May 6 Cafe – Tar Pits in the Tropics

East Bay Science Cafe

Tar Pits in the Tropics:  What the exceptional Ice Age fossil localities of coastal Ecuador and Peru can tell us about ancient ecosystems, species ecology, and the future of biodiversity

with Dr. Emily Lindsey

Wednesday May 6, 2015 at 7:00 PM
Restaurant Valparaiso, 1403 Solano Ave., Albany
This cafe is an informal forum for discussing interesting and relevant scientific issues. The goal is to encourage public engagement with science by inviting members of the scientific community to present topics for a casual evening of conversation. Cafes may vary in length and format depending upon the speaker and the topic. Audience questions are encouraged both during and after!
Asphaltic paleontological localities, known as “tar pits,” are valuable scientific resources because they can contain rich accumulations of ancient plants and animals even in regions of the world where fossils often don’t get preserved.  In this talk I will discuss some of my research on the tar pits of southwestern Ecuador and northwestern Peru that contain records of ancient tropical ecosystems shortly before an extinction event that wiped out most of the large mammals in South America around 10,000 years ago.  Not only do these sites shed light on the Ice Age environments of this little-known region and the life ways of animals that lived there, they also challenge longstanding paradigms about how tar pit fossil sites develop and what kind of data they may hold for paleontologists.  Additionally, information from these sites can be integrated with the phenomenal microvertebrate, sedimentological, and archaeological records from the area to help understand the ecological state shift that occurred when this region went from being a lush tropical savannah supporting large populations of megamammals to a dry coastal desert with sparse vegetation and a depauperate mammal fauna.

Giant ground sloths - Megatherium

Emily Lindsay

Dr. Emily Lindsay

Emily Lindsey is a postdoctoral scholar in the Integrative Biology department and the U.C. Museum of Paleontology at the University of California – Berkeley.  She uses primary data from field excavations and large-scale biogeographic analyses to investigate the ecology of extinct mammals, and to predict ecological response in the face of modern global change.  Her current research focuses on understanding the Ice Age ecosystems of South America and what led to their collapse.  Her favorite extinct animal is the giant sloth.

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