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Caldwell's rare octopus research makes headlines

Roy Caldwell has been working with Richard Ross of the California Academy of Sciences to study a rare, beautiful, and so far unnamed species of octopus. Their work, along with some of Roy's photos, is the subject of a feature article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

New bone histology book from UCMP and UC Press

The University of California Press has just published Bone Histology of Fossil Tetrapods: Advancing methods, analysis, and interpretation. The book represents the proceedings of an NSF-sponsored workshop and is the first comprehensive summary of the field of fossil bone histology. The twelve authors of the various chapters cover topics ranging from basic bone biology to calculating and analyzing the evolution of growth rates in bones, in addition to step-by-step instructions for setting up a hard tissue histology lab and processing specimens.

The microstructure of bone has a great deal to tell us about the biology of ancient vertebrates. The patterns of how bone tissue was deposited and the configuration of the blood canals in the bone provide a very good idea of how fast the animal was growing, and how its growth regime changed through life. Growth lines, deposited annually like tree rings, help us to calculate how old animals were when they died and even when they matured sexually. These data in turn give us information about life history strategies and metabolic regimes.

UCMP alum Andrew Lee and grad student Sarah Werning were two of the many contributors to the volume who have benefited from studying UCMP’s fossil collections. UCMP researchers have been in the forefront of fossil bone histology for decades, and our histology lab continues to be one of the most active research areas of the Museum. The book was edited by Kevin Padian of UCMP and Ellen-Thérèse Lamm of the Museum of the Rockies.

Lucy Chang captures honors at the International Biogeography Society meeting

IB Students Lucy Chang and Brad Balukjian celebrate their poster success! Photo courtesy of George Roderick.

UCMP grad student, Lucy Chang, received recognition for her student poster at the recent International Biogeography Society meeting in Miami. She was one of two winners in the category of Conservation and Global Change. There were more than 300 student posters dispersed among four categories and only two winners in each category. Lucy’s poster focused on the use of the fossil record to understand how biotas are established in epeiric (epicontinental) seas. See abstract below.

Abstract: Building up the biota in novel environments: insights using the fossil record of epeiric seas
Throughout the Phanerozoic, times of rising sea level were often accompanied by the development of shallow seas on the continents. These epeiric seas formed relatively rapidly in geologic time and differed physically from open marine habitats, with shallower depths and altered salinity, temperature, and circulation. The build-up of diversity within these new habitats must result from one or more of the following processes: uninhibited dispersal of open marine taxa, limited dispersal with ecological filtering of open marine taxa, and one or more rounds of in situ speciation. The paleontological record allows discrimination between these processes and additionally chronicles any accompanying anagenesis. Despite the extensive representation of epeiric seas in the fossil record, little has been done to characterize and determine the source of epeiric biotas. My focus is on ammonites in the Late Cretaceous, characterized by high sea levels and inland flooding, including creation of a seaway across North America between the Arctic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Ammonites are an ideal study group because they are fast evolving, abundant and well preserved — features that allow for fine temporal and spatial control. Using geographic and temporal distributions and body size data for over 500 species of ammonite, I present spatial patterns in diversity and ecology of Cretaceous ammonites across epeiric and non-epeiric habitats to determine the relative importance of the various processes that build diversity in novel environments.

An evening with Neil Shubin

UCMP has partnered with the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco's Arts & Ideas series to present a lecture by Neil Shubin on Wednesday, January 16.

Paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin is famed for discovering the fossilized Tiktaalik roseae, the missing link between ancient sea creatures and land dwellers. His bestselling book, Your Inner Fish, shows parallels between human anatomy and the structures of the fish that first wriggled landward 375 million years ago. In his new book, The Universe Within, he goes one step further, explaining how the universe’s 14-billion-year history is reflected in our bodies, right down to our molecules. Neil Shubin is a professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago and a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. Academy Fellows are a distinguished group of eminent scientists recognized for notable contributions to one or more of the natural sciences.

Get more event/ticket information.

