I am thrilled to finally be able to share the spectacular Patagonian fossils I was fortunate to be able to work on for my Master's project! Our paper is now published in the American Journal of Botany in the May 2020 issue- here is the press release by Penn State!
We revised the taxonomic description of Araucaria pichileufensis Berry (1938) from Río Pichileufú in light of new material we collected in 2017, including an attached pollen cone! We confirmed the relationship of Araucaria pichileufensis to the Australasian Section Eutacta on the basis of the taxonomic characters and a combined evidence phylogenetic analysis. We also distinguished the Araucaria fossils from Laguna del Hunco to be a distinct Sect. Eutacta species, Araucaria huncoensis Rossetto-Harris. Having the opportunity to name my first fossil plant species was so amazing! Hopefully, the first of many! I have a new found love for conifer systematics! Our results show how this Australasian Araucaria lineage had a Gondwanan history, and also add to our understanding of the paleoclimate and paleoecology of these two diverse fossil floras.
Here are a few of my favorite photos of the field sites, the modern collections and forests I studied, and the fossils themselves! The entire fossil image library can be accessed and downloaded on FigShare!
I have also taken to Twitter to promote this work and branch out into another (the main) realm of science communication. Check out my tweets here. I am trying to make #Eutacta a thing! I also plan to highlight my identity as a new #phdmama and promote #mothersinscience!
I am excited to be the Geosciences department representative within a new graduate student group on campus- the Society for Museum Science Education (SoMuSE). Penn State has an Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum on campus, and it has a new director! I am looking forward to seeing what changes are on the way for the museum- and being a part of that change! Check out this article, written by Penn State News, for more info!
So far, being a grad student and also blogging hasn't really panned out. It has been a busy two years between travel to Argentina and beyond, taking courses at PSU, completing research, applying for grants, working at the Penn State Herbarium, and also getting married (I will now plan to publish under Gabriella Rossetto-Harris)! I successfully defended my MS this August, and am now getting ready to submit that manuscript, which is really exciting! Now, I am switching over to being a PhD student and continuing on in the Paleobotany Lab at Penn State. I updated the site with some info about what I have been up to with the PSU Association for Women Geoscientists as well as an up to date CV file. Hoping to be more active on the blog in the future!
During fall 2018, I found myself right at home in the basement of the geology building in the paleobotany prep lab. As a task for my research assistantship, I undertook a project to conserve and prepare fragile type and figured fossil plants for transport to their repository institution, the US National Museum (Smithsonian). Type and figured collections are particularly important because they are records of biodiversity forever tied to the published, peer reviewed literature they appear in, and need to be physically, permanently available for future reference. These fossils were a part of a senior thesis done by a past PSU student, Dan Danehy in 2007 (publication here). They are from an Eocene plant locality called Red Hot Truck Stop, collected from Meridian, Mississippi in 2000 (site history here). These fossils are in a very fragile mudstone rock matrix that crumbles and flakes easily, and many were already broken up into many pieces and needing repair. In order to support the newly repaired and organized fossils on their travels to Washington D.C. from State College, and insure their longevity in the collections there, I used a technique usually implemented on fossil vertebrates: cradle mounts.
I was familiar with this method from my time at DMNS. While I had never seen cradle mounts used on plant fossils, it seemed like a perfect solution to support the mudstone matrix so the fossils wouldn't get jostled and broken in their specimen trays as they were moved in their drawers. I reached out to my stellar past co-worker at DMNS, collections manager Kristen MacKenzie, who shared resources and tips on how to do cradle mounts. It ended up working great, and was a huge improvement for the collection! I wrote up my own protocol describing the tools and process that worked for me.
Last summer I did an interview with Brain Scoop host Emily Graslie for her new podcast series. It is so cool to find out that it is now released! I shared the story of how I found a new ceratopsian fossil locallity while out in the Kaiparowits Formation in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah. It is one of the most incredible places in the world and has so many amazing fossils!
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is a diverse place where many people are playing a lot of different roles to accomplish one common mission: to be a catalyst in our community- not only to share our love and understanding of the natural world, but also to ignite that passion for science in our community. Having that sense of purpose in my job and being surrounded by that amazing team makes it bearable to be 3 levels underground all day working in the basement while Denver is teasing outside with sunny, record-breaking 70 degree spring weather in March (when winter really must still be coming?). I'll just leave these facts from NASA about how things have been going, here.
Working in earth science museum collections is all about protecting and preserving data- actual morphological and geochemical data from the fossil itself and the information about where they are from- so that it can contribute to scientific research. I love working in collections because I love the forms of data I get to work with- the GPS coordinates and maps, the witty site names created by the collectors, the geology and stratigraphy details. Getting to see beautiful fossil leaves all day, every day is a nice bonus, too. Collections are huge knowledge bank, full of species waiting to be described and discoveries about life and environments of the past waiting to be made.
To get a fossil leaf to the point that it is ready to be studied by any researcher from around the world, there are a lot of steps that need to happen. The fossil first has to be intentionally and thoughtfully collected by our team in the field, brought back safely to Denver, and the proper paperwork has to be done. Then the fossil has to be prepped in the 3rd floor paleo lab, brought down 5 floors to the basement and curated, input to the database and attached to it's data. Finally, it is stored in the correct place and manner in our state of the art collections center, and is ready for a scientist to further identify, analyze, and photograph it for peer reviewed publication. Facilitating this whole process and being involved in every step along the way is a really rewarding experience. It's pretty fun, too.