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Stigall profiled in FOSSIL Project Newsletter

I was recently interviewed for the FOSSIL Project Spring Newsletter.  The conversation was largely focused on how I became a paleontologist, my favorite things about paleontology, my passion for outreach and education, and advice for young people considering a career in science.

You can read the online version (which looks nicer) at this link: https://www.myfossil.org/featured-professional-alycia-stigall/

A PDF version is available here

 

 

Two new publications on the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event

Hot off the presses!  

The Stigall Lab has two new articles published in the Lethaia special issue “Contextualizing the Great Ordovician Biodiversificaiton Event”. This special issue derives from the IGCP 653 opening meeting in Durham in October 2016, and includes papers on many aspects of the GOBE and related topics.  You can access the entire issue online here.

Our lab has two contributions:

Stigall, A.L. 2018. How is biodiversity produced? Examining speciation processes during the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event. Lethaia, 51 (2), 165-172. https://doi.org/10.1111/let.12232.

–In this paper, I make the case that it is critical to consider biological aspects of speciation, not only aggregate diversity counts, when seeking the causes of diversification events, such as the GOBE.

Trubovitz, S., & Stigall, A.L. 2018. Ecological revolution of Oklahoma’s rhynchonelliform brachiopod fauna during the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event. Lethaia, 51(2), 277-285. https://doi.org/10.1111/let.12233.

–This is the second half of Sarah Trubovitz MS thesis, which examines community structure and body size in brachiopod communities across the GOBE in the Simpson Group of Oklahoma.

IGCP 653 Field excursion and workshop on the Fezouata Formation

by Alycia Stigall
IGCP 653 Field excursion and workshop on the Fezouata Formation

I was very fortunate to attend the IGCP Project 653  outstanding workshop and field excursion in Marrakech and Zagora region of Morocco from February 12-16, 2018.

This was a fantastic trip!  Morocco is a fantastic country with amazing geology and really wonderful people.  The Fezouata outcrops were really tremendous, and I was able to collect some specimens for my teaching collection as well.

Click here to read my write up and visit photo galleries that I posted as the media czar for the IGCP project. A few bonus photos are below.

Bayesian estimation of Ordovician dispersal pathways

 

Today was an exciting day for the lab.  The paper on Ordovician dispersal pathways led by Adriane Lam which incorporates her primary MS thesis research came out. This paper is exciting for several reasons.  First, it’s always great when a student gets their research published! Second, this is the first use of bayesian biogeographic modeling with Paleozoic taxa.  Third, this project represents an evolution beyond a MS thesis project, through collaboration and improvements with additional authors at other institutions, namely Nick Matzke.  I am really so thrilled with how this paper came out.  It is a landmark is methods and has important implications for understanding Ordovician biogeography.  The only downside…Adriane titled it “Dispersal in the Ordovician” as  play on “Pirates of the Carribean” so I can’t get the Pirates theme song out of my head….

Lam, A.R., Stigall, A.L, Matzke, N.J. 2018. Dispersal in the Ordovician: Speciation patterns and paleobiogeographic analyses of brachiopods and trilobites. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 489: 147-165. Online

Key Points:

  • Bayesian and ML methods were successfully implemented with Ordovician taxa.
  • Founder event speciation was important in the evolution of Paleozoic taxa.
  • Taxa with different larval strategies responded similarly to climate shifts.
  • Ocean currents were key influences on invertebrate dispersal patterns.
  • Results indicate most evolution within clades occurred during climate shifts.

 

Science—what am I up to anyway?

Science—what am I up to anyway?

It’s occurred to me that I have been writing quite a bit about broadening participation in science lately and have not actually talked much about what science I have been up to. So here is a brief update about recent developments on that front.

At the IGCP 653 meeting in Yichang, China, I presented new research on some very interesting and rare fossils from the lower part of the Cincinnatian Series. Over the past few years, I have been very fortunate to receive a series of rare fossils collected by some of the fantastic amateur paleontologists of the Dry Dredgers in Cincinnati, Ohio. In particular, Ron Fine, has collected some intriguing brachiopods from the lower Cincinnatian Kope Formation (Edenian Regional Stage) that look like they belong to lineages otherwise only known as invasive taxa from the upper Cincinnatian (Richmondian Regional Stage). These pre-Richmondian “invaders” comprise an interesting set of species that shed light on invasion dynamics in the fossil record.

