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Archive for June 2011

KQED Quest features Kaitlin Maguire and Lupe the mammoth!

Considering a visit to the new mammoth exhibition at the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose?  UCMP graduate student Kaitlin Maguire provides a sneak preview of the exhibits in this Science on the SPOT video produced by KQED. Listen in as she discusses the 2005 mammoth discovery in San Jose and what the fossils can tell us.

Molly Wright's Trip to the Smithsonian Collection

National Museum of Natural History

DAY 1 (5/17/2011): I work with Professor Roy Caldwell to study the evolution of the behaviors and morphology of mantis shrimps – pugnacious crustaceans that are distant cousins to lobsters, true shrimps, and crabs. Mantis shrimps use fearsome raptorial appendages to smash or spear their prey. Even more surprisingly, some mantis shrimps live in male-female pairs in sandy burrows, with both sexes caring for the young and sharing food. Social monogamy, when a single male and female live as a pair for an extended period of time, is very rare among crustaceans, so I’m naturally interested in how it arose.

Molly Wright and her husband, Tim Dulac, at the airport.

In particular,  I’m really curious to find out whether lifestyle traits, such as living in sandy burrows or ambush hunting, may have opened the door for the evolution of social monogamy.  To try to answer my questions, I will be looking at some of the thousands of mantis shrimp specimens housed at the Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Museum Support Center. By looking at the morphologies and behaviors of different mantis shrimp species and considering their evolutionary histories, I hope to figure out whether the evolution of morphological traits like the relative size and shape of eyes, raptorial appendages, and body shape, is correlated with the evolution of social monogamy, ambush hunting, and burrow-living.

I’ll be updating this blog while I am in Washington D.C. with more about my research and lots of tasty tidbits about mantis shrimp biology.  So stay tuned!

 

 

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Just a few of the many mantis shrimp specimens at the National Museum of Natural History.

DAY 2 (5/19/2011): My first day in Washington D.C. started off with a 6am wakeup call, followed by a rushed morning of picking up a rental car at Dulles International Airport, driving to the nearest metro station to take a train into Washington D.C., and literally running to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to make my 9:30am appointment to obtain a visitors badge. Then, before I could even catch my breath, I was on the Smithsonian Employee shuttle and off to the Museum Support Center (MSC) in Maryland.

The MSC houses all of the invertebrate collections that are stored in ethanol, as well as many of the Invertebrate Zoology research labs. Museum Specialist Karen Reed met me at the entrance of the building. Karen led me through the labyrinth of hallways in the MSC, set me up at a work bench with all the tools I needed, and oriented me to the Crustacean collections, helping me select some specimens to get started on. The Crustacean collections take up two large rooms in the MSC. Walking through shelves containing thousands of specimens, I was continuously distracted by amazing creatures - giant American lobsters, spiny lobsters, giant isopods, and king crabs, all stored in jars of slightly yellowed ethanol. This place is great!

By the time I collected my specimens, it was time to eat lunch. The entire Invertebrate Zoology staff eats together everyday, which is great for visiting scientists like me because it gives us a chance to get to know everyone. After lunch, I set up my camera and started taking pictures. In half a day, I got through most of the Nannosquilla (a genus of small mantis shrimps) and started up on the Lysiosquillina (a genus of HUGE mantis shrimps), taking more than 100 pictures of animals ranging from 10mm to 30cm!

 

A. Molly is photographing mantis shrimps at the National Museum of Natural History to better understand how their morphology and behaviors have evolved. B. Lysiosquillina maculata specimens collected from French Polynesia. C. A nannosquilloid mantis shrimp. Nannosquilloids are among the smallest mantis shrimps, while the lysiosquilloid mantis shrimps are among the largest.

After a long, but fruitful, day at the MSC, I finally got to head to the apartment that my husband and I are renting for the next week and a half. It felt great to collapse on the couch and put my feet up. After a quick nap, my husband and I went out for a quick dinner – of course, I had to order the crab cake and shrimp dish because there’s nothing quite like eating the animals you study!

Molly's dinner on her first night in Washington D.C. She enjoyed two different crustaceans, blue crabs and shrimps, as well as some delicious scallops.

 

 

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A giant mantis shrimp, also known as a zebra mantis shrimp.

DAY 3 (5/20/2011): Today I examined several specimens of the giant mantis shrimp (Lysiosquillina maculata), so named because it can grow more than 30 cm in length. This species is often called the zebra mantis shrimp because of it’s striking black stripes. Although color usually fades when crustaceans are preserved in ethanol, many specimens that I looked at this afternoon still had vibrant yellow bodies with dark stripes.

