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A trip to New Mexico

Why New Mexico? Like someone else put it "it ain't new and it sure ain't Mexico!" So why make the trek? To attend the Carboniferous-Permian Transition Meeting! Five members of the Looy Lab piled into a van and drove all the way from Berkeley to Albuquerque. With the enormous number of meetings and conferences being organized, why did we decide to go to this particular one?

I think there is a checklist that most people go over before they decide on which conference to attend. In random order:

  • Is the topic of the conference relevant (or at least a session of it)?
  • Can I afford the conference fees?
  • Will this gathering allow me to collaborate with some of the other attendees?
  • Are there going to be other people attending that I desperately would like to talk to (but then end up being too shy to actually do so)?
  • Is it in a cool location and does it offer any interesting field trips?
  • Will I have something new to present by the time the conference rolls around (or do I dust off some older material)
  • Is this the real conference I'm signing up for, or a bogus one where some fraud takes my money and disappears into the sunset? I am not kidding, this actually happens!
  • Will I have time to prepare for the meeting and will I have time to actually attend it?
  • How much does it cost to get there? Can I find a grant that covers the costs of travel?

These are all things to consider. If the answers to the questions above are 'yes,' or at least positive, then the conference might be worth going to. And that is how we ended up in Albuquerque. Because the conference included two field trips on which we were hoping to collect a lot of fossils, and there were five of us going to the same conference, it made sense to drive. A nice bonus was that we got to see some cool field sites along the way.

New Mexico medley 1

Clockwise from top left: The Tehachapi wind farms. The textbook Meteor Crater in Arizona. Most interesting of all: Petrified Forest National Park. The Painted Desert. Photos by Renske Kirchholtes.

After two days of driving we arrived in Albuquerque. The conference was held at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. The conference room itself was as boring as any other conference room, but during the breaks and the banquet we got to wander around in the museum, which was really nice. It is definitely worth a visit if you're ever in Albuquerque.

The first day of the conference was mostly about stratigraphic issues. Where is the Carboniferous-Permian boundary exactly? Do we base this on findings in Russia, China or perhaps the U.S.? There was definitely quite a bit of disagreement on that particular topic. More applied research was discussed the second day and on the third day, Wednesday, it was our turn. Cindy Looy talked about branch abscission, Robert Stevenson showed us cool movie clips of auto-rotating winged seeds, Jeff Benca discussed patterns of leaf margins and what that does and does not tell us, and I talked about phytoliths. We all got great responses. Sometimes audiences can look like they're about to go into hibernation, but not this time. They were engaged and had good questions and recommendations for all four of us.

New Mexico medley 2

Clockwise from top left: A typical New Mexico landscape. Trying to navigate between prickly things, i.e., Ocotillo with its beautiful red flowers. Leaves of a seed fern. Part of an arborescent lycopod. Photos by Renske Kirchholtes.

We also got to go on two fieldtrips. The first one was to the Kinney Brick Quarry where sediments from the Pennsylvanian, the "younger" half of the Carboniferous, crop out. The locality is considered to be a Lagerstätte, an extremely fossiliferous site with excellent preservation. On another trip, they took us east of Socorro, where the Upper Carboniferous and Lower Permian deposits are exposed along the eastern margin of the Rio Grande rift. This gave us the opportunity to collect a lot of plant fossils. We collected more than six big boxes of material. It will take a while to work our way through all of it, but that won't stop us from collecting more fossils in the meantime. Once paleobotanists are on a roll, nothing will stop them. Not even The Thing, unfortunately.

Cataloging the Archives: Three Fine Trikes

Another in a series of blog posts relating to the museum's "cataloging the archives" project

Ask children what their favorite dinosaurs are, and it's almost guaranteed that Triceratops (refer to them by their nickname, Trikes, and you'll earn tons of street cred) will be on the list. The three-horned, frilled wonder is one of the most recognizable creatures of the Cretaceous. Many a visitor has walked by the Triceratops display here in the Valley Life Sciences Building's Marian Koshland Bioscience and Natural Resources Library. Over time, the display has grown, not only to include more skulls, but to tell a bigger story. Now there are three skulls in the display, each with its own interesting history, but when taken together the tale reaches almost epic status (okay, "impressive" status).

