Cynthia Looy, Professor

Closed (1) Reconstruction of Cretaceous terrestrial and freshwater arthropod community

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2021 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2021.

Insects first appear in the fossil record during early Devonian (412 million years ago). Since then, they diversified dramatically. At present, there are at least 900,000 known living insect species, representing approximately 80% of all extant multicellular species. Although there are a few extinct insect orders, most insect lineages did not dramatically change their general morphology over time thus many fossil insects are still recognizable and classifiable into proper extant orders.
All extant major insect orders were already present by the Jurassic Period (150 million years ago), and precede the first appearance of flowering plants in the fossil record during the Cretaceous. However, our understanding of how the rise of flowering plants affected insect evolution is very limited due to the scarcity of insect fossils during the Cretaceous. This project aims to provide more information on diversity and community structure of insects around the time of ecological expansion of flowering plants.
Exquisitely preserved insect and plant fossils were collected from the Early Cretaceous (110-106 million years old) Jinju Formation from South Korea. The depositional environment of the Jinju localities is lacustrine, and both freshwater and terrestrial arthropods are present in the fossilassemblages. Approximately 2,000 specimens were collected, and many of them are already digitized. The specimens need detailed measurements for various purposes, including species description, morphometric analyses, etc.

We are looking for a student who will assist obtaining measurements from the images of fossil insects and other arthropods (using ImageJ software), entering data into excel, data analysis and literature study. Specific weekly tasks of the project include:

1) Data entry and management

2) Performing measurements in ImageJ

3) Literature study


Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Jaemin Lee, Graduate Student

Qualifications: We are looking for people who can devote 6 hours a week to the project. Attention to detail and ability to remain focused during repetitive measurements is a must. A previous experience with image analyses using ImageJ is useful, but not necessary. The student will gain experience in data collection, management and image analyses. Additionally, when the student is interested and capable, assistance is welcome in various other aspects throughout the analyses to learn about the development and execution of an entire research project. Supervision will be from graduate student Jaemin Lee and Prof. Cindy Looy.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

Closed (2) Patterns of herbivory and functional ecology of a Cretaceous tropical forest

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2021 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2021.

At present, the vegetation of tropical biomes is overwhelmingly dominated by flowering plants, yet there is little direct evidence for how the diversification of angiosperms affected forst structure and function. In particular, what were the patterns of diversification that led to the wide range of ecological strategies (functional diversity) and what were the impacts on other organisms in these tropical forest communities?

The first flowering plants are known from the Early Cretaceous from ~130 million years ago (mya). They rapidly diversified during the Cretaceous (~130-65 mya) and early Cenozoic (65-35 mya), when global temperatures were higher and conditions were more equable year-round, particularly at mid-high latitudes. By the end of the Cretaceous, flowering plants are thought to have risen to dominance in most communities.

The Jose Creek flora (75 mya, New Mexico) is one of the most diverse single deposit Cretaceous floras known to date, and flowering plants are the most diverse and dominant group across the landscape. We aim to understand broader ecological context of this unique and hyperdiverse fossil forest, by studying the patterns of terrestrial arthropods (including insects) herbivory, and leaf physiognomy of the flowering plants. Some specialized feeding types such as gall and mining can be used to identify the insects and other terrestrial arthropods that produced the traces and reconstruct the herbivorous insect communities that were living in the forest. In addition, morphological features of the fossil leaves can provide us information on the habitat of the plants and the local climate. The forms of leaves are largely influenced by temperature and precipitation, which can be used for paleoclimatic reconstruction.

We are looking for a student who will assist obtaining measurements from the images of fossil leaves, using ImageJ software, entering data into excel, data analysis and literature study. Specific weekly tasks of the project include:

1) Data entry and management

2) Performing measurements in ImageJ

3) Literature study


Qualifications: Requirements: We are looking for people who can devote 6 hours a week to the project. Attention to detail and ability to remain focused during repetitive measurements is a must. A previous experience with image analyses using ImageJ is useful, but not necessary. Benefits: The student will gain experience in data collection, management and image analyses. Additionally, when the student is interested and capable, assistance is welcome in various other aspects throughout the analyses to learn about the development and execution of an entire research project. Supervision will be from graduate student Jaemin Lee and Prof. Cindy Looy.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

Related website: http://www.looylab.org/
Related website: https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/people/jaemin-lee/

Closed (3) Trends in plant diversity and ecology in the Carboniferous tropics

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2021 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2021.

The Carboniferous (359-299 million years ago) is one of the most interesting time periods in Earth’s history. Giant dragonfly relatives like Meganeura (>2 ft wing span!), 8-ft-long millipedes named Arthropleura, and early mammal-like reptiles lived in a world that likely had atmospheric oxygen levels well above today’s. These animals roamed a landscape dominated by extensive peat swamps, covering large parts of what was then Euramerica. These swamp forests would look entirely alien to any of us today. However, due to exceptional preservation of plant materials in these swamps, the Carboniferous has one of the best plant fossil records of any time period.

