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Alycia Stigall

Geological Society of America Reflections

It is difficult to describe this year’s GSA meeting in Denver.  Overall, it was a great meeting, full of the usual pride in my students’ accomplishments, joy of reuniting with colleagues including many Stigall Lab alumni, nervousness about my own talks, and thrill of learning about the newest developments in the science of paleontology.  But I will always remember this meeting for the Paleontological Society banquet.


The Stigall lab was busy presenting cutting-edge science on a wide variety of topics. Current MS students Ranjeev Epa and Nilmani Perera gave excellent poster presentations about Oligocene freshwater gastropods from Tanzania and Pennsylvanian marine community ecology of Ohio, respectively.  Recent alumnus Sarah Trubovitz gave a talk about her MS work on Ordovician brachiopod paleoecology, and I spoke about the importance of alternating dispersal and vicariance regimes in biodiversity accumulation.

ranjeev nilmani
We had a great Stig*Allstars (=name my alumni gave themselves) dinner to kick off the meeting.  Getting together with this talented group of former students turned colleagues is always a highlight.  They are doing such amazing work as PhD students and early career scientists. I’m so very proud of them and excited to see where their careers will go.

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This year’s GSA, however, was really special as I was awarded the Charles Schuchert Award for Excellence and Promise in Paleontology from the Paleontological Society.  This was the 45th time the Schuchert Award has been presented.  It was only the 5th time that a woman received the award, and the first time a woman with children was the recipient.  After receiving the award from the Paleontological Society president, Steven Holland, I was honored to be able to give a short acceptance speech to the nearly 400 paleontologists gathered at our annual banquet.  I focused my remarks on the challenges to women and minorities in paleontology alongside the standard series of thank you’s.  This the first time that increasing participation has been addressed specifically in an award speech, and I felt both very compelled and nervous about making these comments.  I am very glad that I did!  Continuing to engage in conversations about women and minority challenges are very important for continued progress in our (or any) discipline.

Stigall Schuchert Speech schuchert

The full text of my speech is below, and it will eventually be published in the Journal of Paleontology.

For the Charles Schuchert Award, 25 September 2016

Thank you, Bruce, for your generous words. I deeply thank the Paleontological Society for recognizing me with this honor. I truly am very grateful and humbled to be selected as the 2016 Schuchert Award recipient. As a brachiopod worker from Cincinnati, the Charles Schuchert award holds special significance to me. I am also deeply honored to now be included among the prestigious set of 44 prior awardees. It is particularly gratifying as I am only the fifth woman to receive this award, and first woman who was a mother at the time of the award.

I am extremely thankful to be a paleontologist today. Paleontology is becoming an ever more inclusive and collaborative science. As I look out from this podium, I see a wonderful diversity of paleontologists –diversity of scientific approaches, diversity of focal taxa, diversity of gender, diversity of ethnicities and nationalities. Our diversity makes our discipline stronger.

However, barriers to full and equitable participation in science for women and minorities remain considerable. Implicit bias, higher expectations, under recognition, harassment, and isolation remain substantial concerns. As a society and as individuals, we are taking positive steps to increase dialog, foster support groups, promote awareness, and tackle our own inherent biases. Like all women who continue in science, I have overcome such challenges in my career, but tonight I stand here excited and optimistic that the future of our discipline will be one of ever increasing inclusion.

I would not be here tonight without the support of my family, colleagues, and friends, and I’d like to take the rest of my time to recognize some of them. First I must thank my parents. As teachers, they have been steadfast in their support of my love for learning, rocks, and fossils. When I was a child, they took me to national parks in 47 states, they accompanied me to rock and mineral shows, gave me a copy of a 1962 Golden Guide to Fossils, and allowed me to disappear into the nearby stream to hunt fossils for hours at a time. Those early experiences surrounded by loving support gave me the confidence to truly pursue my goals and dreams.

As an undergraduate at the Ohio State University, I had the amazing good fortune to learn morphology and systematics (with a Swedish accent) from Stig Bergström who taught me the importance of deeply understanding a clade and of adopting promising new approaches during one’s career. Loren Babcock instilled in me a sense of boundless enthusiasm for prehistoric creatures. And Bill Ausich taught me how to be an excellent scientific citizen, the importance of loving your clade, and above all pursing excellence in science. I am so thankful for the enduring support of Bill and Stig, which has been instrumental in my development as a scientist.

I graduated from OSU with a career goal to resolve early arthropod phylogeny–but quickly reoriented my research interests to studying the complex impacts of biogeography and ecological change on macroevolutionary patterns. In graduate school at the University of Kansas, I worked on phyllocarid crustacean phylogenetics of my master’s thesis, but rapid realized the limitations of working on uncommon fossils for my research agenda. So I shifted my focal taxon to rhynchonelliform brachiopods, and I haven’t look back. (Although I greatly enjoy working with conchostracans from time to time) Brachiopods are truly awesome.