Ruben at locality2

 

The largest of the skulls is UCMP specimen 113697, also known as "Ruben's Trike." While on a UCMP field expedition to Montana and neighboring states in July, 1970, paleontology graduate student John Ruben (now a professor in the Department of Zoology, Oregon State University) discovered the skull in the roughly 68-million-year-old rocks of the Hell Creek Formation of eastern Montana. The Hell Creek is one of the most fruitful formations for Trike discoveries, and if you've done field work in the Upper Cretaceous of Montana and haven't come across some part of a Triceratops, you're doing something wrong.

John Ruben (black hat) at his "Ruben's Trike" locality, V75046, where the skull, UCMP 113697, was found, McCone County, MT.

 

The medium-sized Triceratops skull, UCMP 136306, is also known as the "McGuire Creek Trike" since its discovery in badlands of the Hell Creek Formation exposed in the vicinity of this creek drainage in McCone County, Montana. Weathered fragments of bone or "float" from the skull were first sighted by paleontology undergraduate Wayne Thomas in the summer of 1984 on a UCMP field research trip. Further excavation by UCMP Assistant Director Mark Goodwin and crew that summer confirmed Wayne's discovery was a nearly complete juvenile Triceratops skull. The find was exciting in itself, but it also helped fill in some holes in the understanding of Triceratops growth from baby to adult (known as ontogeny) and generated new research by Goodwin, his colleague Jack Horner from the Museum of the Rockies, and their students. For more information on Trike ontogeny, stay tuned for a future blog entry centered on this exact topic.

The smallest of the Trike skulls, UCMP 154452, was found in the Hell Creek Formation (see a trend?) of Montana by long-time UCMP field associate and collector, Harley J. Garbani, in 1995.

When Harley came across the specimen, he first identified it as a possible pachycephalosaur because the tiny brow horn so closely resembled the horns and knobs seen ornamenting the back of the skulls of pachycephalosaurs, or "dome-headed" dinosaurs. Being a very young individual, likely less than a year old, the skull showed features not seen before on a Trike, was very delicate, and in many pieces. Trying to determine what some specimens are from many fragments can be a tedious and insanity-inducing ordeal (ask any fossil preparator).

After corresponding with, and providing pictures to, Mark Goodwin and Professor Bill Clemens, the specimen was correctly identified and also keyed Goodwin into finding a near identical isolated postorbital or "brow" horn from the skull of another baby Triceratops in the UCMP collections.

Baby trike collage 1

Left: HJG 1030, the Baby Trike Site. Photo by Bill Clemens. Top right: A portion of Harley Garbani's field notes. He crossed out "Dome-Head" (i.e., pachycephalosaur) after learning it was a baby Triceratops! Bottom right: An excerpt from a letter that Harley wrote to Bill Clemens. He knew he had something important, and very quickly corresponded with the right parties to learn why. Image courtesy of Bill Clemens.

Baby trike collage2

Top left: Photo of a table top covered with the bones of the baby Trike skull discovered by Harley Garbani. Bottom left: Reconstruction of baby Trike. Photo by Dave Smith. Right: Assistant UCMP Director and dinosaur paleontologist Mark Goodwin working on the baby Triceratops skull. It was prepared, molded, and cast so that an accurate reconstruction (on exhibit in the Biosciences Library) could be made available for research and display. Images of Mark Goodwin and skull bones courtesy of Bill Clemens.

 

Harley’s discovery was a game-changer since it was, and still is, the smallest Triceratops skull and by inference, the youngest yet known. Together, these three skulls tell a story about skull development and growth in a dinosaur that was named by O.C. Marsh of the Yale Peabody Museum over 120 years ago!