We study the evolution of the plants in these communities through time, with an emphasis on climate change, ecosystem structure and function, and the history of fire under hyperoxic conditions.

One of the largest fossil collections from the Carboniferous was made by professor Tom Phillips from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Over more than three decades his lab microscopically analyzed 800,000 cm2 of plant material. They recorded which plant taxa, tissues, and organs were present in each square-centimeter, and whether or not those tissues/organs were burned (charcoalified) or not. These data are currently only available in analog form, as mainframe computer printouts from the 1970’s and 80’s, and the extensive data set has never been analyzed as a whole. There are far too many printouts for us to re-digitize this invaluable collection on our own, and far too many possible analyses for us to run on this large dataset. We need your help!


We are looking for one to two students who will help with the transcription and analysis of these data. We have a number of possible research projects for URAP students, which cover a range of topics including ecological statistics, paleogeographic reconstruction, and data visualization. These projects vary in the degree of programming, ecology, and earth systems science expertise required, with some requiring only limited background.

Weekly tasks will include:
1) Data transcription
2) Literature study
3) Analysis and/or data visualization
, Graduate Student

Qualifications: We are looking for people who can devote 6-12 hours a week to the project. Attention to detail and the ability to remain focused during repetitive data transcription is a requirement. A background in basic ecology and some programming experience (preferably in R or Python) are useful, but not necessary. Students will gain knowledge on plant evolution, paleoecology, and earth system science, as well as skills in analyzing & visualizing a large ecological dataset. Because the exact project to be undertaken is at the discretion of the student, the exact skills required and outcomes will depend on the individual.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Related website: http://www.looylab.org/
Related website: http://www.looylab.org/coal-ball-data-mining.html

Closed (4) Using fossils to better understand periods of global warming in Earth’s past

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2021 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2021.

Plants are adapted to the physical conditions in their environments, including temperature, precipitation, atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and light level. In cooler and drier habitats, leaves tend to be smaller with condensed venation and toothed margins. While under warmer and wetter conditions, leaves tend to be larger, have ‘drip tips’, and entire margins. Atmospheric CO2 concentration and light regulate leaf size, stomatal patterns, and cell shape in developing leaves. These characteristics are preserved in the paleobotanical fossil record and can be used to infer local conditions at the time the plants were alive. We use this kind of information to better understand Earth’s history, the evolution of ecosystems, and predict the effects of global warming. To assess changes in plant community composition and distribution during periods of long term and rapid global warming we are studying a global warming in the early Paleogene.

During the early Paleogene (~58-50 million years ago), the Earth experienced a long-term trend of increasing temperatures punctuated by several abrupt and short-term rapid increases in temperature known as ‘hyperthermal’ events. During these events, the earth’s CO2 and global temperatures increased rapidly which resulted a decreased temperature gradient between the equator and the poles. The widespread sub-tropical climate allowed warm-loving vegetation to migrate outside the tropics, creating a widespread band of thermophilic flora around the equator.

In this study, we will be measuring cuticle characteristics for a light level project and the Paleogene warming project. The light level project looks at leaf cuticles of oak and sycamore plants grown under very high and low light levels. This light experiment will help us to better understand the relationship between light level, cell size, stomate size, stomate density, and cell undulation. For the Paleogene warming project we will be looking at fossil cuticle from the Eocene epoch (56-33.9 million years ago) collected from the southeastern US. We are especially interested in this time period as it can help gain insight into change in plant communities through time during a time of rapid climate change.


We are looking for 2 students who will assist with obtaining measurements from images of extant and fossil leaf cuticle. The measurements will be conducted using ImageJ software and recorded in Excel. These data will be analyzed and used in a literature study. Weekly tasks will include:

(1) Literature discussion (~1 hour)
(2) Performing measurements in ImageJ (~ 4 hours)
(3) Recording, saving, and uploading data to shared folder (~1 hour)

Day to day supervisor: Jenn Wagner, Graduate Student


Qualifications: Qualifications: We are looking for two students who can devote 6 hours a week to the above described projects. Attention to detail and precise when making measurements using computer software. A student who is interested in studying the literature related to the research tasks. Benefits: this research provides the opportunity for students to gain experience working with living and fossil plant material. The student will gain experience working with image measuring software, data collection, management and analysis. If you would like more information, please email Jenn Wagner at jenn_wagner@berkeley.edu.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: All work can be done remotely on personal computer to ensure safety. There is lab work to be done that the apprentices can participate in when it is safe to return to campus.

Related website: http://www.looylab.org/labfolk.html
Related website: https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/people/jenn-wagner/