Postdoc News

LIFE RECONSTRUCTION OF TAYTALURA. Original artwork by scientific illustrator Jorge Blanco

The Dawn of Modern Reptiles

August 26, 2021

Lizards and snakes are a key component of most terrestrial ecosystems on earth today. Along with the charismatic tuatara of New Zealand (a “living fossil” represented by a single living species), squamates (all lizards and snakes) make up the Lepidosauria—the largest group of terrestrial vertebrates in the planet today with approximately 11,000 species, and by far the largest modern group of reptiles. Both squamates and tuataras have an extremely long evolutionary history. Their lineages are older than dinosaurs having originated and diverged from each other at some point around 260...

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Late Devonian early tetrapods. Original artwork by scientific illustrator Davide Bonadonna

Sustained fast rates of evolution explain how tetrapods evolved from fish

August 23, 2021

One of the biggest questions in evolution is when and how major groups of animals first evolved. The rise of tetrapods (all limbed vertebrates) from their fish relatives marks one of the most important evolutionary events in the history of life. This “fish-to-tetrapod” transition took place somewhere between the Middle and Late Devonian (~400-360 million years ago) and represents the onset of a major environmental shift, when vertebrates first walked onto land. Yet, some of the most fundamental questions regarding the dynamics of this transition have remained unresolved for decades....

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Artistic Reconstruction of Ctenorhabdotus campanelliformis (top) and Thalassostaphylos elegans (bottom)  Illustrated by Holly Sullivan

Rare Cambrian fossils from Utah reveal unexpected anatomical complexity in early comb jellies

August 20, 2021

Ctenophores, also known as comb jellies, are a group of over 200 living species of invertebrate animals with a transparent gelatinous body superficially resembling that of a jellyfish. There is much interest in ctenophore evolution in recent years as their controversial phylogenetic position in the animal tree of life has prompted conflicting hypotheses. While some studies suggest they might represent the earliest branching animals, others suggest a more traditional position as close relatives of jellyfish.

These hypotheses carry different and important implications for...

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Tree Canopy

New Study Finds Leaf Surface Water Contributes to Total Canopy Water Content

June 7, 2021

Water availability is essential to terrestrial plants, especially tall canopy trees. Satellite observations at microwave frequencies make it possible to assess total canopy water content and plant stress. However, leaf surface water -- water coming from dew, fog and rainfall -- is often overlooked when interpreting changes in canopy water content. An increasing body of evidence, though, indicates that plants might rely more than originally thought on these nonconventional water sources.

In a recent study in ...

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Paula Rodriguez Flores Awarded LinnéSys: Systematics Research Fund

June 1, 2021
Congratulations to postdoctoral researcher Paula Rodriguez Flores (Giribet Lab) awarded LinnéSys: Systematics Research Fund for her project, "Speciation and connectivity in deep-sea cosmopolitan and vicariant squat lobsters." The awarded is funded through the Linnean Society of London and the Systematics Association.
Image of Army Ants from "Nature's Ultimate Social Hunters" by Daniel J.C. Kronauer

How army ants' iconic mass raids evolved

May 25, 2021

Army ants form some of the largest insect societies on the planet. They are quite famous in popular culture, most notably from a terrifying scene in Indiana Jones. But they are also ecologically important. They live in very large colonies and consume large amounts of arthropods. And because they eat so much of the other animals around them, they are nomadic and must keep moving in order to not run out of food. Due to their nomadic nature and mass consumption of food, they have a huge impact on arthropod populations throughout tropical rainforests floors.

Their mass raids are...

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DANNCE in Motion

3D deep neural network precisely reconstructs freely-behaving animal's movements

April 19, 2021

Animals are constantly moving and behaving in response to instructions from the brain. But while there are advanced techniques for measuring these instructions in terms of neural activity, there is a paucity of techniques for quantifying the behavior itself in freely moving animals. This inability to measure the key output of the brain limits our understanding of the nervous system and how it changes in disease.

A new study by researchers at Duke University and Harvard University introduces an automated tool that can readily capture behavior of freely behaving animals and...

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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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