UCMP paleontologists are still discovering new things about this very popular dinosaur. Fossils are often known for whatever novel thing they can tell us, but sometimes a seemingly small and, at first, very fragmentary fossil becomes significant when studied in the context of other fossils and when you hear the story behind its discovery. These Triceratops skulls are interesting on both counts!

Dispatches from Clear Lake, part 1

UCMP's Cindy Looy is leading a project to collect 130,000 years worth of sediment data from Clear Lake in order to better understand how life has adapted to climate change. Along the way, members of her team will report back to us with all the progress and drama from the field. Here's our first set of dispatches.

 

Assembling the barge

From Ivo Duijnstee:

Thu, April 26

First mud
It has begun. Except for some minor delays, the Clear Lake drilling expedition had a relatively smooth start. When our seven-headed UC Berkeley team arrived on site in Lakeport California, six members of the not-for-profit drilling company DOSECC had already assembled the large drilling barge to the point that it was almost good to go. Not much later, three sediment core curators of the National Lacustrine Core Facility (LacCore) arrived; completing the drill team in charge of the first days of this enterprise.

Fri, April 27

Today, a boat pushed the barge to its first drilling position in the southeastern part of the northern branch of the lake. This is in a part of the lake with a thick continuous sediment package. The deeper layers date back at least to the warm part of the previous interglacial (~130,000 years ago), a period we are very much interested in, as it may provide an analog for the current climate change in California.

Sat, April 28

From our Rocky Point base camp on the other side of the water, we can barely make out the barge’s position, as the sizeable drilling barge is reduced to a mere speck on the horizon. The inconspicuousness changes dramatically when night falls and the needle in the haystack turns into a beacon of light, as soon as the flood lights on the barge are switched on.

Tonight, the night crew (on the barge everyone works in two 12-hour shifts) made their way to the barge in the former county fire boat. This boat was made available for the crews’ semidiurnal commute by our collaborators of the Lake County Water Resources Department. Around 11PM, word reached base camp that the DOSECC drillers hoisted the first sediment core up on deck.

The barge has been moved out to the drill site.

Sun, April 29

This morning the night crew brought the uppermost 28 meter (93 ft) of sediment cores ashore, so the Holocene is taken care of. Let’s dig deeper into the Pleistocene!

Cindy Looy with the first core sample.

We have some cores!

So far, things are going smoothly on the drill platform. The day crew is off to their 12 hour shift, and the night crew is heading to bed. At the house in Rocky Point — our base camp — we are starting our pile of sediment-filled transparent tubes in the garage.

Mon, April 30

It’s media day!

Almost all day, camera crews, radio journalists, newspaper photographers and reporters were buzzing around, interviewing UCB/UCMP’s Cindy Looy and Liam Reidy, DOSECC Director of Operations Chris Delahunty and LacCore scientist Ryan O’Grady as they made visits to our floating drill site. We’ve had so much attention already, and the UCB press release is yet to come!

Chris Delahunty being interviewed for KQED radio.

The timing of the media is perfect: just like the weather, everyone in the team is in a sunny mood since the team has reached a greater depth than the USGS did at the same location during its 1973 Clear Lake drilling program. That means that the teams first target (115 m, or 377 ft) has been reached, and there is more to come.

Gravel.

At about 140 m (460 ft) into the sediment, it’s over with the monotonously greenish grey playdough that has filled the plastic core linings so far. In the dark, the night crew has struck gravel, making it impossible to get anything out of the lake bed. Fortunately, the drillers have some tricks up their coverall sleeves. For now they are mixing a special kind of mud that the day shift will use to get through the gravel layer. They will pump the muddy mixture into the borehole so that the gaps between the chunks of gravel will be filled with sticky goo; enabling the drillers to get the loose gravel out.

