Jennifer Humphrey

Jennifer Humphrey

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Antarctica Research Team Heads to the Ice


Although most people think of Antarctica as a barren, cold environment, 200 million years ago it was a lush forest – a forest that now permineralized can yield clues to the climate change of the past, and how plants today may react to current climate change as well.

An international research team headed by KU scientists will head to Antarctica this week as part of a project aimed at understanding floral changes during the Jurassic in the Transantarctic Mountains of Antarctica. The group, departing on Tuesday, Nov. 11, will be on the ground for about one month and plans to blog and post to social media about the experience. The public is invited to follow the team’s work through the Biodiversity Institute blog

As part of this research, the group will examine the Early Jurassic fossil flora and the corresponding paleoenvironments from southern Victoria Land using a combination of geology, geochemistry and paleobotany. Learn more about the research on our news page.

Friday, October 5, 2012

New Event at the KU Natural History Museum

From small towns in Kansas to Chicago to New York, Lewis Lindsay Dyche thrilled audiences with his skill in natural history displays and later with lectures about his adventures. Many of the glass slides that he displayed in these "magic lantern" talks have not been seen by the public in more than 100 years and will be featured in an exhibition opening and major public event on Nov. 4 at the University of Kansas. For more information about these and other events, visit  http://naturalhistory.ku.edu/events

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Searching for a Solution to White-Nose Syndrome

bats

In the five years since the fungal disease white-nose syndrome was discovered in New York, the disease has spread to more than 190 sites in 16 eastern states and two four Canadian provinces. At one Canadian site alone, 5,000 bats died.

In this week's ScienceNews, the bats -- and the scientists working to study the disease -- are the subject of the cover article. 

Named for its devastating impact, the fungus,  Geomyces destructans latches onto living bats in the dead of winter. The fungus takes root during the winter hibernation period for bats such as the little brown bat, which suffers a 90 percent mortality rate from the fungus. At one New York location, the number of bats hibernating there went from 200,000 to only 2,000 in just three years. 

Scientists aren't just documenting the disease's spread and its potential devastation to ecosystems. They are also looking for antifungal solutions to halt the spread of the disease or help the bats resist it. 

You can read more this research in the latest issue of ScienceNews (https://www.sciencenews.org/article/helping-bats-hold)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Every Specimen is a Snapshot of Time and Place

Specimen jarsJonathan Coddington is the head of research and collections at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. He recently told (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129212121)  National Public Radio's Guy Raz that the  thousands of jars of specimens held by the museum — including marine specimens from the Gulf — are an invaluable resource for scientists. In the case of the Gulf oil spill disaster, they provide a comparison point: if a scientist needs to know how oil have affected crab larve after the spill, it helps to know the characteristics of crab larve before the spill, for example. Each specimen is a recording of the animal, its characteristics, its environment and other details at a particular moment in time. At the KU Biodiversity Institute, we have more than 8 million such research specimens and tissue samples preserved in jars, freezers and cabinets.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Small Bits of Evidence Lead to Big Find

Some mysteries can be solved if you just know what you're looking for — and where to find it.

The July 2 edition of the journal Science features a profile on reseacher Dolores Piperno, who perfected microscopic methods to trace the earliest evidence of corn among early peoples of in southern Mexico. Rather than focusing on the plant evidence of corn cobs, which put the date of the earliest domestication of corn at about 6,200 years ago, Piperno and her team looked for tiny bits of evidence among tools that might have used with corn.

Piperno, a scientist with the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History and its Tropical Research Institute, and her team found grinding stones with traces of corn that dated to 8,700 years ago in the Balsas River Valley. This helped end a long debate about whether maize had been domesticated in the highlands or the lowlands, Science reported. Her techniques, while greeted with skepticism at first, were accepted  by others in the field of archaeobiology.

Quoted the publication:

"That's exactly how you're supposed to do science," says archaeobotanist Deborah Pearsall of the University of Missouri, Columbia. "If you look at the corpus of Dolores's work, you see the power of a scientist who chooses her research topics on the basis of hypotheses she wants to test."

Read more about Piperno's work at Science (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/329/5987/28.full)

Monday, July 25, 2011

In the Field — In the City

Summertime means summer fieldwork for many academic scientists, but some researchers skip the far-flung places in favor of urban habitats close to home.

There are plenty of places to look at adaptation and evolution in cities, notes a recent article in the New York Times. Reporter Carl Zimmer talked with biologists who study urban populations such as mice, ants and fish inside the city's borders. The scientists included Dr. Jason Munshi-South, who is tracking changes in urban populations of animals. Munshi-South is studying white-footed mice, which inhabited the forests that became New York City, and over generations have adapted to city life.

Munshi-South studies mice he finds by visiting parks around New York such as the 130-acre Highbridge Park. Using DNA analysis, he and his colleagues have found that the populations of mice in each park are genetically distinct from the mice found in other parks.

There are many examples of urban adaptation, the article notes: "White-footed mice, stranded on isolated urban islands, are evolving to adapt to urban stress. Fish in the Hudson have evolved to cope with poisons in the water. Native ants find refuge in the median strips on Broadway. And more familiar urban organisms, like rats, bedbugs and bacteria, also mutate and change in response to the pressures of the metropolis. In short, the process of evolution is responding to New York and other cities the way it has responded to countless environmental changes over the past few billion years."

Other scientists interviewed study populations of ants within the medians of New York City street, and the affect of PCBs on Hudson River fish.

Closer to home, Biodiversity Institute scientists have looked at populations at parks and wildlife areas surrounding Lawrence, and once even documented a giant resin bee in a Lawrence backyard. The bee turned out to be the first one (http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2009/jan/12/beekeeper-elective-course-piques-interest-insect/) authoritatively identified west of the Mississippi River.

Check out the full article about New York biologists and their urban research here (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/26/science/26evolve.html?_r=2&hp&)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Coral Reefs and the Gulf Oil Spill

What a joy it was last fall when NOAA Ocean Explorer announced that researchers had discovered new coral reefs (http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/09lophelia/logs/summary/summary.html) in the Gulf. These are not tropical reefs; they are in the cold, dark depths of the sea. They are comprised of Lophelia pertusa, a stony coral found in deep, dark near-freezing waters. 

Sadly, as the New York Times reported today (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/02/us/02coral.html?ref=science), the reefs are a mere 20 miles northeast of the failed oil well that is spewing oil into the gulf. It's one of three deepwater reefs under the oil slick.

The oil is not so much the issue. It's the plumes of partly dissolved oil spreading through the water. A mixture of oil, dispersants and natural gas, it could prove toxic to these slow-growing reefs. "Both oil and dispersants, which chemically resemble dishwashing detergent, hamper the ability of corals to colonize and reproduce. And these effects are amplified when the two are mixed," the newspaper noted.

More research will be needed to determine how the spill will affect the reefs and other ocean organisms over the years to come. 

—Jen

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Smilodon Fossil Adopted

A skull of a Smilodon californicus exhibited at the KU Natural History Museum, one of largest such skulls ever found, caught the eye of Lawrence residents George and Mary Ann Brenner. The Brenners adopted the specimen as part of the museum's Adopt-a-Specimen program.

smilodon

In August, George and his grandson, Ciaran, toured the vertebrate paleontology collections and had their photo taken with the fossil.

S. californicus had shorter legs than a living lion and a bobbed tail. It probably did not move as quickly as other big cats and relied on ambush hunting techniques. The animal could open its jaws as much as 120 degrees.

Most skulls found in the tar pits are missing their sabre, or canine, teeth; the teeth were cast and later placed with the skulls. This fossil is about 12,000 years old and was found in the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles.