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Posts tagged ‘global warming’

Global warming and declining mammal diversity: new research in Nature

Pleistocene survivor, the deer mouse.  Photo by Glenn and Martha Vargas © California Academy of Sciences

Pleistocene survivor, the deer mouse. Photo by Glenn and Martha Vargas © California Academy of Sciences

Popular images of Ice Age California tend to feature enormous, extinct mammals like mammoths and saber-toothed cats.  By contrast, new research published in Nature examines populations of small mammals that survived through the end of the Ice Age and how they were affected by the climate change.

The research team of Jessica Blois (formerly at Stanford, now at University of Wisconsin, Madison), Elizabeth Hadly (formerly of UCMP, now at Stanford) and Jenny McGuire (UCMP) studied fossilized woodrat nests collected from Samwell Cave in Northern California.  Woodrats carry scat and regurgitated pellets produced by carnivores back to their nests.  These collections are filled with undigested small mammal bones, making fossilized woodrat nests treasure troves for paleontologists.

Comparing fossil data to modern small mammal populations in the same region revealed a big decrease in diversity during a period of global warming at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch.  There was a decrease in both species richness (number of different species) and evenness (relative dominance of species within a community).  A few species disappeared from the area entirely.  Some species remain in the area but as a much smaller proportion of the overall small mammal community.  And the main species to increase in relative abundance was the deer mouse — an animal that can tolerate a wide variety of habitats and climates.

Research of historic periods of global warming improves our understanding of how modern, man-made global warming will affect life on Earth.  Read more about this research:

UCMP's Tony Barnosky on Science Friday

barnosky_scifriMounting evidence suggests we may be on the cusp of a major extinction event. Last week, UCMP Faculty Curator Tony Barnosky talked about modern extinctions on Science Friday, a weekly science talk show on NPR. Tony was joined by Barry Sinervo, Professor at UC Santa Cruz, George Amato, of the Sackler Institute and the American Museum of Natural History, and Vance Vredenburg, Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University. In a lively conversation, Tony and the guests discussed many examples of animals and ecosystems currently affected by global warming. If you missed the program last week, you can listen to it here.

Tony is the author of Heatstroke: Nature in an Age of Global Warming. To learn more about his work, check out the Barnosky Lab website.

On May 17, Tony Barnosky gave the 2010 Integrative Biology Commencement Address, which he titled Geography of Hope, a line he borrowed from Wallace Stegner. Tony discussed the biological and global issues that will challenge the Class of 2010 — and how these graduates represent his hope for the future. Read Tony's commencement address, Geography of Hope, here.

Tony was involved with a BBC radio broadcast (May 2012) about the possibility of our being in the midst of a sixth mass extinction.

Predicting the future of San Francisco Bay: Learning from history

Short Course 2010

Speakers at the University of California Museum of Paleontology's 2010 Short Course, Predicting the future of San Francisco Bay: Learning from history. From left to right: Andrew Cohen, Will Travis, Jere Lipps, and Doris Sloan. Not present: Robin Grossinger.

Hundreds of thousands of people cross San Francisco Bay each day. But as commuters zip through the BART tunnel or drive over the bridges, they probably don't think about what the Bay looked like in the past — or what it will look like in the future. On Saturday, February 6, over 150 people attended the UCMP's annual Short Course, Predicting the future of San Francisco Bay: Learning from history. Throughout the course's five talks, they saw a very different view of San Francisco Bay.

A theme that emerged from the course was that San Francisco Bay is constantly changing. Doris Sloan, Adjunct Professor in Earth and Planetary Science at Berkeley and Curatorial Associate at the UCMP, spoke about the geologic processes that shape the Bay. For example, sea levels have fluctuated dramatically throughout the Bay's history. In the past, sea levels were low enough to make the Bay a dry river valley — and were high enough to make San Francisco an island. UCMP Faculty Curator Jere Lipps talked about the Bay's geology, too. He emphasized tectonic processes that are happening in the present day — and he brought his earthquake bucket. (If you live in a tectonically active area, please see below for more info on earthquake buckets!) The next speaker, Robin Grossinger of the San Francisco Estuary Institute, showed that geologic processes aren't the only things that shape the bay. He compared fascinating old maps to recent aerial photos to show that humans are responsible for numerous changes to the shoreline over the past 200 years. Andrew Cohen, Director of the Center for Research on Aquatic Bioinvasions (CRAB), talked about the ecological history of the bay. It is important to know which organisms (and how many of them) lived in the Bay, as we make plans to restore it. And Will Travis, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), talked about strategies for adapting to changes in the Bay that will occur in the future. Throughout the short course, it became clear that that San Francisco Bay has been changing since it first formed — and it will continue to change. At this point, we know a lot about the Bay — and we can use this knowledge as we plan for the future.

To learn more about the speakers, look at the agenda for the Short Course. The PowerPoint presentations will soon be available. And in a few weeks, videos of the presentations will be available on UC Berkeley's YouTube channel, iTunes U, and webcast.berkeley.edu. Check back for the links!

