PCP PIRE Interns
August - December, 2013
May - August, 2013
From the shores of Panama to the rolling hills and mountains of Virginia, my post-academia adventure in paleontology continues. When I arrived in Panama for my internship with PCP-PIRE, I was a recent Master’s of Biology graduate from Marshall University. I was bright-eyed and excited for the opportunity to broaden my field experience and explore the challenges and rewards of studying abroad. My time spent in Panama was rewarding in a multitude of aspects: from working in the field, collecting and preparing vertebrate fossils, learning Spanish to experiencing Panamanian culture. I will never forget the researchers, post-docs, Ph.D. students and fellow interns I met. Sharing stories and experiences and teaching about Panamanian culture enriched my overall experience. I plan to keep in contact with many of the people I met while attending professional conferences.
Panama was really cool, and not what I expected. It taught me most of what I now know of paleontological field work and lab work, both of which, while mundane at times, are incredibly rewarding. Nothing connects you to the history of the Earth quite like pulling a many millions year old dead animal out of the ground and trying to piece together the (very fragile, be gentle) bones it once used to walk and chew with. I was already sold on paleontology before I came to Panama, but there's no way I'd turn back now. Thank you to everyone I met and worked with there, I learned many lessons I'll keep for the rest of my days. Keep pointing your chisels away from your fossils! I'm now applying to Masters programs with the hopes of continuing my paleontological studies on dinosaurs, so maybe you'll see me at a conference in a year or two presenting on ankylosaurs.
January - May, 2013
Pedro Monarrez -- Semester 2
For my second stint in Panama, I will be taking on new duties such as being an assistant supervisor for the new cohort of interns including helping organize all field and lab activities. I will also work on and expand a project that was started by the summer 2012 cohort of interns involving freshwater mollusks from the Early Miocene Cucaracha Formation. This project on the freshwater mollusks will focus on determining the taxonomy and phylogeny of this fauna to document the possible paleogeographic implications. We also hope to build upon a project we started during the fall of 2012 on the marine rocks of the Early Miocene Culebra Formation by refining the stratigraphy of the unit while documenting any changes in the invertebrate fauna associated with changes in lithology.
As a PCP PIRE intern, I was able to expand my fieldwork experience and learn more about subjects such as the closing of the Panama isthmus while also adapting to living and working in a Spanish-speaking environment. In the field I greatly expanded my ability to recognize and collect different types of fossils because we encountered everything from well presrved leaves, to molluscs, to sharks teeth, to vertebrate microsites, and finally to larger land and marine mammals. I came to this project very interested in paleobiogeography. In our fieldwork, I got to see, help find, and study fossils and stratigraphy that are clues to the date of the closing of the isthmus; an event that opened up the exchange of flora and fauna between North and South America, and closed the exchange between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. During my time in Panama, I also got to see how scientists from the FMNH worked together with scientists from the Canal to open up new research opportunities along the canal. And finally, throughout my time there I greatly improved my Spanish and adapted to the local culture through working with Panamanians in the lab and communicating with locals in day-to-day life and during fieldwork.
August - December, 2012
My experience as a PCP-PIRE intern taught me about paleontological field work and research that I will continue to use as I pursue a higher education in vertebrate paleontology. As an intern, I was also able to learn some Spanish, learn about Panamanian culture, and meet fellow scientists from different parts of the world and disciplines. These experiences allowed me to see an integrative approach to research, understand what research was being done in different fields, and allowed me to develop a perspective on how issues are tackled by others in different countries.
Pedro Monarrez -- Semester 1
My first semester in Panama revolved around learning a new culture in a new country, first hand experience working in a tropical environment, collaborating with scientists from various backgrounds and nationalities, and looking through a unique window in the history of the Phanerozoic, the Miocene of Panama. Through PCP-PIRE, I was able to get a glimpse into such a dynamic time period in the history of the isthmus while helping contribute to the ever-growing amount information and data being collected from exposures along the Panama Canal. As an invertebrate paleontologist, this project has given me a greater appreciation for the work involved in collecting and preparing vertebrate fossil material while learning new skills as I continue my career in paleontology. I am excited to be able to do it all over again in the spring of 2013.
May - August, 2012
I am finishing up my degree in geology this May and hoping to head towards graduate school in the fall. The PCP-PIRE experience helped me to broaden my scope of field work and really put to practice applications learned in the classroom. I'm very interested in sedimentology and Iandscape evolution with structural geology aspects, and what really solidified this interest was learning about the closure of the isthmus and the mystery that still surrounds it. Being on the canal everyday, surrounded by great stratigraphy and little faults was fascinating. It was a fantastic opportunity to merge different branches of science and collaborate with different scientists in order to tackle some big questions.
My Bachelor's degree is in geology and I focus in vertebrate paleontology and taphonomy. I am interested in the taphonomic processes that have deposited not only the vertebrate and invertebrate fossils, but also the sediments that cover the fossils. Understanding the process of deposition will assist the understanding of the closure of the Panama isthmus and allow the migration of animals between North and South America (Great American Biotic Interchange) during the Miocene.
Jason Carr -- Semester 2
I have a Bachelor’s degree in geology and I’m interested in the Miocene stratigraphy and sedimentology of the Panama Isthmus and on the vertebrate and invertebrate fossils contained within these sedimentary beds. Also, I’m interested in using stable isotope geochemistry (oxygen and hydrogen) from some of these fossils as paleoclimate proxies to better understand the environmental conditions of the Miocene Neotropics in Panama. Being part of the PCP-PIRE and having the opportunity to dig, prepare fossil material was an extraordinary experience and accomplishment that helped me to improve my skills as a geologist. Equally important, I had the opportunity to meet, interact, and work with scientists from all over the world and learn about the culture of Panama.
January - May, 2012
With a dual degree in biology and geology, I wanted to join PCP-PIRE to learn more about the fascinating geologic and biologic history of Panama and Central America. While here, I have been introduced to the important question of when the isthmus closed and when the Great American Biotic Interchange occurred. Some of the proxies the scientists at STRI and UF are using to elucidate the answer include the vertebrate fossils I and my fellow interns have collected from 16-22MA rocks along the canal to determine the time of arrival for these immigrants, fossil foraminifera to determine seawater depth, freshwater fish fossils, changes in plant assemblages and their morphology, and other paleoecological principles. My main interest lies in restoration ecology, and this internship has inspired my future research to include using the valuable information housed in fossil and historical records as management tools for modern ecological restorations.
Coming into PCP-PIRE, I had interests in addressing questions regarding Miocene mammalian biodiversity and biogeography. In addition, I am particularly interested in the evolutionary history and systematics of the perissodactyls found within the Neotropics. I am also interested in science education and making science accessible to students and the general public.
My interests in Panama primarily concern the closure of the isthmus and the migration of species from South America into North America and vice versa. I was excited to get a chance to work on the collections project in the Panama Canal to learn more about the species involved in the migration. The internship has allowed me to learn more about Miocene populations and the relationship of the isthmus to climate, diversity and oceanography.
Jason Carr -- Semester 1