Neogene Paleoecology of the Beardmore Glacier Region
The primary goal of this project is to sample two beds in the Meyer Desert Formation, which are known to be especially fossiliferous containing plants, insects, other arthropods, freshwater mollusks, and fish. There is a possibility that the teeth and bones of a small marsupial could also be found. Previous studies have demonstrated that these horizons contain unique fossil assemblages that provide information used to reconstruct paleoenvironments and paleoclimate. The fossils represent organisms previously not found in Antarctica and consequently their study will lead to the development of new hypotheses concerning southern hemisphere biogeography. The new discoveries will also increase knowledge of paleoenvironments and paleoclimates as well as biogeographic relationships of the biota of the southern hemisphere. For some organisms, such as Nothofagus (Southern Beech) or the trechine groundbeetle, fossils would confirm that Antarctica was inhabited as part of Gondwana. For other fossils, such as the cyclorrhaphan fly or freshwater mollusks not expected to have inhabited Antarctica, the discoveries will require a reassessment of phylogenetic interpretations and a reinvestigation of the role of Antarctica in the evolutionary history of those organisms. The new fossil-based knowledge will require integration with interpretations from cladistics and molecular genetics to develop more comprehensive phylogenetic hypotheses for a range of organisms.
The discovery of fossils in Antarctica and implications for climate change has proven to be popular with the media. This attention will help disseminate the results of this study. Before the field season, the PI will work with local media and with area schools to set up field interviews and web casts from Antarctica. The project will also involve the training of a graduate student in the field and in the follow up studies of the fossils in the laboratory.
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