** In the event of an earthquake, Jere won't share the contents of his bucket with you – you need to put together your own earthquake preparedness kit! The website 72hours.org has a list of things you should include in your bucket. In addition to the items on the list, Jere suggests including a few other things that might just save your life: a wind-up radio/flashlight, a small one-burner propane stove, pillows, and gloves and kneepads for crawling around on broken glass and debris. If Haiti's recent earthquake is any indication, it could be several days before emergency services are able to reach everyone; Jere recommends including a supply of food and water to last at least 7 days.

UCMP short course: Predicting the future of San Francisco Bay

predicting_web1How will sea level rise and climate change affect San Francisco Bay in the coming years? To predict the future, we need to look at the past — history shows us that San Francisco Bay has undergone some major changes throughout its history. Learn more about the Bay at this year's UCMP Short Course, Predicting the future of San Francisco Bay: Learning from history. This all-day course will be on Saturday, February 6, at UC Berkeley. It features talks by five renowned Bay Area scientists, as well as a panel discussion, giving you the chance to ask questions and delve deeper into the Bay's history — and its future.

The speakers include Doris Sloan, Adjunct Professor of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley and author of the book Geology of the San Francisco Bay Region; UCMP Faculty Curator Jere Lipps; San Francisco Estuary Institute scientist Robin Grossinger; Andrew Cohen, Director of the Center for Research on Aquatic Bioinvasions; and Will Travis, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. Learn more about the speakers and their talks here.

Registration information is available here. The cost is $30 for the general public, $25 for Friends of the UCMP and members of the co-sponsoring organizations, and $15 for students. Proceeds support graduate student research and outreach efforts at the museum. Teachers attending the course can receive a certification of professional development hours.

The UCMP hosts a short course for the general public every year; we've covered a variety of exciting topics over the past few years. Last year's UCMP short course, Darwin: the man, his science, and his legacy, was very popular, with over 300 attendees.

Join us for 2010's short course, Predicting the future of San Francisco Bay: Learning from history!

Fossils provide baseline for mammal diversity

Arctodus

Skull of a short-faced bear from northern California, an example of a species that went extinct after humans arrived in North America. Photo: Tony Barnosky

As more and more species go extinct, biologists wonder whether we are on the verge of the earth's sixth mass extinction.  A new study, by Marc Carrasco and Tony Barnosky of the UCMP and Russell Graham of Pennsylvania State University, uses the fossil record to examine mammal biodiversity in North America over the past 30 million years. Carrasco and his collaborators used data from two fossil databases, MioMap and Faunmap, to determine the baseline of mammal diversity before humans arrived in North America. Their results, published in the journal PLoS ONE, show that the arrival of humans 13 thousand years ago coincided with a 15 to 42% decline in mammal diversity. These data show that humans had a negative impact on mammals long before we factor in the effects of current industrialization and global climate change. Now that a pre-human baseline of North American mammal diversity has been established, we can compare current diversity to the continent's "normal" diversity level — an important comparison as we plan and evaluate conservation efforts in the future.

To learn more about Marc and Tony's study, read the paper on the journal PLoS ONE, the UC Berkeley News press release, and this article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

UCMP's Tony Barnosky in The Economist

Tony BarnoskyCheck out this week's issue of The Economist — it features the work of UCMP Faculty Curator Tony Barnosky. Tony looks at how climate change affects the ecology and distribution of mammals — in the distant past and in the future. The UCMP last blogged about Tony's work here.

Paleo Video: Kaitlin Maguire at the John Day Fossil Beds

Watch this video and join UCMP graduate student Kaitlin Maguire on a field trip to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument! After visiting the park last spring, Kaitlin decided it's the perfect place to do her dissertation research.

"When you do a field project for paleontology, especially if you're looking for fossils, you never know what you're going to find — you never know if there's going to be enough data," says Kaitlin. But paleontologists from the UCMP and elsewhere have been studying the John Day Fossil Beds since the early 1900s. "There's a wealth of information to build on," she says. "I'm not just walking into the unknown."

A few fun facts about the John Day Fossil Beds:

  • The fossil beds, in eastern Oregon, were named for the John Day River, which runs through the area. The river got its name because of an incident that occurred at the river's mouth in 1812. A fur trapper named John Day was robbed by Native Americans — he was relieved of all of his belongings, including his clothes. Thereafter, the river was referred to as the John Day River.
  • Over 35,000 fossil specimens have been excavated from the John Day Fossil Beds. Many of those specimens were collected by UCMP paleontologists; the UCMP collections include thousands of fossils from John Day.
  • The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument has a paleontologist on staff, as do several other National Parks. Learn more about paleontology at the John Day on the Monument's website.

Tony Barnosky talks about his book, Heatstroke, in Terrain magazine

Anthony BarnoskyClimate change is not a new phenomenon - the earth's climate has been changing for millions of years, and no one knows this better than paleontologists. In his recent book, Heatstroke: Nature in an age of Global Warming, UCMP Faculty Curator Tony Barnosky tells why today's climate change is different than the climatic fluctuations of the past, and how that will impact ecosystems in new ways. Tony was recently interviewed in Terrain, Northern California's Environmental Magazine. Read Tony's interview and learn how studying the fossil record helps us understand how current climate change is threatening wildlife and wild places in new ways, and what to do about it.

Tony will be speaking about his book, Heatstroke, at an upcoming public event, hosted by the UCMP. We'll post details about the event on the blog, so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, read some of Tony's op-ed pieces here, and check out his blog.