At Yichang, I argued that interbasinal species invasions (or immigrations) could be considered in a hierarchical context, with ranks including ephemeral invasion, incursion epibole, and biotic immigration events. I am currently expanding this invasion hierarchy into a full article for Annual Reviews in Ecology and Evolutionary Systematics. (AREES), so I won’t elaborate here, but I think this is a really exciting and potentially transformative concept about the assembly of diversity through time.

At the GSA meeting in Seattle, I am presenting research related speciation mechanisms and how we can move from a basic correlation of diversity with Earth systems events to a causal mechanism for increasing diversity based on the process of speciation. Much of the arguments for this talk are in press already within my Lethaia paper (here).

So…for the near term, these are the scientific questions that I am investigating and the questions that keep me up at night: how do we really resolve speciation processes in the fossil record, how can we use that information to understand diversification during the Ordovician Radiation/Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event, and how do invasions (of varying intensities) contribute to diversity patterns of life through time?*

*obviously these questions are best addressed with data about articulated brachiopods from the Ordovician Period

IGCP 653: Yichang Reflections

IGCP 653: Yichang Reflections

I’m currently on a 12 hour flight from Shanghai to Chicago as part of my 3 flight (and 29 hour) itinerary home from the 2nd Annual IGCP 653 meeting in Yichang, China. I can say, unreservedly, that this was a fantastic meeting!

Attendees included more than 60 delegates from 10 nations. The fact that most attendees were Chinese—and I am not—provided a wonderful opportunity for me to meet many new and upcoming scientists—both students and early career professionals that I have not previously had the opportunity to interact with. I was so impressed by the quality of their science and their ability to communicate at a high level on an international stage. What a talented group of young scientists! I am incredibly encouraged and inspired by them.

Of course, I was also able to reunite with (and meet new) colleagues from Europe, Africa, and North America as well. Truly this meeting met the spirit of UNESCO, our funding agency for the IGCP project, in terms of bridging international divides and fostering common interests and collaborations.

At this conference, provocative scientific ideas were espoused—generating substantial discussion, important geologic sections were visited (including the GSSPs for both the Hirnantian and Dapingian stages!), and cultural differences were both explored and celebrated. It’s exciting both how much we have learned about the Great Ordovician Biodiverisfication Event in terms of ocean chemistry, oxygenation patterns, diversity patterns of metazoans and also how much we have to learn—such as when did this event start and end, whether such things can be clearly defined, and what does that mean for the Earth system?

Speaking for myself, my favorite parts were probably the fact that we had an international assemblage of brachiopod workers to talk with (it’s great-and rare to be among people that love my favorite fossils as much as I do!) and that there were so many dynamic young female researchers in the group.

As anyone who is relatively close to me knows, I am very concerned with increasing participation in science on both a national and international level. I was so encouraged to see so many young and dynamic female scientists! Female students earned awards for both poster and oral presentations. This is pretty groundbreaking.

To place this in context, I had a conversation with a colleague, who I generally admire very much as a scientist, in which he said to me one evening {I’m paraphrasing} “You know, we always try to hire men instead of women for permanent jobs. You can’t say that in open meetings, but in secret meetings, we always say this.” I asked why this was the case and was told that it could be problematic for women to both be in charge of or be the majority of a field team to remote regions. I pushed back on this concept (I certainly was told the similar things as a grad student), and my friend said “Well, most women are not like you. They are not assertive and independent.” On one level, I was glad that my colleague appreciated that some women could be leaders, but it also made clear to me that there are many countries where women still need to fight hard to be considered scientific equals. I am not special. Female scientists need the chance to grow and shine and deserve the same support as our male colleagues.

The male student at our table noted that the female students work much harder and achieve higher levels of excellence than the male students. He sees the value in this contemporaries, and I am heartened that over time this view will win out…but I’d much rather we achieve equity in the near term and not wait 20 years and lose out on the great science these young women could have done by excluding them.

