Seth Finnegan, Professor

Closed (1) Using the recent fossil record to reconstruct human impacts on marine ecosystems

Applications for fall 2021 are now closed for this project.

The goal of this project is to assess the impact of recent environmental and anthropogenic changes (~1850 to 2010 CE) on benthic foraminifera communities. Benthic foraminifera are a group of unicellular protists with an excellent fossil record, and have been used to understand the history of Earth's climate over the past 200 million years. However, few studies have examined how benthic foraminifer communities respond to large-scale, short-term anthropogenic events (for example, the Industrial Revolution). We will use a high-resolution sediment core from the Santa Barbara Basin (offshore southern California) representing the Industrial era through the "Great Acceleration" (~1850-2010 CE), to assess trends in species diversity and individual morphometric parameters (shell length, width, surface area, volume, etc.) and determine whether these trends may be responding to environmental parameters. This research may lead to a presentation of a poster or talk at a conference or symposium.



Student researchers will identify images of individual benthic foraminifera to species in order to assist in creating a labeled training set for automated taxonomy (machine learning). Opportunities are available for students to help with image processing and/or machine learning model development.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Sara Kahanamoku, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Looking for a disciplined and self-directed student with a strong interest in marine ecology, historical ecology, and global change biology. Experience with species identification and/or programming a plus but not required.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Off-Campus Research Site: All meetings will be held remotely.

Related website: http://finneganlab.org

Closed (2) Environmental and Ecological Change in Coastal Marine California from the Pleistocene to today

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

Rapid climate changes during the Pleistocene (2.6 million to 12,000 years ago) caused major biogeographic upheaval among California’s shallow marine communities. However, at present little is known about the precise nature of these climatic changes, thereby hampering our efforts to understand ecological dynamics through this critical interval. This project seeks to understand the magnitude of Pleistocene-modern environmental change through studying isotopic (e.g. δ18O) compositions of Pleistocene and modern mollusk shells.

The URAP student will be supervised by an IB graduate student and will assist in 1) paleontological collecting along the California coast, 2) preparing fossil specimens, and 3) making detailed measurements for isotopic analysis. Through working on this project the URAP student will gain experience in fieldwork, specimen-based lab work, as well as sample preparation and interpretation of stable isotope measurements ran at UCB’s Center for Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Joshua Zimmt

Qualifications: Looking for a disciplined and self-directed student with a strong interest in marine ecology and Earth history. Some geological background and familiarity with stable isotope ecology a plus, but not required.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Related website: http://finneganlab.org

Closed (3) Effects of the Uplift of the Isthmus of Panama on the Ecology, Evolution, and Extinction of Mollusks

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

The rise of the Isthmus of Panama ~3 million years ago was arguably the most important biotic and oceanographic event of the past 60 million years. By connecting North and South America, the rise of the Isthmus caused the Great American interchange of terrestrial plant and animal species. In the oceans, the rise of the Isthmus had the opposite effect: the Caribbean Sea was cut off from the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean, and formerly continuous marine populations were severed. Prior to the rise of the Isthmus of Panama, the environment of the proto-Caribbean resembled that of the modern-day tropical eastern Pacific, with upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich bottom waters causing strong interannual and seasonal variations in temperature and planktonic productivity. The modern Caribbean does not experience upwelling, and hence temperatures are nearly constant and planktonic productivity very low. Hence, Caribbean species have evolved (or gone extinct) in a radically changed environment for the past 3 million years.

This project will examine how the rise of the Isthmus of Panama affected the evolution and ecology of one major group by looking at the rich fossil record of mollusks (bivalves and gastropods). Mollusks are abundant and very well preserved in marine sedimentary rocks from Central America that span the interval during which uplift of the isthmus occurred. The student will examine fossil and/or modern collections to characterize the trophic structure, size-frequency distribution, and (in some cases) the age structure of mollusk communities from before, during, and after the uplift of the Isthmus. The collections will also be used to study evidence of predation by crustaceans and drilling gastropods. The student may also examine species stratigraphic ranges (oldest and youngest fossil occurrences) and ecological characteristics to determine how the species that went extinct following uplift of the isthmus differed from those that survived.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Related website: http://finneganlab.org

Closed (4) Understanding the links between climate change and extinction: a deep-time perspective

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

Mass extinctions in the fossil record provide us with case studies of biodiversity crises and global change that extend beyond human timescales. Approximately 445 million years ago, about 80% of marine animal species on Earth became extinct during a period of global climate change; however, the primary drivers and the extinction remain enigmatic: while there is a clear link between climate change and the Late Ordovician mass extinction, it remains uncertain as to whether global warming, cooling, or some corollary of climate change such as sea level or oxygenation, was the principle driver of the extinction event A better understanding of the Late Ordovician mass extinction will allow us to study the impact of climate change and extinction on the biosphere through the fossil record.

Students involved in this project can participate in one of three separate areas of research focused on the Late Ordovician mass extinction:

1. Stable isotope geochemistry: The Late Ordovician mass extinction is associated with a major global perturbation to the carbon cycle, known as the Hirnantian carbon isotope excursion (HICE). Understanding the timing of the HICE relative to the Late Ordovician mass extinction is key for understanding the expression of the extinction event in the fossil record. Over the course of the project, students will gain hands-on-training in the preparation of geochemical samples for stable isotope analysis as they work to reconstruct the pattern of the HICE in the Upper Ordovician rock record.

2. Paleoecological analysis: In contrast to the clear impact of the Late Ordovician mass extinction on global species diversity, the extent to which the extinction event affected ecosystems remains unclear. Over the course of this project, students will work with field-collected paleoecological data to assess how ecosystems responded to environmental changes over the course of the extinction. Students will learn different approaches to characterizing and comparing ancient ecosystems and will have the opportunity to work hands-on with fossils.

3. Stratigraphic assessment of faunal turnover: The structure of the stratigraphic record is known to control the expression of biological events in the fossil record. Understanding this relationship is critical for determining the timing, pattern, and drivers of the Late Ordovician mass extinction. Students will gather and work with published data to conduct a basin-wide assessment of faunal turnover within a sequence stratigraphic framework that can be used to study the timing and pattern of the Late Ordovician mass extinction., Ph.D. candidate

Qualifications: Students interested in the project should have basic experience (i.e. course work, mentored/independent research) in paleontology and/or the geosciences, depending on the applicant’s project of choice, and are interested in undertaking a more rigorous study of the fossil record. We are seeking candidates who are willing to ask questions whenever necessary, engage with and learn about the materials and project tasked to them. Students must be respectful of others, able to work independently, and willing to communicate with the project supervisor.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Related website: http://finneganlab.org