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Darwin Day Roadshow

Lisa's presentation

Lisa White makes her presentation to Mrs. Ball's 7th grade class at the Urban Promise Academy in Oakland. Photo by Alison Ball.
 

It is not unusual to see evolutionary biologists around the world involved in celebration activities on February 12th — the reason? Charles Darwin's birthday! UCMP and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) are no exception and this year the activities overlapped. Two years ago, NESCent initiated the Darwin Day Roadshow in order to bring evolutionary science to schools and museums around the country. This year, Lisa White was asked by NESCent to bring the Roadshow to Urban Promise Academy, a small Oakland Unified School District middle school serving students in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, CA. Presenting to Ms. Alison Ball's 7th grade classroom on February 15, 2013, Lisa highlighted research at the UCMP, profiling examples of evolution from the Understanding Evolution website, while conveying why the science of evolution is important and relevant.

To the enjoyment of the students, Lisa brought in an array of fossils for the students to touch and see the tangible evidence for evolution up close. Lisa also spoke about her own education and training, what it is like to be a paleontologist, and how she came to work at the UCMP. Lisa said "the students were such an inspiration and their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn more about paleontology suggests the next generation of potential scientists are alive and well in classrooms like Urban Promise Academy."

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.

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!

Understanding Science in the video spotlight

The California Academy of Sciences produced a video that uses UCMP's Understanding Science website's How Science Works flowchart to map the discovery of a new spider family. UCMP Education and Public Programs team leaders Judy Scotchmoor and Lisa White have starring roles! Watch the video at Science360.

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.

A salute to the Engdahl family

The Engdahl family

From left, Robert, Jane, Duane, and Cathy (Bras) Engdahl. Photo courtesy of Bill Clemens.

The Morris Skinner Award is the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s way of honoring those who have added to our knowledge through their contributions to collection of scientifically significant fossils. At its annual meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina, the society honored the Engdahl family of Garfield County, Montana, for their long-term, multi-generational support of paleontological research and education. Students, staff, and faculty associated with UCMP have benefited greatly from the Engdahls’ help and hospitality.

In the late 1960s, the late Harley Garbani went to the valley of Hell Creek in northeastern Montana with the goal of collecting skeletons of dinosaurs for exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. He was particularly successful in his discoveries on the Engdahl Ranch. In addition to two skeletons of Tyrannosaurus rex he discovered the remains of other non-avian dinosaurs, which were collected with the help of Lester Engdahl and his sons, Robert and Larry.

On the Engdahl Ranch, Harley also discovered concentrations of fossils of mammals, lizards, turtles, and other relatively small vertebrates that lived with the dinosaurs. In 1972, Harley, who became a field research associate of UCMP, introduced Bill Clemens and students from our museum to the Engdahls and these rich concentrations of small fossils. This was the beginning of a continuing project to study the evolution of the fauna and flora that lived with the last of the dinosaurs and the survivors of the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous. UCMP’s collections now contain extensive samples of fossil plants and animals from this interval of earth history. These continue to be the bases for a wide variety of research projects.

Through the years until his death in 1995 Lester Engdahl supported UCMP field parties. For example, he helped us refurbish a homesteader’s cabin and made it available to our field crews. In the summers the cabin provided a kitchen and shelter from the more than occasional thunderstorms. The rest of the year it served as a secure storage place for field supplies. Lester’s son, Robert Engdahl, his wife Jane, and their children, Duane and Cathy, were particularly supportive and helpful. Jane and her children “caught the bug” and became skilled in prospecting for vertebrate fossils. Many summer field seasons opened with expeditions to collect fossils or evaluate sites that they had discovered.

Field work in Garfield County continues to be more than just collecting old bones, shells, and leaves. Since 1972 over fifty undergraduate and graduate students from Berkeley and other universities have come to Garfield County in the summer to learn collecting and research techniques. Nine of these students from UCMP completed research for their Ph.D. degrees making use of information on the geology and fossils collected in the area. This involvement continues as the Engdahls support the work of field parties from the University of Washington and the Burke Museum led by UCMP alumnus Greg Wilson.

Jane Engdahl and Cathy Engdahl Bras attended the meeting in Raleigh and received the Skinner Award. We add our thanks for all they and their family have contributed to the success of UCMP’s programs of research and education.

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.

 

Related links:

Dispatches from Clear Lake, part 2

 

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 reported back to us with all the progress and drama from the field.  Read part 1 here.

From UCB undergrad research assistant Robert Stevenson:

Robert documenting a core section.

