Blogs

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Field Trips Filling Up Quickly

We are still early in the registration process, but space in all of our tours and field trips is filling quickly. We are offering tours of KU Herpetology and a field trip to the Henry Fitch Natural HIstory Reserve on the afternoon of the meetings' first day (Thursday, July 30th) and a tour of Allen Press on the day after the meeting (Monday, August 3rd). Capacity for all of these trips is limited due to space and transportation issue, and all of them are already at least half full. Be sure to sign up soon if you want to go on a tour or field trip! You can book a spot in any on of these trips or tours at the time of registration. If you are already registered and would like to book a spot on one of the trips please contact the conference coordinators via e-mail (ssar2015@ku.edu).

Monday, April 13, 2015

Picnic Option is Popular, Join the Crowd

SSAR 2015 will close with an outdoor picnic in a field directly behind the main meeting venue and adjacent to KU's football stadium. This location is beautiful and centrally located. In addition to easy access to the main meeting venue and nearby lodging (e.g., The Oread Hotel and the GSP Dormitories), the picnic location also features several turtle ponds and a small forested area. The price of a picnic ticket will get you admission to the picnic tents as well as two drink tickets and a full buffet. The picnic option is very popular among early registrants, so we urge everyone to get a ticket while you still can. Due the events popularity and the need to confirm total attendance prior to the day of the event, picnic tickets must be purchased in advance (ideally at the time of registration) and will not be available on-site after the meeting begins.

 

 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Written Confirmation of Society Membership is no Longer Required for Students Registering for SSAR 2015

We previously noted that any students are eligible for the student member rate ($160) so long as they are a member of one of the three major North American herpetological societies (SSAR, HL, ASIH), or any other international, national, or regional herpetological society. We also previously noted that we would require written documentation of such membership. However, we have now eliminated the requirement that students provide this written documentation. We trust you. If you are a student and a member of any herpetological society you are welcome to register at the student member rate without the need to provide written documentation. We reserve the right to later confirm membership and provide registrants with renewal reminders where appropriate.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Unpacking Antarctica

Nearly four months after the KU Antarctica team returned to campus, the 5,000 pounds of fossil material they collected in Antarctica will arrive at KU on Monday, April 13. 

Staff and students will start unloading 50-60 wooden crates of  material that is 260 to 180 million years old, from the Permian and Jurassic periods.  

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

The fossil material will help scientists study floral changes during the Jurassic in the Transantarctic Mountains of Antarctica. 

“This research is important in understanding what climate and environment was like at the poles during one of Earth’s past greenhouse climates and how plants responded to both climate changes and instantaneous disruptions through the rise of volcanoes,” said Rudy Serbet, collection manager of paleobotany at KU Biodiversity Institute and a team leader for the trip. “These sorts of times and environmental stresses are key to understanding how current climate change may effect high latitude plants.”

During the seven weeks they were in Antarctica, the group took several camping field trips “out to the ice,” including the  Odell Glacier area and the Allan Hills. 

No staff or students have seen the material in the intervening months as it made its way from Antarctica to California to Kansas. 

"Today is like Christmas in April,” said Paleobotany Curator Edith Taylor, lead PI on the National Science Foundation grant that funded the research.

Archived posts from the group are available here

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

New Paper: Evolution of multicuspid teeth in a Triassic fish from Utah

the holotype of Hemicalypterus, USNM V 23425, composite image of the part and counterpart.

Just yesterday, my newest paper was published online in the journal The Science of Nature: Naturwissenschaften about a rather unusual fish from the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation of southeastern Utah. The fish, Hemicalypterus weiri, was a deep-bodied, disc-shaped fish, with enameled ganoid scales covering the anterior portion of its flank, and a scaleless posterior half, which presumably aided in flexibility while swimming. Although Hemicalypterus was first described in the 1960s (Schaeffer, 1967), recent collecting trips recovered many new specimens of Hemicalypterus, and I decided to reinvestigate this enigmatic fish as part of my dissertation research.

While cleaning specimens of Hemicalypterus at the University of Kansas Vertebrate Paleontology prep lab, I noticed rather unusual teeth on the lower jaw that I had exposed from the rock matrix. These teeth look like a mouthful of little forks, and there were at least six individual teeth on the lower jaw. As I prepared other specimens, I found that these teeth were also on the premaxillae. Each tooth has a long cylindrical base and a flattened, spatulate edge with four delicate, individual cusps. I hadn't seen anything like this before in other fossil fishes, and so I started searching the literature and talking to other ichthyologists.