Tue, May 1

Alas, despite the fact the DOSECC team successfully crossed the gravel layer, things are not going well. Beyond the gravel layer there is sand and more gravel. Now things are going this slow, we decide that it is better to stop drilling at this site, and get started on a second hole nearby. As the two drillers prepare the drilling equipment for the move to the next hole, the scientific part of the night shift gets to spend an unexpected night in the house, where it is warm and couches are comfy... perhaps a bit to comfy when you are trying to stick to the nocturnal routine of the graveyard shift...

 

Renske with an armload of cores.

From Renske Kirchholtes:

Wed, May 2

*S*  hifts are 12 hours long and days start incredibly early

*C*  ores are covered in mud and so are we

*I*  ncessant noise of the generators, shrouding the barge in heavy diesel fumes

*E*  very day starts at 5.45am

*N*  o matter what happens, the entire crew is always in great spirits

*C*  lear Lake is a neat location and the weather is close to perfect

*E*  asily one of the coolest projects I have ever been part of!


See more text, audio, and video coverage of the Clear Lake drilling project here.

Erin's Adventures in Marine Conservation: A quick introduction to a snail's tale

Follow Erin Meyer as she takes us on a journey through the Caribbean, on the tail of an important snail she hopes to conserve. To learn more about her seasonal trips, visit her blog - "Adventures in Snail Conservation."

Field work during a mass extinction

Imagine that a “time machine” allowed you to go back in time — back exactly 64,999,995 years ago, just five years before the crash of the meteor that marked the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs. You have just enough time to do your field work, analyze your data, and write your Ph.D. dissertation. Your field work starts in the closest emerged land to the Chicxulub impact site. In no time at all you begin discovering new species of dinosaurs that are unknown from the fossil record, and you diligently test dozens of hypotheses about the behavior and physiology of these Mesozoic giants.

Mauna Kea vegetationFor three years you have that chance to explore a completely different world to the one where you grew up. Australia is still connected to a temperate Antarctica and India is on its way to cross the equatorial line. Continental seas cover extensive regions of North America, Europe, Asia and in South America, east of the rising Andes.

During your last year of field work, a series of small meteorites begin to impact the Earth. These events become more and more frequent and some of them have local effects similar to the volcanic explosion of the island of Krakatau in 1883. Your advisor and dissertation committee recommend that you come back, but you refuse to do so. You still want to do field work for your last chapter concerning the ecology of Titanosaurus in South America. It is literally the last chance to study these sauropods before they become extinct. However, communications with your family and friends make you change your mind. After carefully packing up all your samples, including Ornithuromorpha feathers, Nymphaeaceae flowers and pollinator insects, you come back to the present. The Cretaceous world is not a safe place anymore ….

Our reality today is in some ways not too far from this fictional story. Based in Laupāhoehoe on the Big Island of Hawai’i this past January, I took part in field work on the slopes of Mauna Kea and witnessed how the environment is changing in a precipitous way. I had the chance to do an altitudinal transect with climate change researchers from the University of Hawai’i, Mānoa. Starting at 1,116 meters we were surrounded by an amazingly beautiful native forest. Huge o’hia and koa trees dominated the canopy, while the understory was full of a variety of endemic plants, including the hapu’u fern, ‘ōlapa tree, ‘ōhelo berries and more than 15 other endemic species. Flying and singing amongst the vegetation, different species of native birds, (i’iwi, apapane, ‘oma’o, ‘amakihi) accompanied us. The bark and leaves of the trees hosted an abundant community of terrestrial invertebrates. Dozens of species of Drosophila, giant Leptogryllus crickets, colorful Tetragnatha spiders and, of course, the curious Hawaiian happy face spider, were part of this unique world.

