Palm Flowers

July 14th, 2015
By Allen,Sarah E

Fossil palm flowers have been found at Blue Rim and other sites in the Rocky Mountain region.  These flowers, representing a new species named Phoenix windmillis, are related to date palms.  Modern date palms are native to Africa and southeast Asia, but are found in the Eocene of Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah.  One of the flowers contained in situ pollen, which provided more characters to support the assignment of these specimens to Phoenix.  This new species is documented in a paper that was recently published in the International Journal of Plant Sciences.

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Two Phoenix windmillis flowers from Blue Rim.  Scale bar = 5 mm

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A flower from the Barrel Springs site in the Green River Formation.  This site is in southern Wyoming to the east of Blue Rim.  Scale bar = 5 mm

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Pollen extracted from an intact anther of Phoenix windmillis and viewed using a scanning electron microscope (SEM).  Scale bar = 23.1 µm. (Note: there are 1,000 µm in 1 mm)

Plant Anatomy Short Course: Week 2

July 13th, 2015
By Allen,Sarah E

The second week focused on the secondary plant body or wood.  We studied the anatomical details of wood of both flowering plants and conifers.  We also touched on the development, function, evolution, ecology, variability, and uses of wood.  Week 2 was taught by Elisabeth Wheeler, Peter Gasson, and Pieter Baas – all experts in wood anatomy.

I would like to extend my thanks to all the instructors, the TA Becky Povilus, Faculty Assistant Jess Gard, and our awesome bus driver, Andrew Brown. Thank you also to Steve Manchester and Christine Davis who wrote letters of recommendation on my behalf.

Here are some photographs from the second week:

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A cross or transverse section of Quercus robur (English oak) wood.  The annual rings are visible.  The larger vessels (for water conduction) are formed in the spring when resources are more plentiful.  This is termed “earlywood.”  Later in the growing season, when water is less plentiful the vessels are smaller and compose the “latewood.”

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Rays and vessels in a tangential section of Dalbergia spruceana (rosewood).  Dalbergia is a genus in the pea family, Fabaceae.

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Radial section of Ilex aquifolium (holly).

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Tangential section of Pinus monticola (Western white pine) with a resin canal in one of the rays.  While angiosperms have vessels and tracheids, conifers only have tracheids to transport water and minerals.

When you walk by plants, think of them as living, breathing organisms.  Although they don’t move or behave like animals, they are interesting and complex, necessary for the ecosystem to function, and add incredible beauty to our world.

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Leaves and fruits of Acer tataricum subsp. ginnala (Sapindaceae family).  This specimen, commonly known as the Amur Maple, arrived at the Arnold Arbortum in 1963 from the Kyoto Takeda Herbal Garden in Japan.

Plant Anatomy Short Course: Week 1

July 12th, 2015
By Allen,Sarah E

I recently attended a two week short course in Plant Anatomy at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston.  It was funded by the NSF microMorph program (More info here).  Week 1 was taught by Ned Friedman and Pam Diggle and focused on the primary plant body.  We squeezed weeks of material into 5 jam packed days!  We covered apical meristems, the epidermis, ground tissue, vascular tissue, secretory structures, stems, leaves, and roots.  In addition to learning about all these topics through engaging lectures, we spent our afternoons in the lab seeing and photographing various specimens.

Here are a few pictures from Week I:

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Helical protoxylem from a celery (Apium graveolens) petiole.

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Glandular trichomes (hairs) on Drosera capensis. The trichomes secrete mucilage that can be used to catch insects. Drosera is a genus of carnivorous plants commonly known as the sundews.

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Water absorbing scales from a bromeliad. Pineapples and spanish moss are also in the bromeliad family.

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Stellate (star-like) parenchyma in Juncus. Parenchyma is one of the ground tissues and can be found throughout a plant. Juncus is a genus of monocots commonly called the rushes.

