Thursday, November 7, 2013

Paradise with Pleurodires

Hi Everyone! It’s my first year here at Clemson University, and while teaching and applying for grants and all that other stuff has been fun, what I’ve always been really excited for is research. Luckily, I get to start that really soon! I’m going to be doing some work on the functional morphology and ecology of pleurodiran turtles. These turtles are interesting for a number of reasons, one of which is because almost nothing is known about them, another of which is that they’re just gorgeous and fantastic animals!

Note: Those are not my fingernails,
but check out the color on the carapace!
There are two main types of turtles in the world, cryptodirans, and pleurodirans. Cryptodirans are more of your standard turtle, and the common name form them is “hidden neck” which refers to how they pull their head back into their shell. Pleurodirans, on the other hand, are known as “twist neck turtles” because they pull their head into their shell sideways, so that one side of the head is somewhat exposed! Unlike cryptodires, pleurodires are restricted to aquatic habitats, and also only live in the southern hemisphere.

I just got my first group of turtles for my PhD: 4 individuals of Emydura subglobosa, a beautiful species from Papua New Guinea and Australia. They have brilliant red carapaces (the belly part of the shell), with streaks of color across the rest of the body. Once they get used to living in Clemson, I’ll be putting them through their paces, videotaping their locomotion in both the water and on land, so they’ll be getting plenty of exercise! 

How can you not love them!?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bottoms up in the Florida Keys!

As some of you may know, BSGSA member Kylie Smith has been supervising the Conservation of Marine Resources Creative Inquiry Team as they conduct their research in the Florida Keys.  Kylie and her team have been investigating the effects of parrotfish grazing on coral reefs in the Keys, as well as how competition with macroalgae affects coral cover.  Check out this great video to take a dive with the team and learn more about the project!  Cheers, Kylie, and keep up the good work!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Happy Thursday!

So... I am not that great at remembering to point the camera at people, but here is a link to some of the photos taken on our hike last Saturday morning so Eric and Vanessa could school the rest of us on how to find/ catch some salamanders. Considering the only salamanders I have ever seen outside of captivity were juvenile Eurycea quadridigitata (dwarf salamanders) that my herp class back in Florida spent 5 hours dip netting through sludge to find 2 individuals, I was pretty excited! We also found some Anaxyrus americanus (american toads) as well on the way back. Oh and the waterfalls were pretty sweet too! Overall the weekend was nice and relaxing and I enjoyed getting to know some of you a little better. Now back to reading about fish and writing my proposal for the NSF GRFP.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

My newts shoot their ribs out of their skin?!

It's crazy that you can feel the ribs underneath the skin!
The arrows are pointing to the ribs that shoot out of small openings in the skin!

The fact that these guys shoot their ribs out of their skin as a defense mechanism is AWESOME, but that's actually not why I'm interested in them.  I'm studying Iberian ribbed newts (Pleurodeles waltl) because they are one of the largest newts (reaching almost 12 in in the wild), and are primarily aquatic.  While they can move on land quite a bit during migrations, they prefer to stay in the water.

Just hanging out before going to work!

My research involves evaluating how body morphology influenced the evolutionary invasion of land by vertebrates almost 400 million years ago, and involves using extant taxa to model the biology of fossil taxa.  Salamanders and mudskipper fishes are often used to model the earliest tetrapods and tetrapod-like fishes since they share numerous morphological, physiological and ecological similarities.  Previously, I studied how African mudskipper fishes (Periophthalmus barbarus) and tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) moved on land, but these guys are normally pretty terrestrial (these mudskippers spend about 90% of their time out of water!  Pretty cool fish, huh?).

The fossil record suggests that tetrapods (four-legged vertebrates) evolved underwater, so our earliest ancestors were aquatic.  We have a better understanding of how more terrestrial amphibians move on land, but what about ones that are primarily aquatic?  These Iberian newts will provide us with important biological information about how primarily aquatic organisms move on land, and how their morphology helps them to accommodate the different physical demands placed by the terrestrial environment.  The data that we collect from these newts will be important in modeling the movements of some of the most important fossils during the water-to-land transition in tetrapod evolution!

Stay tuned to learn more!  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Kristine Moody creates a hominid evolution exhibit for Long Hall!

One of our BSGSA members, Kristine Moody, has been diligently working with the Department of Biological Sciences, including Stanlee Miller (Curator at the Campbell Natural History Museum), for the past several months to create an exhibit on hominid evolution, and this exhibit received its official unveiling today!  Come check it out!  Just come in through the front entrance of Long Hall, and it'll be straight ahead.

They all did a great job showcasing the sequence of events leading to the evolution of humans, and the major milestones that were associated with some of the major taxa that are on display.

Great job to Kristine for leading this initiative, and to all that helped make this happen!  Thank you for providing a really great public resource for evolutionary education!

Come learn about hominid evolution!  Curious about what we've learned from fossils?

In addition to the general information from the placard, be sure to read the informational cards for each skull!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A slippery slope with slimy salamanders

Over the past three months, I have been living in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina conducting research on terrestrial salamanders. It has been an incredible experience to work in this system, and I have no doubt that I work and live in one of the most beautiful places in our country. But being my first field season on this project, I had my fair share of issues. Learning how to use my flow through system to measure evaporative water loss was insanely tricky. The relationship between temperature and vapor pressure is a tricky to manipulate, sometimes with experiment-ending consequences. Miscommunications and unexpected surprises from the salamander digestive system (that's poo) also produced significant hurdles.

As of right now, it appears I will actually finish my project - at least before the first day of school. I will be honest, I have never worked this hard in my life. I sleep during the day, and at night, I hike up mountains to catch salamanders and conduct my experiments. The learning curve has been steep, as well as the mountains. I'm pretty sure I have permanent nerve damage in my big toes; I haven't felt them in a few weeks. I also had a fun trip to the emergency room at 4 in the morning to remove a moth that lodged itself next to my eardrum.

In the end, I love my project, and I am thrilled to see my first data plots and analyze my data. But I have poured almost everything I have into this project. I can't wait to return to campus and....start working again (haha).

For those of you that are close or already have finished your graduate degree, I am just beginning to understand what it takes: everything.

Thanks for letting me vent; this blog is great for that.

Time for more experiments!


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Welcome to the minds of the biological sciences graduate students at Clemson University! The goal of this blog is to provide insight into the scientific, educational and social lives of graduate students. As graduate students, we have devoted our lives to the development of scientific research and hope to enlighten the community and those who wish to follow the path of scientific reasoning.