The multidenticulate teeth on the premaxilla of one of the specimens

Well, as it turns out, this tooth morphology has evolved multiple times in several independent lineages of teleost fishes, and quite often fishes with similar dentition scrape algae off of a hard substrate. These teeth indeed act like little forks (or "sporks" might be more appropriate) for these herbivorous/omnivorous fishes. Examples of extant fishes with similar teeth include freshwater forms such as the algae-scraping cichlids and characiforms, as well as many marine forms that are key in controlling algae growth in coral reef environments, such as acanthurids (surgeonfishes, tangs) and siganids (rabbitfishes). Of course, these modern-day fishes also feed on other things (e.g., phytoplankton), but algae is often the primary staple, and these fishes use this specialized dentition for a specific feeding behavior.

The same teeth as above, but under fluorescent lighting


So while it is impossible to prove definitively what a species of fish that lived over 200 million years ago fed upon (without gut contents being preserved....or a time machine), it is still safe to infer that Hemicalypterus occupied an ecological niche space similar to algae-scraping cichlids or other modern-day herbivorous fishes and may have scraped algae off of a hard substrate, based on this unusual tooth morphology and its similarity to modern forms. 

The multidenticulate teeth of a modern-day algae-scraping cichlid, Labeotropheus

This discovery also extends evidence of herbivory in fishes clear back to the Early Mesozoic, whereas prior to this discovery it was assumed that herbivory evolved in the Middle Cenozoic in marine teleost fishes. Frankly, there was no evidence to say otherwise, as most Mesozoic fishes have general caniniform or styliform (peg-like) teeth, or they have heavy crushing or pavement-like teeth consistent with crushing hard-shelled organisms. The teeth of Hemicalypterus are very delicate, and wouldn't really do well with durophagy. This is the first potential evidence of herbivory in the Mesozoic, and in a non-teleost, ray-finned fish.

Original Source: Gibson, S.Z. 2015. Evidence of a specialized feeding niche in a Late Triassic ray-finned fish: evolution of multidenticulate teeth and benthic scraping in †Hemicalypterus. The Science of Nature — Naturwissenschaften 102:10. 

Also cited: Schaeffer, B. 1967. Late Triassic fishes from the western United States. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 135: 289–342.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Herpetology Attends Sexy Science Event at the Museum

The KU Herpetology Division was in attendance at last night's Sexy Science event held at the Natural History Museum.  The event, which was very well attended, invited attendees to explore the suggestive side of natural history and hosted representatives from Herpetology as well as Entomology and Ornithology. Matt Buehler, Andressa Bezerra, Manuella Folly, Jackson Leibach and myself were there with a display of reptile and amphibian specimens which typify some of the fascinating reproductive biology in these organisms. For example did you know that some species of lizards are able to clone themselves? That's right. And you might be surprised that they can be found here in our own backyard. The New Mexico whiptail of the American Southwest is one well studied example. The entire species is composed of females which reproduce by cloning themselves. What makes them even more interesting is that the entire species is the result of a hybridization between two closely related species, the little striped whiptail and the western whiptail. This cloning phenomenon may actually occur more frequently that we thought. Species that typically reproduce through sex such as the copperheads, which are quite common around Lawrence, Kansas, have shown they have the ability to clone themselves as well.  Why they do so is still a mystery. A mystery that if solved may tell us something about the evolution of sex in animals.  

Matt Buehler talking about reproduction in frogs

Matt Buehler talking to some visitors about reproduction in frogs.

 

Jackson Leibach pointing out some snake hemipenes

Jackson Leibach pointing out the hemipenes of a reticulated python

Monday, January 26, 2015

Herpetology Shares Top of Facebook Page With News of Obama Visit

News has been circulating recently of work conducted by Dr. Rafe Brown along with other members of the Herpetology Division, which was focused on Philippine wildlife trafficking in Manila's black markets. The story even shared the top of KU's facebook page with news of president Barack Obama's visit to the campus last week. Follow the link to read all about Brown's unexpected findings during a 5 year investigation into Manila's illicit wildlife trade http://bit.ly/15552Sa