The temperature of reptiles then and now

What is your research on?

I study the fossil record to see how climate change affects animals over time. In my dissertation research at the University of California, Berkeley, I focus on reptiles because they are particularly sensitive to changes in climate. They cannot generate their own body heat metabolically, the way you and I can. Reptiles compensate for this in a lot of ways that affect their ecology (their interactions with their environment and other organisms).

This means that I can’t interpret climate change effects on past reptiles from the fossils alone. I have to understand how living reptiles function. Thus, I also study modern reptiles, and how they are responding to climate change today.

What sort of specimens are you looking at with the Burke VP Collections Grant?

I am looking at fossil reptiles—specifically, lizards, crocodylians, and turtles—that lived in the Western Interior of what is now the United States from about 66 to 23 million years ago. The Western Interior is well represented through an interval of time called the Paleogene. This interval is well represented in the Burke Museum vertebrate paleontology collections, including a rich sample from the time just after that rapid warming event. This is what made me want to visit the collections. 

The Paleogene is an interesting time to study because global climate changed dramatically during that interval—including an abrupt warming event around 55 million years ago. That warming was not even as rapid as what we are seeing right now, but it is the only warming event since the dinosaurs that compares in rate and magnitude.

Article Source: Burke Museum