Werning in Biology Letters with oldest dinosaur

©Natural History Museum, London/Mark Witton

Nyasasaurus parringtoni is the new name for a very old fossil — a small dinosaur that lived 10 million years before any other known species. UCMP's Sarah Werning co-authored the Biology Letters paper describing the animal and did bone analysis on the specimen.

The Nyasasaurus fossil that Sarah and her co-authors studied was collected in Tanzania in the 1930s but was not described and documented for 80 years. The find pushes the origin of dinosaurs back to the middle of the Triassic period.


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UCMP welcomes Erica Clites to lead our NSF-funded collections improvement grant

Erica Clites has accepted a Museum Scientist position at UCMP to lead the NSF-funded collections improvement grant to rehouse and digitally image the USGS Menlo Park collection housed at the Regatta facility. Erica has an outstanding record, with a Bachelor's in Geology from The College of Wooster and a M.S. in Geological Sciences from UC Riverside, having completed a study on the Ediacaran fauna under Mary Droser.  She also has extensive experience with the National Park Service, including an award for her role in launching the first National Fossil Day.  She is currently managing the paleontology/geology collection at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area as well as leading the parks' GIS/Data Management Committee and will be joining us in December.


Related post: UCMP awarded a two-year collections improvement grant

Finding fossils in our national parks

National Fossil Day 2012 logo

In celebration of National Fossil Day (October 17, 2012), an event first organized by the National Parks Service (NPS) two years ago, we would like to call your attention to a feature on The Paleontology Portal website: "Fossils in US National Parks." First announced in January of this year (see the January 2012 UCMP News), the module's interactive map enables one to see all the parks where fossils are present and to find out what fossils (along with their geologic ages) are in any particular park. Improvements in the module's "searchability" have been made since then and better fossil data continue to be entered into the database.

You can now browse the more than 230 "fossil-bearing" parks by state, geologic age, fossil type, and park name. Each search is cumulative so you can continually refine your search by selecting new criteria. For example, suppose you want to find out what fossil parks exist in Utah. Select "Utah" in the States browse list and the map will show you Utah and all the national parks that are known to preserve fossils there. You can always click on any park marker to find out what geologic ages and fossils are represented in that park … but what if you want to see only those Utah parks known to have ammonite fossils? Just select "ammonites" from the Fossils browse list and those Utah parks where ammonites exist — or in some cases, potentially exist — will be shown on the map. But you're interested only in Cretaceous ammonites — no problem! Select "Cretaceous" from the Geologic Ages browse list and the map will show you only those parks with Cretaceous ammonites in Utah.

Map search results

From left, the map generated after selecting "Utah" from the States browse list; the map after then selecting "ammonites" from the Fossils browse list; and the map after selecting "Cretaceous" from the Geologic Ages browse list.

Vince Santucci and Jason Kenworthy of the NPS Geologic Resources Division and paleo-consultant Justin Tweet deserve the thanks for providing virtually all the geologic age and fossil data for the parks. This resource would not have been possible without their input. As more detailed inventories of each park's paleontological resources are prepared and new fossils are found, the information will be forwarded to UCMP so that the fossil parks database can be kept current.

So the next time you plan to visit a national park, visit PaleoPortal first and find out what, if any, fossils have been found there!

Announcing UCMP's 2013 Fossil Treasures Calendar

Calendar spread

Twelve elegant examples of archival richness

Open any drawer in the UCMP collections and you will view an assortment of clues to the past. Each labeled object provides a "what, where, and when" and thus helps to portray slices of past biodiversity on different spatial and temporal scales. But these fossil treasures are, by themselves, only a small piece of the story and represent only a small part of the role of a natural history museum. It is when you add in the field notes, the correspondence of the collector, the newspaper clippings, the sketches and photos and maps that you see the bigger picture and you begin to fathom the breadth and depth of the collective memory of the UCMP.

And that is exactly what is portrayed in the 2013 UCMP Fossil Treasures Calendar! Each month features specimens, fossil localities, and/or personalities, along with the stories behind them, accompanied by photos, illustrations, and maps from the museum's archives. Thumbnails of each month's "big picture" can be seen below.

We hope you will consider purchasing a calendar and giving them as gifts to friends and family. After all, all proceeds support UCMP research, education, and outreach. Only $10! If you are interested, please contact Chris Mejia at or call 510-642-1821.