I hope that my work in the international community can help to foster a sense of empowerment for female (and other underrepresented) scientists in both the USA and other nations. At this meeting, I was assertive. I capitalized on my leadership as a co-chair of IGCP 653 role to be present, to chair sessions, to judge and present awards, to invite everyone to Athens, Ohio in 2018, and I hope that seeing one woman do that in a sea dominated by male leadership can help to inspire the fantastic and talented women that I met at this meeting to be assertive and empowered in their own scientific lives.

 

Diversity, equity, and scientific misconduct

by Alycia Stigall
Diversity, equity, and scientific misconduct

For the past few decades, there has been a push to increase diversity in science. However, many of those efforts have been targeted at fitting members of under represented minorities within the structural framework developed in the early 20th century or before.  When that structural framework was developed, the typical scientist was a white male who was either single or had a spouse who did not work outside the home.  Such a profile no longer fits the majority of people who aspire to become professional scientists.  Thus, in order to achieve full inclusion and enhanced participation in science, changes must be made to structural barriers that restrict participation in science.

Recently, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) adopted a new Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics Policy that is a step forward in changing the scientific culture to reduce structural barriers to full participation in science.  The AGU Board of Directors approved a revised code of ethics that includes language against sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination.

Here is the announcement of the policy: https://eos.org/agu-news/agu-revises-its-integrity-and-ethics-policy

Announcement from On The Prow: http://fromtheprow.agu.org/setting-the-bar-high-to-end-harassment-in-the-sciences/

And here is the policy itself: http://ethics.agu.org/files/2013/03/Scientific-Integrity-and-Professional-Ethics.pdf

This policy is a bold and necessary step forward in reducing structural barriers to participation by underrepresented minority groups. By including harassment, discrimination, and bullying as equally egregious types of scientific misconduct as classically recognized research misconduct like data falsification and plagiarism, this policy aims to provide a more equitable working conditions and that can foster truly collaborative and innovative science.

Importantly, AGU has provided not just a policy, but mechanisms to enforce the policy. I am particularly impressed that AGU has developed a process to mediate and handle misconduct that does not rise to the level of formal complaint.

Formal complaints are often met with backlash, which reduces the frequency that harassment, discrimination and bullying events are reported.  So having a support system for incidents that may be perceived as a lower threat—at least initially—is really important. Many of the challenges that underpresented scientists face can be classified as microagressions, which build up over time and become significant factors in why members of underrepresented groups choose to leave science.

I am enthusiastic about AGU’s new ethics policy. Yes, a policy doesn’t change the culture of science overnight. But having strong policies like this will provide a pathway for the really needed and overdue culture shifts to operate and strengthen. By making discrimination, bullying, and harassment a mainstream scientific concern, AGU is taking a bold and meaningful step in building a better, more inclusive geoscience community.

ESA: Invasive species and climate change plus geotourism

by Alycia Stigall
ESA: Invasive species and climate change plus geotourism

This summer was relatively quiet on the travel front. We had a family vacation in May to Disney World (for which I over-prepared with substantial data analysis using the myDisney App), but otherwise both Dan and I were in Athens for the summer doing analyses and writing rather than in the field collecting new data. It was really lovely!

Our Ohio sojourn ended in August, when I traveled to Portland, Oregon to participate in the annual Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting as an invited speaker for a session about the combined impacts of invasive species and climate change on modern ecosystems organized by Cascade Sorte and Bethany Bradley.   ESA is a wonderful meeting and a great chance to simultaneously catch up with my biogeography colleagues and engage with a different segment of the scientific community than I usually do. So I was quite pleased to present about my work on fossils and the lessons we can learn from that for modern environments. I had the opportunity to catch up with some of my Quaternary paleoecology colleagues and have some really insightful and educational discussions with modern biology colleagues during the meeting.

On it’s own, ESA was very good meeting, but the best part of the trip was that Dan and the kids joined me at the conference as part of a two week volcanoes & coasts road trip. As geologists, Dan and I were excited to have the chance to visit some really exciting National Parks and also to show the kids “real” (=geologically young) mountains for the first time. We love the Appalachians, but western geology is so spectacular.

In the end, we put over 1000 miles on the rental car. We visited Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Crater Lake, Oregon Caves, the Jedediah Smith State Park (=Redwoods!), Orgeon Dunes, a series of state parks with tidepools along the Oregon Coast, and the Newport Aquarium. It was a spectacular trip. Mt. St. Helens was amazing and emotional.

