the map, and all are contained within or along the border of the area denoted as “suitable” habitat. Approximately 30 modern (1970 to present) records of lichen distribution are shown, and are marked with purple circles. While some modern lichen records lie within the “suitable” habitat, approximately two thirds lie in the “unsuitable” area; the majority of these points lie 5° to 10° East and a few degrees South of the “suitable” range.
Fig 1. Distribution of Opegrapha vermicellifera is shown as an example of one of the maps created to analyze changes in lichen distribution over time. The map compares historical records from prior to 1970 (orange triangles) and modern records from after 1970 (purple circles). Habitat deemed suitable/unsuitable was determined using a computer model of climate variables based on pre-1970 habitat. For Opegrapha vermicellifera, over 30% of modern records lie outside historically suitable habitat.

Why is this study important? This study calls into question the usefulness of lichen as climate change indicator species. For one, the study found that there is very little data, especially historical data, on these species and the habitat they lived in originally. Therefore, it is somewhat difficult to draw conclusions regarding the degree of the lichen’s response to climate change. The study also found that, even among species with sufficient data, only about half were found outside their historical range. If climate change was truly impacting lichen populations as much as was originally thought, researchers would expect to find all populations outside of this range because they would have migrated to better suit their traditional habitat. These results pose the question as to whether other factors may be impacting the distribution of lichen even more so than climate change. For example, the rise and fall of sulfur dioxide pollutants before and after 1970 may be more significant.

The big picture: This study serves as a warning for climate change scientists, who may tend to jump to conclusions regarding migration, geographic distribution, and local extinction of many species of lichen in recent years. For many species of lichen, there is not enough data to determine whether the geographic distribution of lichen has changed, as well as whether these changes were due to climate change instead of other factors. More research and collection of historical data is needed in order to confirm the usefulness of these species as climate change indicators in future studies.

Citation: Nelsen, M. P., & Lumbsch, H. T. (2020). A data-driven evaluation of lichen climate change indicators in Central Europe. Biodiversity and Conservation, 29(14), 3959–3971. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-020-02057-8

Blair Stuhlmuller, High School Science Teacher and Science Communicator

Blair standing in front of the Grand Canyon in Arizona on a family vacation.

I am a high school science teacher and love sharing my knowledge and passion about the natural world with my students and anyone who will listen. I specifically love marine science and geologic history. I currently teach a marine biology course and another course on the big 5 mass extinctions. Both of which I designed myself. I am hoping to branch out beyond just the four walls of my classroom and share the weird and wonderful world of science with others as a science communicator.

I dreamed of being a teacher for a very long time. I loved the idea of being a forever learner and working with the future generations. But I had no intention of being a science teacher until the end of my freshman year of college. I wanted to be a history teacher and was well on my way to getting all my prerequisites done when I took a freshman writing seminar on the History of the Earth. This class expanded my perception of what was history and left me fascinated with deep time, the evolution of life and landforms. I was hooked and set off to get a Bachelors of Science in Geology and Environmental Science. After undergrad, I got a Masters of Education and my Virginia teaching license and then proceeded to move clear across the country to the west coast to explore some of the tidepool studded coasts and more geologically active rocks of California and Oregon.

Blair looking cool while diving along a reef near South Caicos in the Caribbean and conducting coral health and biodiversity surveys.

Now I help inspire the next generation of scientists and planetary stewards. I believe that science is for everyone and do everything in my power to encourage others to give it a chance. You never know what class, lab or cool fact can send you spinning down a different path. The world needs more passionate scientists to answer the next level of questions and help solve the problems of tomorrow. 

When I’m not teaching, I’m typically nerding out on the latest Marvel movie, excessively reading for fun or exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I’m always down for a good hike especially if it ends in a waterfall. I’m also PADI SCUBA certified and love exploring the world under the waves despite how cold the water gets. I do all of these things with my identical twin sister who has stuck with me through every step of my life so far.

2022 Virtual Internship Program in Science Communication

The 2022 Virtual Internship Program in Science Communication was spearheaded by Committee Chair, Sarah Sheffield. The Committee included Linda K. Dämmer, Sam Ocon, Alex Favaro, Kristina Barclay, Adriane Lam, and Jen Bauer. The program was intended to be approximately 5 weeks long and the interns were expected to produce 10 blog posts each.

Funding for this year’s program was provided by the Paleontological Society, Geological Society of America, and the Western Interior Paleontological Society. This funding was mainly used to pay the interns and to provide an honorarium for the guest speakers, with none of the funding going to the committee, the mentors, or the Time Scavengers organization.

