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College of Arts and Sciences

Paleontology

earth and environmental sciences

PALEOBOTANY, PALYNOLOGY AND ORIGIN OF LAND PLANTS

Our research group studies the fossil evidence for the origin of land plants. This includes investigation of plant spores (called cryptospores), enigmatic plants, fossil algae and microbes from Precambrian and lower Paleozoic rocks. Students are involved in all phases of research from sample collection in the field to laboratory processing and examination with both light and electron microscopy. Their efforts may lead to the description of new fossil species. The use of digital imaging and the development of innovative morphometric analysis techniques are encouraged in the laboratory. Current projects include fieldwork in the Grand Canyon, Utah, Michigan, the southern Appalachians, and NW Scotland.

EVOLUTION OF PALEOZOIC PHYTOPLANKTON

The distribution of phytoplankton in the Paleozoic oceans (543 to 250 million years ago) is recorded in the rock record in the form of microfossil cysts, called acritarchs. The pattern of acritarch species diversity through this time interval becomes a tool by which we can study former biological ecosystems and geochemical systems. For example, phytoplankton extinctions are reflected in extinctions in the zooplankton, but they are decoupled from the extinction events seen in bottom-dwellers. We also see correlations between carbon dioxide concentration in the paleoatmosphere and acritarch distribution. The research involves the use of computer database manipulation and the statistical analysis of taxonomic and time series data.