 

Giant mantis shrimps and other members of the Lysiosquillina genus have fascinating behaviors.  They are socially monogamous. Heterosexual pairs dig long, U-shaped burrows in the sand. Males in this genus usually do the hunting, waiting at the opening of the burrow for a fish to swim by then grabbing it from the water column with their long, sharp raptorial appendages. Then they share the food they catch with their mate. We have been observing one male Lysiosquillina maculata in our lab in Berkeley for many years.  He always provisions his mate first, coming back a few minutes later for more fish.

Lysiosquillina maculata is also sexually dimorphic – that is, males and females have slightly different body shapes. Males have larger eyes and longer raptorial appendages. We suspect that this might be because they spend more time at the burrow opening, catching food and defending themselves and their mates.

A. The largest giant mantis shrimp in the Smithsonian collection, over a foot long! B. A zebra mantis shrimp with it's raptorial appendages displayed.

 

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Molly is preparing to take a picture of a large California mantis shrimp (Hermisquilla californiensis).

DAY 4 (5/23/2011): Starting my first full week at the Smithsonian this morning, I was excited to take a look at some other socially monogamous mantis shrimps in the Lysiosqulloidea clade.

After waking myself up with a big cup of coffee, I proceeded up to the large crustacean storage room in Pod 5 of the Museum Support Center with Museum Specialist Karen Reed  . I was curious to see Pod 5 for more than just it’s scientific significance because it was prominently featured as the site of the protagonist’s lab in Dan Brown’s novel The Lost Symbol. Unlike its description in the novel, it is filled with jar after jar of specimens preserved in ethanol. Karen helped me navigate through the collections, returning the specimens that I looked at last week and choosing new specimens to examine. Everything is organized with an accession number, much like in a library, otherwise if a specimen were misplaced, it might not be found again for decades or even centuries!

I pulled more than 40 specimens to examine over the next few days from several families of mantis shrimps in the Lysiosquilloidea clade – the Nannosquillidae, the Coronididae, and the Tetrasquillidae. I’m particularly interested in looking at the Nannosquillidae family because it contains both promiscuous and socially monogamous species. I hope that by looking at morphological traits that occur in socially monogamous species but not in promiscuous species, I can better understand howsocial monogamy evolved.

 

A. One of the larger American lobsters in the Smithsonian's wet collection. B. A giant isopod from the Smithsonian's wet collection. C. A few of the many mantis shrimp specimens that Molly looked at during her trip.

 

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Molly's prep and picture station at the Smithsonian.

DAY 5 (5/25/2011): Today is a rather special day for me – my birthday! And what better way to spend it than at the MSC, looking at mantis shrimps?

In the past two days, I’ve photographed and measured 48 mantis shrimps – not bad, considering it takes me about 20 minutes to process each specimen! First I look up the accession number in the Smithsonian’s online database, which provides  information on when and where it was collected, as well as any notes from collection and later curation. After adding this information to an excel spreadsheet, I use calipers to measure the mantis shrimp’s eyes, antennal scales, legs, and total length. I then mount the specimen in a dissection dish with pins, getting it in just the right position to photograph. I take several shots of each animal from different view points to make sure that I am getting all of the morphological information I need, remounting it each time. I always include a small ruler in the photo so that I have an idea of the size of the animal.

This morning, I searched the wet collections for some of the rarer genera of Lysiosquilloidea. Once I measure and photograph the 13 specimens that I pulled this morning, I will have completed my survey of the Lysiosquilloidea. Of course, I couldn’t look at every lysiosquilloid mantis shrimp in the Smithsonian collection – the museum has over 400 mantis shrimps just in this super-family – but I did manage to examine at least a few examples of each genus!

Tonight my husband and I are going to celebrate both my birthday and my success thus far in the Smithsonian collections with a delicious Italian dinner!

A. The specimens, like this giant mantis shrimp, are kept in large jars with a fixative for preservation. B. Molly's stomatopod of interest, the giant mantis shrimp. C. The antennal scale, antennae, and eyes of a giant mantis shrimp. D. A close up of the giant mantis shrimp, also known as a zebra mantis shrimp.

 

 

 

Joey Pakes – A Chang-Lien Tien Scholar!

