Happy as a Clam?

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    Karin Ohman (Geo, 2009) and Kate McClure (Bio, 2009) collecting venericard samples in the archives of the Virginia Museum of Natural History
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    The excellent preservation of venericards like these enable the research team to reconstruct season changes in temperature that occurred 55 million years ago.
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    Kate McClure (Bio, 2009) collects venericard samples in the archives. Kate has participated in student research in both the Biology and Geology departments.
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As global estimates of temperature continue to rise, society has become increasingly concerned about the effects of this climate change on biodiversity.  One of the most effective ways to evaluate how climate change impacts biodiversity is to examine intervals of climate change in the fossil record. 

Dr. Rowan Lockwood, Associate Professor of Geology, is doing just this with two of her research students-- Kate McClure (Bio, 2009) and Karin Ohman (Geo, 2009). Funded by a multi-institutional grant from the National Science Foundation, they are directly examining the effects of an interval of massive global warming on marine diversity approximately 55 million years ago.  This interval, termed the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, is widely recognized as the most severe climate disturbance of the Cenozoic Era.  Global temperatures sky-rocketed by over 10degC in 20,000 years and the effects of this warming are poorly understood. 

Rowan, Kate, and Karin are collaborating with colleague's from the Paleontological Research Institution (Ithaca, NY) and Syracuse University to document the impact of this climate change on the evolution and ecology of a group of clams called venericards.  Their field and museum work focuses on extensive geological deposits in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, where these clam fossils are commonly preserved in life position with their original color patterns.  The exceptional preservation of these clams makes it possible to reconstruct seasonal changes in temperature 55 million years ago. 

You can hear all about their recent research by listening to this podcast>>