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Archive for August 2011

Student Spotlight: Joey Pakes 2010 Diving Expedition for Remipedes in the Yucatan

Imagine what it would be like: swimming in the dark, deep underwater, in an enclosed space, “armed” with only a flashlight and a tank of air. For UCMP graduate student Joey Pakes, that is a typical day of research in the subterranean caves in Mexico. Check out her video which describes her 2010 expedition to the Yucatan Peninsula as part of her ongoing investigations into underwater cave systems. Meet some of the people and animals that make her research so special.

125,000 years of geologic change in SF Bay, not much change in the microfauna

San Francisco Bay. Image courtesy of USGS.

San Francisco Bay has had a dynamic and complex history over the past million years as sea level rose and fell at least four times with alternating warming periods and glaciations. About 13,000 years ago, the first group of humans arriving in the area would have walked through a valley with a river flowing nearly 48 km out toward the ocean.  The current bay formed only about 6,000 years ago.

In a recent paper published by Quaternary Research, Amy Lesen, former PhD student in UCMP and currently Chair of Biology at Dillard University in New Orleans, and Professor of the Graduate School Jere Lipps, compare the foraminifera present in the San Francisco Bay today with what was present 125,000 years ago. According to their results, not much has changed in the species that are present. However, the human introduction of a Japanese invasive species, Trochamminia hadai, in 1983 dominated the native foram species and produced more change in the microfaunal assemblage within the last 30 years than within the time it has taken to form the bay. This work sponsored by the UCMP serves as an example of how human actions can have a more severe impact within a small amount of time than the natural changes that take over several millennia.

SEM images of foraminifera a. Ammonia beccarii and b. Buliminella elegantissima. Images courtesy of Quaternary Research.

Congratulations to Mark Terry

Mark TerryMark Terry, a long time Teacher Advisor to UCMP, is the recipient of the 2011 Evolution Education Award, an annual award sponsored by AIBS and BSCS.

Mark is a high school Biology teacher at The Northwest School in Seattle. I first met Mark in 2000 when he sent an email inquiring about a conference that we were hosting — The National Conference on the Teaching of Evolution. The conference served to bring together members from professional societies to examine what their roles might be in supporting the teaching of evolution. Mark felt that he could gain much from such a meeting of the minds, but we probably gained more from Mark than the other way around. It became clear to us that there were a core number of teachers who were doing an excellent job of teaching evolution and that bringing them together to develop a resource for others would be an excellent contribution to the science education community. This served to initiate conversations that eventually led to a successful NSF proposal and the development of the Understanding Evolution (UE) website.

Mark officially became part of the UCMP community by serving as a Teacher Advisor to the UE project in 2002. As such, he attended meetings with other advisors, advised on the basic content of the site, contributed successful activities, and reviewed materials as they became available. Though there was a small honorarium involved, Mark gave of himself way beyond what was asked of him. Knowing how effective he was in this advisory role, it was not long before he was invited to also serve as an advisor to two of our other related projects: The Paleontology Portal and Understanding Science.

So what makes him special? First, it is that passion for teaching. I visited his school and watching him “in action” was extraordinary. He has the confidence that comes with depth of knowledge and experience, the flexibility that comes from years in the classroom, and a wonderful ability to urge his students to find out the answers on their own in a way that inspires their own confidence that they will be successful in doing so … eventually! With an avid interest in history, Mark also integrates the history of science into his teaching so that his students can see how science itself evolves with new data and new evidence, thus giving them a better understanding of how science works. And his classroom is full of skulls and other skeletal parts that support a comparative anatomy approach to studying ancestry and detailed observations through the biological illustration that he encourages.

Second, it is his passion for science. Mark literally gobbles up the paleo and evo literature, so he is on top of current research and brings his excitement of new discoveries into the classroom. That same excitement is extended into the field as he takes his students on paleo field trips to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument each year and he also serves as a field assistant to his daughter, Becca Terry, a graduate from his school and now a Ph.D. in paleontology. In fact, I have lost track of the number of Mark’s students who have gone on to receive degrees in paleo, evolutionary biology, and related fields.

But Mark contributes to the evolution education community beyond his own teaching and his work with the UE project, so there is a third component that deserves recognition. Because of his depth of knowledge, he is often asked to give talks to other teachers on the importance of teaching evolution and effective strategies for doing so. The science research community also benefits from Mark’s expertise, in particular through his work as past Chair of the Education Committee for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP). In that role, he and I initiated what have now become an annual teacher workshop and a Round Table evolution discussion for SVP members that are incorporated into their meeting each year. This provides an opportunity to bring resources to teachers wherever the meeting is being held (e.g., 2010 Pittsburgh, 2009 Bristol, England, 2008 Cleveland, 2007 Austin) and to update the members on new resources, new strategies, and (regretfully) new challenges. Being right down the street from the Discovery Institute, Mark stays on top of activities and framing used by anti-evolutionists and keeps SVP members aware of these efforts.

Mark works in a small private school in Seattle, but his impact in evolution education is far greater and his impact on his students means that his legacy also continues through them. It has been such a joy and privilege to work with Mark. I learn from him and I am inspired by him. He is most deserving of the recognition that comes with this award.

Pathogenic fungi: Conifer killers?

Similar resemblance in the hyphae of living fungus Rhyzoctonia solani (left) and ancient fungus Reduviasporonites (right). (Rhizoctonia image courtesy of Lane Tredway, The American Phytopathological Society)

At the end-Permian extinction event 250 million years ago, 70% of land organisms and 95% of marine organisms went extinct.  Forests of conifer relatives were also wiped out … and their demise may have been helped by pathogenic soil fungi suggest UCMP's Cindy Looy and colleagues Henk Visscher, Utrecht University, Netherlands, and Mark Sephton, Imperial College, London.

Most researchers accept that extensive volcanism at the end of the period, resulting in major changes in global climate, was the root cause of the Permian mass extinction. Under stress from these climate changes, the conifer forests may have become more susceptible to attack from the soil-borne pathogenic fungi, speeding widespread tree mortality. If so, could our own changing climate trigger attacks by living pathogenic fungi on today's stressed forests?

Learn more about Looy et al.'s studies of fossil and living pathogenic fungi:

Marine Mammal 2011 short course revisited

Marine Mammals short course 2011

Attendees of UCMP short courses always go away with new understandings of the world around them and its history. Rather than presenting simple reviews of the basics, short course speakers present up-to-date overviews of topics and share both their current knowledge and the excitement of their science with the audience. However, those in attendance at last March’s Marine Mammal short course probably did not realize that they were actually getting a sneak preview of forthcoming research results!

Professor Dan Costa from UC Santa Cruz gave the audience a multi-media presentation documenting the "corridors of life" in the North Pacific Ocean and their role in supporting North Pacific food chains from plankton to whales. Professor Jim Estes, also of UC Santa Cruz, demonstrated the important role top predators play in maintaining biodiversity and ecological community structure. Their research findings presented last March have just appeared in the prestigious journals Nature and Science, respectively. UCMP's short courses always captivate and motivate, but the 2011 course also offered attendees a rare preview of coming attractions in the world of marine mammal science — PRE-publication!

Read more about Prof. Costa's research and Prof. Estes’ recent publication.