The boat trip on Crater Lake was a real highlight. The kids LOVED climbing on the fallen Redwood logs, exploring the tidepools, and the marmots on Mt. Rainier. Overall, it was super. Maybe too much driving, but I don’t think I would have cut out any of the places we visited. It’s really fun to geek out on geology with my family who also loves geeking on geology. The kids earned four junior ranges badges along the way—they are definitely right up there with their parents as nature lovers.

 

 

Alumni Symposium: Women in Geology

Every other spring, the Department of Geological Sciences alumni converge on Athens for a weekend of networking and reunions that is centered around a full day symposium where alumni, students, and faculty share their current work. This year, our Alumni Board chose to focus on Women in Geology and asked me to give a presentation on that topic.

I was delighted to develop a presentation on this topic as it’s both near and dear to my heart (and career), and I have published several pieces on gender issues in paleontology previously (GSA Today, Priscum). So I spent the better part of two weeks diving back into the literature on implicit bias, structural barriers to women, and locating data on women at the student through professional levels. I will say, for the record, this topic is not fun to dive into. It is important and I hoped that I could make a contribution by educating our alumni broadly about these issues, but it is emotionally taxing to read study after study showing empirical data for continuing bias in geoscience—and science in general.

I focused on my presentation on data. Data that demonstrate that: YES we have many women training to be geologists (nearly 45% of undergraduates), so we are developing a strong pool of qualified female geologists. But the data also demonstrate that NO these women are not fully participating in the geoscience workforce, which his only 23% female.

That disparity CANNOT be explained by historical biases alone. Women have been earning nearly half of geoscience degrees for at least the past 15 years, but the junior work force does not match the training pool.

So I explored the reasons for this starting with overt discrimination (which is present, but less common than in decades past), sexual harassment, gendered critiques, implicit bias, and structural barriers. These issues create feedback loops that instill lower self-confidence and greater workloads for women and ultimately push women out of the workforce.

Implicit bias, in which individuals allow ingrained stereotypes to unconsciously bias our opinions and decisions, is a significant problem. If you are not familiar with implicit bias, here are a series of empirical studies you can read. I’m particularly fond of this one about hurricane names (Jung et al., 2014) and this about lab tech hiring (Moss-Racusin et al., 2012).

More implicit bias studies:

Implicit bias is difficult because we all have it—it’s a societal issue, not a male vs. female issue. You can assess your level of implicit bias using a set of online quizzes at projectimplicit.net.

But if we each individually learn to recognize our bias, we can then take steps to mitigate that in hiring decisions, reference letters, etc. For example, here are tips to avoid bias in reference letters that frequently consult.

Overall, women are in a much stronger position within the geosciences than ever before. We are making strides toward parity, and if men and women work together to remove the barriers to full participation by women (and other gender identities) in geoscience, our field will be even stronger.

Although, I–like all women in science–could spend hours detailing specific events of bias during my career, they have not prevented me from becoming the scientist, I am today.  Rather, some things have molded me to be a more determined advocate for myself, my students, and our community as a whole. So I spent my presentation detailing the data to help others understand both the need for change and how we can all work together to improve our field for all people and to build a science combining a broader breadth of ideas and experiences.   I am very fortunate to belong to a very supportive department and to be able to contribute to mentoring the next generation of geoscientists.

*I have not discussed racial diversity in this post. Similar proportional increases in number of geoscience degrees earned are NOT occurring for minority groups in geoscience. All the structural and implicit barriers discussed impact racial diversity as well as a series of additional constraints. More on this later.

Congratulations to our paleo group!

by Alycia Stigall

We had another great showing by our paleontology group at this year’s Department of Geological Sciences annual awards ceremony.

  • Outstanding graduating senior went to Emma Swaninger (Hembree lab)
  • Jenni Carnes (Hembree lab) was recognized at Outstanding TA
  • Ranjeev Epa (Stigall lab) received the Outstanding Graduate Student award
  • I was recognized for Outstanding Faculty Research and Outstanding Faculty Teaching.

It is really an honor to work these talented folks in our paleo group!