However, as we descended, the increase of invasive species, like strawberry guava, clidemia and Kāhili ginger, became obvious. At 934 meters, most of the strawberry guavas were juvenile — they were the advancing front of an invasion. By 800 meters, the strawberry guava trees were older and the diversity of endemic plants had declined dramatically. Toward the end of the transect, we were in a pure strawberry guava forest. Most of the native plants were gone and many of the animals appeared to be absent as well. It became obvious to me that I was witnessing the potential future for the higher elevation areas.

Today, the disappearance of "critically endangered," "endangered" and "vulnerable" species could lead us further down a path toward what might be the planet's sixth mass extinction. Indeed, it is likely that many more organisms will go extinct in our lifetime. The clock is ticking for many species worldwide and we have a limited time to discover and document our existing biological diversity. Unlike the K/T extinction, we can use our knowledge of contemporary species distribution and abundance to prevent these extinctions. However, for this to occur, human society must undergo fundamental yet attainable changes. If we fail to learn the lessons from the past, there might not be a future from which to escape once the Earth ceases to be a safe place ….

Acknowledgement: I want to thank Scott Laursen for suggestions for the text and for letting me join the research team to visit Laupāhoehoe.

Relicts of the Bug-men

What are bug-men and how did their existence benefit UCMP? Watch and listen to this slideshow about an obscure link recently discovered by UCMP micropaleontologist Ken Finger.

Click cover page below to download the full article.

 

Student Spotlight: Jenna Judge travels to Japan in search of deep sea snails

Congratulation to UCMP's Jenna Judge who was awarded a spot in the NSF East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) last spring. NSF EAPSI provides funding for a graduate student to spend a summer in an East Asian or Pacific country to conduct scientific research as well as engage in societal and cultural practices. Jenna spent her summer in Japan, studying  the evolutionary history and ecology of a group of limpets that live in a variety of habitats in the deep sea! Check out her adventures on her personal blog - the eclectic limpet.

One fossil locality, eight days, 513 rocks, 757 photographs and thousands of plant fossils

Figure 1: Bolzano covers the floor of intersecting alpine valleys defined by stunning dolomite peaks (upper left). Check out the local GAP for the latest in dirndl fashion (lower left). Cin and Ivo inspect a big slab with Late Permian conifer branches (right).

This summer we headed to the Italian Alps to work on fossils from a newly discovered Late Permian plant locality in the incredibly scenic Bletterbach gorge. This research is part of a larger project, which tries to quantify the hits that the terrestrial ecosystem took during the end-Permian world-wide biotic crisis. Back in those days Europe and North America were connected and part of one and the same floral realm, not surprisingly called Euramerica. Euramerica was tropical and semi-arid, and its floras were characterized by conifers and seedferns. Floral remains from this area and time interval are few and far between and notoriously incomprehensive, and thus also is our understanding of the floras. The discovery in the north Italian Dolomites of a specimen (as well as taxon-rich macrofossil flora some years ago) therefore means a big leap forward. Last year a multidisciplinary team was assembled to make an inventory and study the various plant groups and reptilian ichnofossils collected at the site. We were there to study and photograph the conifer remains and sample them for preserved leaf cuticles.

Truckloads of fossiliferous material had already been collected by volunteers over the last few years and were ready to be worked on. As a result, the field part of our expedition was reduced to sampling cuticle bearing sediment layers - sitting right on top of the Butterloch waterfall in Geoparc Bletterbach. The remaining time was spent digging the museum collection.

The collection is housed in the natural history gem Naturmuseum Südtirol in Bolzano - or Bozen as the German speaking South Tyroleans call it. The museum in turn is housed in a beautiful respectfully converted historic building from the latest 1400s in the “Bozner Altstadt”. So - just like last year - we spent the hottest part of the European summer up on the attic of yet another natural history museum.

Our counterpart, curator Dr. Evelyn Kustatcher, turned out to be a fabulous cook as well as a wonderful host. That, together with daily macchiatos and apiretivos on café terraces, and the stunning natural beauty of the area made Bolzano a particularly difficult place to leave.

We will be back...

Figure 2: Sampling the cuticle-rich layer close to the waterfall (upper left). Our host Evelyn Kustatcher (red shirt) explains geo-tourist spectators what we are doing (lower left). A look into the Butterloch-Bletterbach Gorge from above (right).

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.

Student Spotlight: Emily Lindsey and the late Pleistocene megafauna in South America

This post's text is also available in Spanish.

Emily Lindsey fossil hunting at her site in Ecuador.

Congratulations to graduate student Emily Lindsey, this year's recipient of the George D. Louderback Award! Emily has been hard at work the past few years investigating the timing, dynamics, and key players behind the late Pleistocene extinction of megafauna in South America.

Like the famous La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California, Emily's excavation site on the Santa Elena Peninsula in Ecuador is an asphalt seep preserving the remains of a wide array of organisms. However, unlike the Tar Pits in California, the Ecuador site doesn't appear to be a tableau depicting the tragic demise of animals stuck in tar. Instead, it is likely the final resting place of remains transported by running water and then covered by nearby asphalt.

A. Setting up camp at Emily's site on the Santa Elena Peninsula. B. Close up of one of the excavated walls. C. Panoramic view of the entire site during the fossil dig.

So what mysterious late Pleistocene megafauna did she uncover in the seep? Mainly giant ground sloths (Eremotherium laurillardi) ranging from juveniles to adults, along with gomphotheres (elephant-like relatives of mastodons), giant armadillos and prehistoric horse. In general, Emily’s site had rather reduced biodiversity compared to other notable tar seeps. In fact only herbivores were found, unlike La Brea, which included the infamous and carnivorous sabertoothed cat and dire wolf.

All photos demonstrate the excavation process in the field by Emily's many international collaborators. B. Close up of bones being exposed.

Emily couldn’t do all this work without some help. For the excavation, she brought together a slew of collaborators from across continents to uncover (zing!) and understand the mysteries surrounding the late Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions. The Universidad Estatal Peninsula de Santa Elena (UPSE) sponsored the excavation and kept the fossil finds at the Museo Paleontologico Megaterio (MPM). Members of the Page Museum in California also flew down to Ecuador, bringing their expertise on the La Brea Tar Pits and asphalt seeps. And, several U.C. Berkeley students and alumni have volunteered their time on the dig. Several international articles were written about Emily’s exciting work, including one from the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles and the Universidad Nacional de Piura (UNP).

A. An area of deposited bones after they've been excavated. B. and C. The exposed fossils are plastered to protect them for transport to the museum.

Emily’s collaboration with UNP members in Peru was part of her goal to compare asphalt seeps from different locales. “I think the Talara tar seeps in Peru are pretty similar to La Brea, geologically & taxonomically, just my site in Ecuador is distinct from them,” says Emily. “This isn’t necessarily true of other asphalt sites here on the Santa Elena Peninsula, which may represent more traditional “tar pit” scenarios.”  Emily presented her results in a lecture at UNP last year.

Another large focus of Emily's work has been to tease apart the roles of climate change and habitat degradation from the arrival of humans on the disappearance of large mammals.  Several of the fossils uncovered at her site in Ecuador were found with cut marks. Though this might suggest that humans played a hand in overharvesting and subsequently pushing these mammals to extinction, there is no further evidence of human activity at her site. “It is also possible that the marks are ‘taphonomic’ features, caused when the bones were swept down a river or rubbed against other bones and rocks in the tar pit,” says Emily. Likely both climate change and human activities led to the downfall of these South American megafauna. The question is, how much did each factor contribute.

Other important tasks to do at the site include A. mapping out the location of the bones, B. measuring the stratigraphic layers, and C. sifting for microfauna.

With a much deserved award under her belt, we look forward to hearing more about Emily’s discoveries in the future!

A display of a giant ground sloth at the Museo Paleontologico Megaterio (MPM).