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A cross section of a mature root of Ranunculus (buttercup). The four “arms” of xylem (water conducting tissue) are visible in the center of the root.

As an aside, if you have never been to Boston or the Arnold Arboretum (More info here), they are both worth a visit!  The Arnold Arboretum is a beautiful park spanning 281 acres with 15,000 labeled primarily temperate woody plants.  There is no admission charge.  I also enjoyed visiting some of the Boston historic sites with several of the other students who were enrolled in the course with me.

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The Hunnewell Visitor Center on the grounds of the Arnold Arboretum.

Icacinaceae at Blue Rim

June 15th, 2015
By Allen,Sarah E

The Icacinaceae* are found in tropical forests in Asia and Africa today. However, this family of woody trees, shrubs, and climbers is found in the Blue Rim flora along with other sites in the Eocene of western North America. At Blue Rim, I found two species of fruits assignable to Icacinaceae, along with one species of leaves. Two colleagues and I discussed our findings in a recent article which appeared in the American Journal of Botany ( http://www.amjbot.org/content/102/5/725.abstract). Our paper also documents another new species of Icacinaceae based on fossil fruits and discusses the biogeographical and paleoclimatic significance of finding Icacinaceae in the Eocene of North America.

*There is no regularly used common name for this family. For example, the Fabaceae are also known as the bean family.

I have included a several images of the leaves, Goweria bluerimensis, and the more common of the two species of Icacinaceae fruit, Iodes occidentalis, below.  The leaves have a 1 cm scale bar, while the fruits have a 0.5 cm scale bar.

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Dickinson Hall Window Exhibit

February 24th, 2015
By Allen,Sarah E

The Paleobotany lab at the FLMNH has updated the east side display window in the Dickinson Hall courtyard on the University of Florida campus.  It contains four posters describing research by others in the lab, including work on lianas in Panama, leaf morphotyping, and fossil fruits of Anacardiaceae and Icacinaceae.  In addition, I had the opportunity to create a small exhibit about my fieldwork and research.  The display spans more than 20 feet in length so I was able to track a fossil’s journey from its discovery in the field to the lab through my own research experiences.  The exhibit includes a mock fossil quarry, panels on the benefits and hazards of fieldwork, information about curating and preparing fossils for study, case studies, and more.  If you are local, check it out!  For those of you who are not local, here are a few overview photos:

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Behind the Scenes: Prepping the fossils in the lab

November 6th, 2014
By Allen,Sarah E

Once the fossils have been curated, they can be prepared.  Many specimens collected in the field will be only partially exposed. Rock layers or sediment may still cover more than half the fossil or maybe just a small part. Small needles, razor blades, and dental picks are used to uncover the buried fossil. It is best to do this detailed work in the lab rather than the field. The tools are more accurate, the lighting is better, a dissecting microscope is available, and most important, elements like wind, rain, and uncomfortable temperatures are non-factors!

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Some fossils can be fully prepped in a minute or two, while others require hours of work. The time needed depends both on how much of the fossil is buried and the type of sediment it is in. Fossils preserved in soft sediments are more easily exposed than those in more resistant material.

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Macginitiea leaf before preparation on the left and after on the right.  Macginitiea is an extinct genus in the Platanaceae or Sycamore family.  Scale bar is 5 cm.

Behind the Scenes: Curating the fossils

November 4th, 2014
By Allen,Sarah E

After getting back from the field, specimens are sorted by locality based on their field labels and carefully unwrapped.  Most of the Blue Rim specimens survived the journey to Gainesville intact, but a few needed to be glued (we usually use Elmer’s) and repaired.  Individual specimens are placed in boxes (usually the top or bottom of a jewelry box).  Each fossil is giving a number composed of the locality ID number and then an individual specimen number.  This same number is also recorded on a label in the box that has additional information about the locality including GPS coordinates, geological formation, age, and collectors.

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The fossils are then arranged into labeled drawers by locality (each quarry is given a locality number) and then into stackable, compressible cabinets.

