Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Collection Spotlight: NMNH Vertebrate Paleontology

Fig.1. Hatcher the Triceratops and Stan the T. rex are center stage in “The Last American Dinosaurs” at the National Museum of Natural History (Credit: Donald E. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution).

In this new article series, we will highlight interesting collections and the people involved with them. Last week we spoke with Dr. Hans-Dieter Sues, curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Here is what he had to say about this intriguing (and old) collection.

If you wanted to know Dr. Sues’ favorite collection specimen, he would probably stop you from finishing the question.

Friday, December 19, 2014

In the News: Conserving the Living and the Dead

Fig.1. The northern white rhinos are all but extinct, with with only five members of the species left (Credit: Derek Keats)

Among this week’s topics are tropical deforestation, ‘missing’ ocean plastic, and the loss of another northern white rhino. These articles emphasize the importance of conservation efforts in both living collections and in the wild.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Science of Soil

Fig.1. Banded sedimentary rock layers in Wyoming were drilled and sampled to obtain details of global warming (Credit: Scott Wing, Smithsonian Institution)

About 55.5 million years ago, the Earth experienced a period of sudden warming triggered by two rapid, immense releases of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This event, known as the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM), was originally thought to have occurred at either too slow or too fast a rate to be useful for addressing our own climate problems. The PETM was marked by temperature increases of 5℃ to 8℃ (9℉ to 15℉), along with a rise of sea levels, ocean acidification (seen in previous post), and extinction of deep sea organisms. Although most species survived and even flourished, it took 200,000 years for the world to recover from such high temperatures and carbon dioxide levels. New research suggests, however, that the PETM carbon emission rate may be close enough to hold lessons on modern global warming.

Friday, December 12, 2014

In the News: Biodiversity Ancient and New

Bunny-sized dinosaurs are among the important paleontological studies released this week. We also read about rethinking human migration, the dangerous loss of biodiversity, a unique mushroom collection, and more:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

DNA in the Details

Fig.1. This parchment's DNA could hold clues to agricultural development three centuries ago. Document shows a sewn repair in Archbishop’s Register 7 Greenfield, 1306-1311.  (Credit: by permission of The Borthwick Institute for Archives)

Researchers may soon be looking into libraries and archives instead of natural history museums for ancient animal DNA. A recent study done at Trinity College Dublin and the University of York sought to trace agricultural development across the centuries through a DNA analysis of parchment documents. Instead of translating text, scientists extracted ancient DNA and protein from tiny samples of parchment from late 17th and 18th century documents. They were able to determine the type of animal from which the parchment was made, providing key information about agricultural expansion centuries ago.

Friday, December 5, 2014

In the News: Missing Brains and Lost Plants

This week, we have learned about examining zoonotic diseases in a new light, Shakespearean monarchs, and missing brain collections. Click below to read more:

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Discovery of a Dinosaur

Fig.1. Pentaceratops aquilonius, a newly discovered species and a smaller, five-horned cousin of the Triceratops (Credit: Nick Longrich, University of Bath).

The recent release of the Jurassic World trailer has many fans excited and some scientists up in arms. Although our understanding of paleontology has certainly advanced since the original Jurassic Park in 1993, the new trailer raised a few eyebrows with it’s scaly, oversized dinosaurs and other scientific inaccuracies. Luckily, a new paleontological discovery has brought a more realistic view of the ancient world to the forefront of science. Dr. Nick Longrich, a researcher at the University of Bath, discovered a new dinosaur hidden among the collections at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. This specimen dates to the Late Cretaceous epoch -- about 70 million years after the end of the Jurassic period -- and provides an important insight into a very old world.