En Español:

Felicitaciones a la estudiante de doctorado Emily Lindsey, ganadora este año del Premio George D. Lauderback. Emily ha estado trabajando los últimos años investigando la cronología, los patrones y los actores principales en la extinción de la megafauna sudamericana al fin del Pleistoceno.

Tal como el famoso sitio Rancho La Brea en Los Ángeles, California, USA, el sitio que Emily está excavando en la Península de Santa Elena en Ecuador es un charco de asfalto que preserva los restos de una gran variedad de organismos. Sin embargo, a diferencia de los charcos de brea en Los Ángeles, el sitio en Ecuador no parece que fue una trampa donde varios animales murieron atrapados en brea, sino la ultima morada de restos trasladados por agua corriente y luego enterrados en el asfalto.

¿Y cual megafauna misteriosa ha encontrado Emily en los charcos de Santa Elena? Principalmente perezosos gigantes (Eremotherium laurillardi), desde críos hasta adultos, junto con gonfoterios (un pariente de los mastodontes parecidos a elefantes), armadillos gigantes, y caballos prehistóricos. En total, el sitio tiene menos biodiversidad en comparación con otros conocidos fosilíferos charcos de brea. De hecho, hasta ahora solo han encontrado herbívoros, a diferencia de Rancho La Brea, donde los fósiles más encontrados incluyen los famosos – y carnívoros – tigres dientes de sable y Canis dirus.

¡Emily no podría hacer todo este trabajo sin ayuda! Para las excavaciones, unió a un grupo de colaboradores de distintos continentes a des-cubrir (:)) y entender los misterios sobre la extinción de la megafauna Pleistocena sudamericana. La Universidad Estatal Península de Santa Elena (UPSE) apoyó la excavación y guardó los fósiles excavados en el Museo Paleontológico Megaterio (MPM). Personal del Museo de Historia Natural en Los Ángeles, California, también vino a ayudar con las excavaciones, contribuyendo con su alta experiencia y conocimiento sobre los charcos de brea. Además, varios alumnos y exalumnos de la Universidad de California en Berkeley han llegado como voluntarios a ayudar con los excavaciones. Algunos artículos internacionales han sido escritos sobre el trabajo emocionante de Emily, incluyendo uno del Museo de Historia Natural en Los Ángeles, y otro del Universidad Nacional de Piura (UNP) en Perú.

La colaboración de Emily con el personal del UNP fue en conexión con su proyecto de comparar charcos de brea de distintos lugares. "Yo creo que los charcos de brea en Talara, Peru son bien parecidos, geológicamente y taxonómicamente, con los de Rancho La Brea en Los Ángeles; solo el sitio que yo tengo es distinto," dijo Emily. "Esto no necesariamente es el caso con los otros sitios de asfalto que encontramos aquí en la Península de Santa Elena, los cuales podrían representar escenarios mas tradicionales de "trampas de brea."

Otro gran enfoque del trabajo de Emily ha sido diferenciar las contribuciones de cambios climáticos y degradación de hábitats y la llegada de los primeros humanos a Sudamérica, como causantes de la desaparición de mamíferos gigantes del continente. Algunos de los fósiles descubiertos en su sitio en Ecuador fueron encontrados con marcas parecidos a las hechas con cuchillos. Aunque esto podría sugerir que los humanos tenían un papel en la sobrecaza de estos animales y su eventual extinción, no hay mas evidencia de acciones humanos en el sitio. "También es posible que las marcas sean características 'tafonómicas,' producidas cuando los huesos fueron arrastrado por un río o cuando se frotaban unos contra otros o contra piedras en el charco de brea," dice Emily. Probablemente, ambos procesos – cambios climáticos y acciones de humanos – contribuyeron a la extinción de la megafauna Sudamericana. La pregunta es, ¿cuánto contribuyó cada factor?

Ya con un premio bien merecido, ¡esperaremos escuchar mas sobre los descubrimientos de Emily en el futuro!