Roy Caldwell was delighted to receive word yesterday morning from the Selection Committee of the Chang-Lin Tien Scholars in Environmental Sciences and Biodiversity that they had approved the nomination for Joey Pakes as a Tien Scholars Graduate Fellowship recipient! The amount of $21,000 will be awarded to Joey for tuition, fees and/or stipend for the 2011/2012 academic year. This is a one-year award with the possibility of a 2nd year of funding based on research progress and application.

 

"The committee noted that there was an extremely talented group of nominees and the Selection Committee did not have an easy task." So congratulations, Joey!!!

To learn more about Joey's work, enjoy Remipedes and cave diving: Field notes from Joey Pakes.

"Dinosaurs Unearthed" at the Lawrence Hall of Science

T. rex exhibit

Looking for a fun summer activity? Interested in learning about dinosaurs? Well you’re in luck! Now through January 1st, the Lawrence Hall of Science is featuring a new exhibit titled “Dinosaurs unearthed.” The exhibit includes life-size replicas of some of the most well known dinosaurs including T. rex, Triceratops, and Stegosaurus. You also get to dig for your own fossils while looking at the bones of dinosaurs discovered by UCMP scientists. The younger folk, ages 2-7, will also have fun climbing into a dino nest and digging at a dino site. Be sure to check out the "Dinosaurs alive!" 3-D film, featured daily, during your visit.

 

Courtesy of the Lawrence Hall of Science

Paleontologist and sustainability advocate Bill Berry dies at 79

Paleontologist William B. N. Berry was a world expert on extinct, 400 million-year-old sea creatures, but he will be perhaps best remembered in the Bay Area as a champion of sustainability and for instilling in his students a concern for the local ecology.

A former director of UC Berkeley’s Museum of Paleontology and a professor of earth and planetary science who served the campus for 53 years, Berry died May 20 of skin cancer and related complications. He was 79.

Berry encouraged his students to get involved in Save the Bay and Save Strawberry Canyon, and always included in his twice yearly introductory environmental class a cleanup of Strawberry Creek, which runs through the campus. He led his undergraduate students in landmark restoration studies of the Tennessee Hollow Watershed in the Presidio of San Francisco, and an environmental studies program he helped launch at the city’s Galileo High School began restoration in the area before the U.S. National Park Service took up the project.

Students in Berry’s environmental science classes went on to promote recycling and waste reduction on campus and were instrumental in pushing the UC system to adopt an aggressive sustainability policy.

In 2005, he was honored at a campus-wide Sustainability Summit for “exploring environmental issues with generations of UC Berkeley students” and “giving students the tools and inspiration to think about problems from a sustainability standpoint and fostering a culture of sustainability and forward-thinking design.”

“In his research, his teaching and his service, the unifying theme was getting out into the natural world to observe, measure and analyze,” said colleague Carole Hickman, a UC Berkeley paleobiologist and geologist who is now a Professor of the Graduate School in the Department of Integrative Biology. “His colleagues and students remember him fondly for his enthusiasm for ‘hands-on’ science, whether collecting graptolites in the Ordovician or assessing water quality in an urban stream.”

Building a sustainable campus

In the mid-2000s, Berry sought out campus recycling manager Lisa Bauer for help retooling an undergraduate environmental studies class to focus on how students can actively work toward a sustainable society, and in the process doubled its enrollment. Freshman and sophomore seminars he taught became a “seed bed for student sustainability,” Bauer said.

“Bill got it, that the voice people are going to listen to is that of the students,” she said. “Bill was really brilliant in planting the seed, watering it and letting it grow. And it happened. The campus now has a robust sustainability ethic. We have a director of sustainability, regular sustainability summits, a Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability. The campus has incorporated into its fabric the things that Bill was working on initially.”

Berry was born in Boston on Sept. 1, 1931, raised in Arlington, Mass., and attended Harvard University, from which he earned an A.B. in 1953 and an A.M. in 1955. While an undergraduate, he was told by geology professor Harry Whittington that nobody in North America was working on graptolites, an extinct group of animals abundant in the world’s oceans between 500 and 400 million years ago. Whittingon suggested that these fossilized animals would be a good subject for a Ph.D. dissertation, and Berry took the advice and started work on graptolites at Yale University. Shell Oil became interested in the stratigraphic aspects of Berry’s studies and funded field work in Texas. When he completed his Ph.D. in 1957, Berry taught for a year at the University of Houston before coming to UC Berkeley in 1958.

