Fossils, micro-CT scanning, and ecometrics: integrating technologies to track ecological response to past climate change
Biochemistry Major (College of Arts & Sciences)
Tara Smiley (Environmental Resilience Institute)
Fossils provide a valuable record of biological response, both evolutionary and ecological, to changing climate and environments in the past. Shifts in fossil assemblages and species traits through time shed light on processes that influence species ecology and shape biodiversity today and into the future. This study focuses on the fossil record of small mammals from the John Day Formation in eastern Oregon that spanned a major climate warming interval from 27 to 24 million years ago. Using previously collected microCT scans of diverse small-mammal assemblages, we will 1) learn and use a suite of software tools to clean and process these 3D scans of teeth and skulls, 2) apply ecometric trait analysis to characterize dental characteristics linked to species ecology, and 3) assess changes in species composition and functional ecology over the past warming period.
Technology or Computational Component
Prior work has generated high-resolution microCT scans (7-12 microns) of over 400 small-mammal fossils (primarily scans of teeth and jaws), and a high-power computer has been acquired to work with these scans. The student will contribute to research by working with a suite of different software tools to segment, clean, and process the external surfaces of these 3D scans. Furthermore, the student will use GIS-like software to analyze specific properties of the 3D tooth surfaces using a variety of ecometric traits (e.g., orientation patch count, relief index, volumetric hypsodonty) shown to accurately discriminate dietary category (i.e., granivore, folivore, omnivore, and insectivore) in small mammals. Finally, the student will use the R programming environment to analyze her results.