Big picture thumbnails

UCMP receives a grant to develop Understanding Global Change

The University of California Museum of Paleontology and the National Center for Science Education are undertaking a new project that ultimately will enhance 21st Century science literacy in the context of the causes and consequences of global change.

The need:

Although scientists are in agreement that significant changes (including climate change) are occurring on a global level, the public remains confused and often views statements of change with ill-founded skepticism and in some instances denial about the causes and implications of these changes.  K-16 teachers and the general public need a source of information that is accessible and scientifically valid, that describes and explains the nature and impact of global change, and that describes the processes by which scientists arrive at their consensus opinions.  Teachers need a “one-stop shop” for global change resources, much as they have a site for evolution education resources in Understanding Evolution, and for resources for the teaching of the nature of science in Understanding Science.  The web resource that we propose, Understanding Global Change, will meet these needs.

The impact:

We have chosen to focus on a resource for K-16 educators given that an individual’s basic science literacy and critical thinking begin to grow during formal and informal K-12 education and mature in higher education.  To this end, the immediate goals of the project are to develop a freely accessible and engaging web-based resource that (1) provides K-16 science educators with an improved understanding of the processes, causes and rates of global change through time and their resulting biotic impacts, (2) provides clarity on the strengths and limitations of scientific arguments about global change, i.e., how we know what we know and what we currently do not know, and (3) provides resources and strategies that encourage and enable K-16 teachers to incorporate the impact of global change into their teaching.  In turn, this will afford the opportunity for their students, and ultimately the general public, to better understand the science behind global change impacts, its relevance to society, the role of human agency in both cause and solution, and how science arrives at its current thinking.

We look forward to working with NCSE and an energetic Advisory Board to develop this much-needed resource and are grateful to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for providing funding for the endeavor.

UCMP receives $401,833 to develop a program to increase understanding of evolutionary trees

UCMP,  in partnership with the Museum of the Earth, the University of Kansas Natural History Museum, and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, has received a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences: The Tree Room: Teaching and learning about evolutionary relationships

This three-year project will result in a freely accessible online resource for science educators and ISI professionals – The Tree Room. Building on scientific expertise, the learning research, and current project partner efforts, this resource will clarify what evolutionary trees are, how to read and interpret them, how they are built, how they inform research, and their applications relevant to society.  The project will clarify common misconceptions about trees, identify best practices for using trees in exhibits, and provide lessons and tools for teaching about trees.

The Tree Room will become part of the already highly successful Understanding Evolution website and will target K-16 teachers and ISI professionals but will ultimately serve students and the broader public by helping members of the target audience communicate more effectively about evolutionary trees as important scientific tools.

This project will have national impact on three levels by:

  • Increasing the number of K-16 teachers and informal science educators who are prepared to teach about trees and able to clarify student and visitor misconceptions.
  • Increasing the capacity of museums to develop effective exhibit and program components that integrate evolutionary trees by providing access to learning research and best practices gained through case study analysis.
  • Increasing public understanding of evolutionary trees.

Measurable outcomes of the project will include:

  • Improvements in teachers’ understanding of evolutionary trees.
  • Increases in teachers’ confidence in working with trees and associated scientific data, and improved skills in synthesizing and transforming that knowledge for the classroom.
  • Improvements in teachers’ skill and capacity for communicating concepts associated with biological trees in the framework of local, state and national science education standards.
  • Increases in teachers’ ability to explain tree depictions in the popular press or in textbooks that may otherwise result in student misconceptions.
  • Increases in ISI professionals’ use of trees in new exhibit designs.
  • Improved use of trees in ISI exhibits in ways that better reflect the results of the learning research and best practices as established through case studies of tree visualizations in other institutions.
  • Increases in ISI professionals’ confidence in using tree visualizations in museum interpretive activities and in discussing existing tree diagrams with visitors.

Teachers better prepared to incorporate trees into instruction and ISI professionals with a deeper understanding of the role of trees in exhibits will lead to a more scientifically literate public—one that appreciates the central role that evolutionary relationships play in a modern understanding of biology.