Dinosaur lecture focuses on pollen and spores

Shae Bowman/Sun Star Reporter
Oct. 21, 2013

Dr. Sarah Fowell, a Palynology scientist in the Geology and Geophysics department gave a lecture titled, “Mass extinctions, climate change and life in the age of dinosaurs: Applications of palynology” on the 18th in the Reichardt building. The lecture was a part of the UAF weekly science talks. Palynology is the study of microscopic fossilized palynomorphs. Palynomorphs are microscopic, acid-resistant organisms such as spores and pollen. In the lecture, Fowell shared how she uses palynology to learn more about life on earth during the Triassic and Jurassic time periods.

The age of the dinosaurs has long captured the imagination of many people and there are are several ways to learn about dinosaurs other then examining dinosaur fossils. One method includes looking at palynomorphs because it allows scientists to know what species of plants were around and thus what the dinosaurs were eating and what the climate was like at the time.

Fowell’s lecture was about her research in palynology as a way to learn more about the age of dinosaurs and climate changes throughout the earth’s history. She also talked about the methods she uses to collect data. “My methods can be highly variable and largely depend on the age of the stuff she is interested and if she is working with rock or sediment” Fowell said.

Part of Fowell’s research focuses on the Triassic and Jurassic which are a part of the Mesozoic time period. The Mesozoic time time period began about 252.2 million years ago. During the Triassic time period there were two mass extinctions. The second mass extinction marks the transition into the Jurassic time period. Her research group focuses on the impact of mass extinctions on plants and how to recognize when an extinction has happened.

“A large concentration of fern spores right near the end of the Triassic period indicates an ecological disruption because ferns are opportunistic plants and thus, they are typically the first plants to grow back after a disruption,” Fowell said. Such an ecological disruption indicates that this is when an extinction occurred. Other researches have found evidence of dinosaur tracks getting larger by about 20 percent within a short time span going into the Jurassic period. Using this research and the data collected by Fowell about the fern spores, Fowell’s group concluded that this is an example of ecological release. Because big dinosaurs went extinct, other dinosaurs are able to get bigger, which is often advantageous because getting bigger often means that your chances of reproductive success are increased.

The lecture ended with a concluding statement about how ascetically pleasing the microscopic fossilized organisms are when viewed under a high-resolution microscope and that if nothing else palynology is worth studying for that reason.

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