Postdoc News

Eumaeus atala by Nanfang Yu

Color is in the eye of the beholder

February 9, 2021

The colors in a flower patch appear completely different to a bear, a honeybee, a butterfly and humans. The ability to see these colors is generated by specific properties of opsins - light-sensitive proteins in the retina of our eyes. The number of opsins expressed and the molecular structure of the receptor proteins determines the colors we see.

In a paper published February 9 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences a team of researchers led by Harvard University develop...

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Thin section of a partial gorgonopsian canine under polarized light. Serrations are evident on the right side of this specimen. Courtesy of Megan Whitney

Researchers discover surprising connection between prehistoric dinosaurs and mammals in their teeth

December 15, 2020

When most people think of ferocious, blade-like teeth on prehistoric creatures they picture Smilodon, better known as the saber-toothed tiger. But in the world of dinosaurs, theropods are well known for having blade-like teeth with serrated cutting edges used for biting and ripping their prey. And until recently, the complex arrangement of tissues that gave rise to these terrifying teeth was considered unique to these meat-eating dinosaurs.

In a paper published December 16 in ...

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Spectacled Tyrant, Hymenops perspicillatus. Brazil. Image courtesy of C. Albano

1300 species, 2400 genes, 21 museums, and 40 years

December 10, 2020

Tropical regions contain many of the world's species and scientists consider them hotspots due to their immense biological diversity. However, due to limited sampling our knowledge of tropical diversity remains incomplete, making it difficult for researchers to answer the fundamental questions of the mechanisms that drive and maintain diversity.

In a paper published December 10 in Science, an international team of scientists has produced the first complete,...

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Life restoration of Lystrosaurus in a state of torpor by Crystal Shin

Evidence of hibernation-like state in Antarctic animal

August 27, 2020

Among the many winter survival strategies in the animal world, hibernation is one of the most common. With limited food and energy sources during winters - especially in areas close to or within polar regions - many animals hibernate to survive the cold, dark winters. Though much is known behaviorally on animal hibernation, it is difficult to study in fossils.

According to new research, this type of adaptation has a long history. In a paper published Aug. 27 in the journal Communications Biology...

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The animals sampled in the analysis. Colors indicates rates of evolution: warm colors high rates and cool colors low rates

Did Adaptive Radiations Shape Reptiles?

July 3, 2020

Some of the most fundamental questions in evolution remain unanswered, such as when and how extremely diverse groups of animals – for example reptiles – first evolved. For 75 years, adaptive radiations – the relatively fast evolution of many species from a single common ancestor – have been considered as the major cause of biological diversity, including the origins of major body plans (structural and developmental characteristics that identify a group of animals) and new lineages. However, past research examining these rapid rates of evolution was largely constrained by the methods...

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Shayla Salzman in field with zamia

An ancient push-pull pollination mechanism in cycads

June 12, 2020

Pollination is often a mutual relationship between flowering plants and insects. Understaning how these plants entice diverse insects to pollinate has major implications across evolutionary, ecological, organismal and conservation biology. One mechanism that can provide a window into ancient insect pollination, before the rise of flowering plants, are Cycads. Cycads are primary seed-producing plants and represent one of the oldest lineages of seed plants. These plants rely on insect pollination, yet do not display the colorful visuals that signals to pollinators, which is...

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The blue regions are oil palm plantation, while the forest regions (yellows and greens) are colored by tree height, which is a proxy for carbon. Image courtesy of Global Airborne Observatory, ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science

Deforestation in Tropical Forests Contributing to Carbon Decline

April 1, 2020

Postdoc, Elsa Ordway (Paul Moorcroft Lab) teamed with Greg Asner, Director of Arizona State University's Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science to investigate the impact of edge effects on forest structure and tree canopy characteristics along boundaries between lowland rainforests and oil palm plantations in Malaysian Borneo. One of the many consequences of tropical deforestation includes forest fragmentation, a process that involves dividing forests into smaller and smaller pieces, creating new borders between habitats. These borders are exposed to different...

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Exhibit specimen of Edaphosaurus, a pelycosaur synapsid, from the collections at the Museum of Comparative Zoology

Spinal Changes in Mammalian Evolution

February 3, 2020

Postdoctoral Researcher Katrina Jones and Prof. Stephanie Pierce teamed with researchers at the Field Museum of Natural History to find how and when changes happened in the spine of mammals during evolution. First author Jones says the study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, tries to answer a fundamental evolutionary question, "How does a relatively simple structure evolve into a complex one that can do lots of different...

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Still image from Joystick Angle Task Trial courtesy of Ölvecsky and Dhawale

Predicting Evolution

November 13, 2019

New research by Postdoc, Ashesh Dhawale and Bence Ölvecsky suggests errors resulting from variability in motor function are a feature, not a bug, of our nervous system and play a critical role in learning. The study published in Current Biology addresses the issue of how the brain regulates variability which is necessary for learning, but not useful...

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Figure 2: Time-calibrated phylogeny of sampled synapsid taxa.

How Does Biological Complexity Arise?

November 7, 2019

Postdoctoral Researcher Katrina Jones and Stephanie Pierce tackle the question of biological complexity using the complex mammalian spine as an evolutionary example. Using phylogenetic modeling. Jones and Pierce were able to discover why the mammalian vertebral column became more complex over time. The data published in Nature Communications shows major shifts in spine complexity are associated with increases in aerobic capacity, thus...

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