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In the Paleobotany Division of the Florida Museum of Natural History, most of this work is done by Collections Manager, Hongshan Wang.  His many hours of work and attention to detail help preserve a very organized collection.

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BOTANY 2014

August 29th, 2014
By Allen,Sarah E

This post is long overdue, but better late than never!  I attended my first BOTANY Conference in Boise, ID after I finished my fieldwork in WY.  The conference was interesting and had many engaging sessions.  I presented a poster.

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A few of us visited the botanical garden that was near the convention center.

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I also went on a three day field trip to Clarkia, ID after the conference. The drive north was beautiful and was certainly a change from the badlands of southwestern Wyoming.

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We stopped at three Miocene aged plant fossil localities. The first was 12 million years old and had lots of legume or bean pods like the one seen here.

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The next two sites were about 15 million years old.  Rather than go into much detail about the Clarkia sites, I suggest you watch this excellent video: Plants Are Cool Too! Episode 2: Fossilized Forests!   The Clarkia fossil leaves are extremely well preserved.  Many of the compressed leaves are still green or red when they are exposed and can be processed for ancient DNA!

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And finally….!

July 30th, 2014
By Allen,Sarah E

Thanks to everyone who helped me this summer in the field: Sahale Casebolt, Dr. Steve Manchester, Jim Barkley, Dr. Ellen Currano, Dr. Mike Smith, Dr. Paul Murphey, Terry Lott, and Xiaoyan Liu. I must add additional thanks to Steve for allowing me to use his van and to Sahale and Terry for help in driving to and from Florida.

Also, thank you to Hongshan Wang, the Paleobotany Collections Manager, who will be of great assistance in curating all of the specimens we found.

Financial support for my fieldwork (this summer and 2012) was generously provided by: The Paleontological Society, The Evolving Earth Foundation, National Science Foundation (NSF), and the University of Florida Department of Biology Mildred Mason Griffith Botany Grant.

Thank you also to the FLMNH and Department of Biology fiscal staff, especially Ashley Gazich. Sarah Fazenbaker, FLMNH webmaster, helped to get my blog up and running before the start of the field season.

Finally, thank you to my Mom, who has provided many last minute proofreading sessions of my posts!

I hope you have all enjoyed reading my updates from the field. Be sure to check back occasionally because I will continue to provide updates about my project! Thanks for reading!

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Final days

July 30th, 2014
By Allen,Sarah E

Steve, Terry Lott, and Xiaoyan Liu arrived in Rock Springs on Wednesday July 23rd after driving from Florida. Terry is the paleobotany lab manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Xiaoyan Liu is a visiting student from Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, South China. They helped me collect at three more sites. We found more fossils and I documented the leaf specimens for my census data.

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Here Steve is graciously showing off one of the quarries.

 

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Xiaoyan and Terry are working at a locality that Greg Stull (another graduate student in paleobotany at the FLMNH) found two years ago.

 

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I hiked over to my stratigraphic section to document a few more details, but Steve, Terry, and Xiaoyan kept fossiling!

 

I was fortunate to have Dr. Paul Murphey take time from his busy schedule to help in the field for a day. He has worked extensively in the Bridger Formation documenting the geology and vertebrate paleontology. He is now the Vice President of Rocky Mountain Paleo Solutions. We walked around two areas of Blue Rim to both look for vertebrate fossils and to discuss the stratigraphy. Paul noticed many tiny bone fragments that I had overlooked in my quest for plant fossils. It is nice to know what animals may have been living in the same area as the plants I have been studying!

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Paul is searching for bones weathering out of the sandstone.

 

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This photo shows a bone fragment of a Brontothere. Brontotheres are extinct herbivorous mammals that are most closely related to modern rhinos and horses. Other bone fragments in the Blue Rim section are from turtles, fish, crocodiles, and rarely, from small mammals.

As I close out my journey at Blue Rim for 2014, I leave you with some scenic photos.

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