First field hitch of 2016 and lots of fossils

Our first field hitch of 2016 turned out pretty great, we surveyed lichens at seven collection areas, for a total of 32 sites, and brought home about 700 collections. But those are just numbers, the fun part is the places we explored.

Pile of specimens from First hitch. About 700 specimens grouped together by morphology. Since we're anticipating a number of unknown species or unusual morphology of known species, we're taking the approach recommended by Toby Spribille in his inventory of Klondike lichens. Hopefully this will alleviate the pains encountered during our inventory of the Turnbull NWR lichens - drudgerous days of trying to key out undescribed species, one after another after another. This time, we'll group them together first, find their patterns and range in variation, and then comb through the literature from around the world to identify the taxa, or determine whether its a new taxa. A much better approach!
Pile of specimens from the first hitch,  grouped together by morphology. Since we’re anticipating a number of unknown species or unusual morphology of known species, we’re taking the approach recommended by Toby Spribille in his inventory of Klondike lichens. Hopefully this will alleviate the pains encountered during our inventory of the Turnbull NWR lichens – drudgerous days of trying to key out undescribed species, one after another after another. This time, we’ll group them together first, find their patterns and range in variation, and then comb through the literature from around the world to identify the taxa, or determine whether its a new taxa. A sanity enhancing  approach!

specimens

As most folks probably already know, the Great Basin Ecoregion is basically a giant desert. But it also consists of the most mountainous state in the U.S.: there are over 150 named mountain ranges in Nevada. And these mountain ranges tell a series of stories, of inland seas, of moist forestlands, of an ancient volcanic landscape with cinder cones spotted around.

Stories that are told by the folding of strata, the accumulation of minerals in stalagmites and stalagtites, and the fossils.

Looking west from the Desatoya mountiains. The low lying hills in the basin between the two ranges are probably cindercones.
Looking west from the Desatoya mountains. The low lying singular hills in the midground are probably cinder cones.
small fossils
Crinoid fossil? Perhaps.  From limestone in the Seaman Range, NV

What kinds of fossils are in the region? All sorts, from plants, to dinosaurs, to sea creatures. Last week, we only encountered tiny sea creatures, primarily crinoids but also some bivalves    – but there’s a great website that gives info on fossil sites all over Nevada, so if you’re interested in finding a particular type of fossil, from dinosaur bones to algae, they share their sources and general locations: Collecting Fossils.org

For you plant lovers around Reno, there are a few amazing spots nearby: 28 Miocene plants species were found near Virginia City and 83 plant Miocene plant species near Gillam Springs. And there’s more. Someone has even a outlined a paleobotany field trip you take out in the Dead Camel Range near Fallon, NV.

I did some digging into the sources for these paleobotany sites, and found out that much of our understanding of the ancient botanical flora in this region was uncovered and stitched together by a paleobotanist named Daniel Axelrod. Interesting fellow. Born in 1910, Axelrod’s father worked for Transpacific Cable, so at 6 he was living in Guam, at 7 in Waikiki beach in Hawaii and learned surfing there.

Daniel Axelrod's investigations into the paleoflora of Western Nevada.
Daniel Axelrod’s investigations into the paleoflora of Western Nevada.

Think of being Axelrod, learning surfing in 1918, coming of age while exploring the east pacific landscapes. He ended up studying botany and paleontology at UC Berkeley, and at that point began piecing together the ancient ecosystems that covered North America.

Axelrod had a particular focus on the deep history California Ecoregions and the Great Basin, but his work spanned into the Rockies, and eastward into the Plains. Fascinating man and subject matter.

And now, for the gallery of photos from this past hitch:

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One thought on “First field hitch of 2016 and lots of fossils”

  1. A really beautiful area…sure do love the alpine desert regions out there! I was in Vegas for work this last winter and was able to escape to the mountains for a day. Saw some spectacular lichens up there. Thanks for sharing.

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