Berry’s research on graptolites shed important light on ancient environments, the precise age and correlation of rocks, the processes of evolution and extinction, and the positions of ancient continents and ocean basins, Hickman said.

“As a paleontologist, he was interested in describing the genera and species of graptolites, but he also used these graptolites to figure out the relative ages of Silurian beds around the world,” said former colleague Arthur J. Boucot, a distinguished professor of zoology at Oregon State University in Corvallis. With Boucot focusing on the fossilized seashells of brachiopods and Berry working on graptolites, the pair assembled over a period of three decades Silurian correlation charts that are the basis for more precise charts used by geologists, paleontologists and even oil exploration companies today when dealing with 400- to 440-million-year-old rock.

Berry held a Guggenheim Fellowship at Cambridge University, where he worked on the evolution of Silurian graptolites. His work led to more than 300 published papers, abstracts and books. Over the course of his career, he was an invited panelist, consultant, advisor and organizer at conferences on climate change and urban and environmental planning in California, as well as nationally and internationally.

“I was always amazed at how productive he was and how many things he kept going. He was the ultimate multitasker,” said Doris Sloan, a retired paleontologist who received her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley under Berry and who taught environmental sciences courses for many years on campus.

Paleontologist as both biologist and geologist

Berry served as chair of the Department of Paleontology from 1975 until 1987. At the time, the department was the only free-standing paleontology department in the country. The curriculum trained students equally in geology and biology and required majors and graduate students to acquire expertise in the history of both marine and terrestrial life and in the separate subdisciplines of vertebrate paleontology, invertebrate paleontology, micropaleontology, paleobotany and biostratigraphy.

“During his 33 years in the department, Berry served as an exemplar of the paleontologist as neither biologist nor geologist, but as both,” Hickman said. “His 1968 book, ‘Growth of a prehistoric time scale based on organic evolution,’ served for many years as a supplementary text for courses in introductory geology, evolution, paleontology, stratigraphy, and philosophy and history of science.”

Berry also served as director of the Museum of Paleontology from 1976 until 1987, and as director of the Environmental Sciences Program from 1979 to 1993. During his 12 years as director of the paleontology museum, he broadened its mission by instituting public outreach programs that included collaborations with the Lawrence Hall of Science, participation in a popular annual campus-wide open house, public lectures and visits to local schools.

When the paleontology department was split up in 1989, Berry elected to transfer to the Department of Geology and Geophysics, which eventually became the Department of Earth and Planetary Science (EPS).

“He put real effort into his work with students, and his courses attracted non-majors as well as majors,” Hickman said. “He was one of those professors who enjoyed teaching very large undergraduate classes numbered in the hundreds, as well as smaller, more specialized classes for advanced students.”

In 2010, he taught or mentored more than 1,000 students in EPS – one course enrolled more than 500 students – and nearly 600 more in environmental sciences. It was joked that he taught more students than all the other faculty members of the EPS department combined, said EPS chair Roland Burgmann.

Berry served on numerous campus committees, including for seven years on the committee that allocated space and reviewed planned construction projects. He also chaired the committee that produced UC Berkeley’s Long Range Development Plan in 1988-91.

His favorite committee, however, was the one that awarded undergraduate scholarships such as the Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholarships, which are given for academic merit. As a member of the committee since 1996, he would find faculty to review more than 2,000 applications each year, and would personally interview hundreds of candidates. His concern about affordability and the need to reward excellence led him to urge more private fundraising to support undergraduate scholarships.

His service extended into the Berkeley community, where he represented UC Berkeley at Berkeley City Council meetings and planning committee meetings. Berry also worked with the United States Geological Survey and held an appointment in the Applied Sciences Division of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Berry was elected a Fellow National of The Explorers Club in 1979. In 1960, he was made a Life Member of the Norwegian Geological Society, and was a member of the General Society Sons of the Revolution, an organization of descendants of those who fought in the Revolutionary War. An avid sports fan, he liked to sit in the sunny student section of Memorial Stadium during Cal football games, was eager to accommodate the schedules of sports team members in his classes, and advised women’s crew for several years.

Berry is survived by his wife of 50 years, Suzanne Spaulding Berry, and son Bradford B. Berry, both of Berkeley.

No memorial service is planned. Donations may be sent to the William B. N. Berry Memorial Research Fund to support graduate students in invertebrate paleontology. Checks can be made payable to the “William B. N. Berry Memorial Research Fund” and sent to the Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley, 1101 Valley Life Science Building, Berkeley, CA 94720-4780.

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