Fri 4/27-Sat 4/28 Night Shift
First night shift was tough. Even with the nap I took to prep for the difference in sleeping schedule, staying awake was still pretty hard. We took the first core around ~2300 and new cores came up slower and slower as the night progressed and the deeper we went. Other than the desire to sleep, the worst experience of the night was the bitterly cold winds. Thankfully, I brought my phone out so I could listen to podcasts and audiobooks or browse the internet when I got really bored. When shift change finally happened at 0700, I fell asleep on the boat ride back. After unloading the cores from the boat and getting out of my coveralls and boots, I ate what I could and crashed within minutes of lying down in bed.

Sat 4/28-Sun 4/29 Night Shift
The second night out went much smoother. Temperatures were up and winds and waves were down. The weather change and bright lights on the barge sparked a torrent of midges to engulf the barge. Other than trying not to swallow the occasional bug, most of my time is spent listening to podcasts and audiobooks as I did the night before. Cores came up as slowly as the night before (1-1.5 hrs) but the waiting and sleep deprivation haven't been as bad. Shift change and everything else happened the same as the day before. However, after waking up from my sleep, Katherine and I decided to go fishing for bass with the kayak. The only thing we caught were the many plants in the shallow areas we ventured...

Mon 4/30
Media day. Katherine and I got up at 0500 to prep the breakfast for the scientists, drillers, and journalists.  No sooner had most of the day crew finished their breakfast, the first journalists arrived sooner than Cindy hoped. She had been practicing her answers at the table while still in her pajamas. About an hour after the day shift left, the other journalists began to trickle in. While being on the news seemed like fun, my body told me sleep was far more interesting and I fell back asleep until about 1400.

Thu 5/3-Fri 5/4 Night Shift
Cores were coming up relatively quickly for most of the night; every ~30min in comparison to the 1+hr waits from my first first two night shifts. I worked on removing material from the core catcher, a small nozzle shaped piece at the front of the tool with teeth that love to grab fingers. Things went relatively smoothly until what seemed like a relatively calm night after a day of rain changed for the worse around 0100. A light drizzle of rain and increased wind speeds meant the barge began to roll and yaw quite profusely. By ~0330, drilling had to be stopped due to the amount of wind and the possibility of damaging the drilling equipment. For the rest of the night, we all huddled up in the 10' x 6' science shack to wait out the poor weather until the day shift relieved us at 0700.

Fri 5/4-Sat 5/5 Night Shift
Wind conditions were as bad as the night before. For the first several hours, everyone stayed in the science shack and watched movies until the winds and waves finally subsided around 2000. Drilling started up again around 2030 and we got back to the dirty work of handling the cores. We got about another 15m before we hit the gravel layer again. Around 0300 and one failed attempt to drill through the gravel layer, it was decided that the drilling was done and the drill string should be brought up before the forecasted bad weather struck us again. While the drillers worked, Katherine and I tried to get what little sleep we could in the science shack. At 0700, the day shift drillers arrived and we headed out from our last day on the barge. About ⅔rd the way back from the barge, the engine on the fire boat gave out on us and we drifted aimlessly. Jokes and curses were abounded and we pulled out the two paddles on the boat as well as made a couple more paddles from core liners and duct tape. By the time we had almost agreed on who to eat first, a boat finally reached us and towed us back to the rental house. A 2 hour ordeal but not the longest time I have waited for a tow by AAA.

From grad student Tripti Bhattacharya:

Friday, May 4th
Today was a reminder that, despite the best laid plans, successful fieldwork often hinges on forces beyond any PI’s control. In short, it requires the weather to cooperate. The day started out windy, with choppy waves, which made it too risky to operate the coring system. We spent the day hoping for conditions to improve, which left a lot of time for staring off into the distance, sleeping, and being frustrated. Despite the lack of core recovery, the day did offer a chance to observe the aquatic birds of Clear Lake, which seemed drawn by the film of dead midges perpetually on the water’s surface around the barge. Among others, we saw a pair of mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos), as well as several western grebes (Aechmophorus occidentalis) and eared grebes (Podiceps nigricollis). The day ended with a relatively wild boat ride home, and the hope that conditions would improve during the night shift.

From project lead Cindy Looy:

On Tuesday May 1 we started drilling the second core. It went extremely well the first shifts at the new hole, but unfortunately the weather started to change on Thursday. We had to stop coring 2:30 pm that night because of the wave action. The weather predictions for the weekend were even more wind, with a short window during the night of Friday-Saturday. During that interval the night shift managed to get to the gravel layer 140 meters deep. Because we knew our towboat could not operate under the high wind speeds that were predicted, and we had to get off the lake by the end of Sunday, we decided to play it safe and quit operations the end of that night. The barge was towed back to Lakeport Saturday morning.

This may not sound like a happy ending, but we had a great time at Clear Lake and ended up with two perfect 140 meters of clays plus 12 meter of gravel-rich layers (that might be volcanic). The cores have been boxed up and on their way to their megafridge at LacCore in Minnesota...