We had five guest speakers who specialize in different aspects of science communication, with each talking about different aspects of science communication:

  1. Riley Black is a self described fossil-fanatic and the author of a number of very popular paleontology- focused scicomm books such as “My Beloved Brontosaurus” and “Written In Stone”. Riley talked about her experience with navigating the popular science publishing world and gave the interns very insightful tips on finding and identifying exciting stories to write about. Learn more about Riley on her website.
  2. Liz Hare is a quantitative geneticist who focuses much of her work on learning more about dog genetics. Liz is an expert on using alt-text for scientific images since she is blind. Therefore she taught the interns what is required to describe images efficiently to make scientists’ work more accessible to people with visual impairments or other people who use a screen reader. Learn more about Liz on her website.
  3. Priya Shukla, a Ph.D. Candidate at UC Davis, is studying how climate change affects shellfish aquaculture operations within the coastal ocean. Priya spent a lot of time discussing with the interns the importance of thinking about your own identity and including bits and pieces of it in your science communication efforts. Bringing in your identity to scicomm makes it easier for the readers to form a personal connection to you and the topic, making it more likely for them to get excited about the content. Learn more about Priya on her website.
  4. Kelsey Leonard is a water scientist, legal scholar, policy expert, writer, and enrolled citizen of the Shinnecock Nation. Kelsey’s work focuses on Indigenous water justice and its climatic, territorial, and governance underpinnings for our shared sustainable future. She discussed getting involved with informing political and governmental agencies about relevant research results, but also about the importance of making sure local people are aware of research concerning their environment. Learn more about Kesley on her website.
  5. Edith Carolina Rojas is a professor at College of the Desert. She discussed how to efficiently break down complicated concepts and showed us which of her classroom teaching strategies can be applied to other forms of science communication. She also focussed on how to make science communication more accessible to non-native English speakers.

The committee received 24 applications and we had enough funding to support 4 interns, with an additional intern auditing the program and writing posts. Applications were ranked based on: lack of previous opportunities, interest, and values that aligned with the Time Scavengers mission. If you would like to see the rubric we used to rank the applicants, please reach out! Over the next few weeks you will be seeing all of the intern posts from the internship program released here on the website using the tag #VIPSciComm. The five 2022 VIPSciComm interns are listed below. Click on their image or caption to read all of their posts!

Habiba Rabiu
Makayla Palm
Anna Geldert

 

 

Michael Hallinan
Blair Stuhlmuller

Anna Geldert (she/her), Geobiology Undergraduate Student

background: greenery with trees and leaves and grassy area. foreground: Anna hugging a tree trunk and smiling. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hi! My name is Anna Geldert (she/her). I’m from Minnesota, but I’ve spent the past year living in Vermont where I’m working toward my undergraduate degree at Middlebury College. In my free time, I enjoy reading, writing, practicing music, and playing volleyball on my college’s club team. I’m also a huge outdoor enthusiast, and I always look forward to camping, hiking, canoeing, or skiing with friends and family. Spending so much time outdoors as a kid is one of the factors that sparked my interest in the natural sciences in the first place, and the main reason I am so passionate about sustainability today. 

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? Currently, I’m working toward a joint undergraduate degree in Biology and Geology. I’m fascinated by the way Earth’s natural systems function, and how they’ve evolved around the world and across geologic time. While I’m not totally sure what direction I want to go in this field, I’m ultimately hoping to pursue a career doing field research in relation to ecosystem response to climate and other anthropogenic change. 

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? In many ways, my interest in science developed long before I took any classes or considered a career in the field. One of my biggest supporters is my dad, who is a physics teacher. Growing up, he always encouraged me to stay curious and frequently used me as a guinea pig for demonstrations he planned to do in class the following day. I also spent a lot of time camping and hiking as a kid, which sparked my interest in the natural sciences. My favorite part about science is that it allows me to spend time outside with lots of hands-on experiences. Seeing first-hand how something we learned in class presents itself in the real world is really gratifying and reminds me why I wanted to study science in the first place.

background: light blue sky with clouds and darker tree line. Foreground: Anna rowing a canoe on a calm lake

How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? I hope my work will be used to help human societies coexist with the Earth in a way that makes sense for both parties. For example, last year I studied the potential of using fungal mycelium as a sustainable option for treating acid mine drainage. I think Earth’s natural systems have a lot to offer, and studying them can help us better understand how to act sustainably in our own life. 

background: trail in a forest with bright green leaves and a brown trail. foreground: Anna dressed in hiking gear with binoculars.What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? Science can be whatever you want to make of it. It is such a broad field, and there are so many opportunities to tailor your education and research to something you’re passionate about. Personally, I wasn’t super interested in science until I was able to do more hands-on experiments and independent research.. That was when I realized I could apply interests I already had – such as sustainability and the outdoors – to actual scientific study in Geo-Biology. I would encourage future scientists to keep an open mind and use science as a means to explore whatever sparks their curiosity.