Throughout graduate school, Bruce Lieberman was amazing mentor in every dimension of the word. He taught me how to construct a project, how to succeed in publications, and the importance of perseverance. Even beyond graduate school, Bruce’s promotion of my career has been immeasurable, and I thank him very deeply.

In my twelve years at Ohio University, I have been privileged to work with very supportive colleagues in our Geological Sciences department, an immensely talented set of paleontologists sprinkled across campus, and fantastic collaborators in the Patton College of Education. Working in a department with the master’s as our terminal degree offering, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working very closely with each of my graduate students. My greatest scientific joy has been mentoring and encouraging my students—now numbering 13—as they develop from scientific novices to confident, accomplished scientists conducting research publishable in top journals. I am very proud of them, and certainly wouldn’t be standing here before you tonight without this exceptional group of students turned collaborators, many of whom are here to support me tonight.

Although I did not know many women paleontologist as a student, I have benefitted greatly from knowing and learning from many amazing women as a professional. In particular Margaret Fraiser, Sandy Carlson, Brenda Hunda, Lisa Park Boush, Dena Smith, and Peg Yaccobucci have been co-conspirators and role models in various ways. I thank the women who trailblazed in the cohorts ahead of mine, and I am greatly inspired by the women in the junior cohorts behind me.

I also thank my colleagues outside of this room. My approach to science has been considerably broadened and enriched by collaborations with modern biogeographers and ecologists as well my international colleagues with whom I’ve studied fossils on all seven continents.

Finally, and most importantly, I must thank my husband, Dan Hembree, who has been my partner in this journey since our first day of graduate school at Kansas. He has always believed in me, even when I did not. His friendship, laughter, encouragement, and discussions have made my science and my life so much richer, and I can’t imagine either without out him. Lastly, our children Max and Josie make everything awesome. It has been invigorating to re-explore the wonders of fossils through their young eyes.

Thank you again, to the members and Council of Paleontological Society for this recognition. I will strive to fulfill the promise inherent in this award and serve our community well in the years to come.

IGCP 653 Kickoff meeting recap

IGCP 653 Kickoff meeting recap
IGCP 653 Field trip group photo

Our new IGCP Project 653: Onset of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event formally kicked off with our opening meeting at Durham University in England at the end of September.  It was a really fantastic event, a small meeting with lots of time for lively discussion of topics such as “Just what is the GOBE?” and “When did it start?” and “How do environmental changes, such a decreased sea temperature, actually cause the process of speciation to occur?” and “Is the Dariwilian increase simply a brachiopod pattern or it is more general?”  I am excited to explore these topics and more with my colleagues as the project progresses.

My formal write-up and image gallery are over on the IGCP 653 website here.

Durham meeting in photos | IGCP 653

The opening meeting of IGCP 653: Onset of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event held September 25- October 1st at Durham University. Dubbed “Ordovician by the Lakes” due to the proximity of the conference room to Van Mildert College lake and the field excursion to the English Lake District, participants certainly had plenty of water to contemplate both from the meeting setting and the Ordovician seas.


Eochonetes revision published

The final section of Jennifer Bauer’s MS thesis research, a substantial phylogenetic and morphometric analysis of the Late Ordovician brachiopod genera Eochonetes and Thaerodonta has (finally) been formally published in the Journal of Paleontology.

Bauer, J.E. & Stigall, A.L. 2016. A combined morphometric and phylogenetic revision of the Late Ordovician brachiopod genera Eochonetes and Thaerodonta. Journal of Paleontology, 90 (5): 888-909. Online

Cliff notes version: most of the species previously referred to either genus belong within Eochonetes, Thaerodonta is not a valid genus, and some of the previously referred species don’t belong to this clade at all.  Bonus fun: Jen named some new species including one for her amazing grandmothers and another for a character in her favorite book series.

I’m really very proud of Jen for her really excellent work on this project. I am also very pleased that we could clear up some of the confusing nomenclature around Cincinnati fossils.  The species variably known as Thaerodonta clarksvillensis and Eochonetes clarksvillensis is now definitively Eochonetes clarksvillensis.


*until someone else revises the genus at a later time

New volume on Speciation in the Fossil Record

by Alycia Stigall

Just in time for GSA, an excellent new volume Species in the Fossil Record edited by Warren Allmon and Peg Yacobucci is now available.  There are many excellent conceptual chapters as well as clade-specific overviews. It’s a worthy volume for anyone interested in macroevolution in general and/or systematics in the fossil record.

My contribution synthesizes some of my work over the past decade.

Stigall, A.L. 2016. Invasive species and speciation, p. 340-365. In Allmon, W. and Yaccobucci, M.M., Species in the Fossil Record. Chicago University Press. Publisher link.

New Paleontology Minor at OHIO!

by Alycia Stigall

I am so pleased to announce our new paleontology minor at Ohio University!

New Paleontology Minor Offers Fossil and Earth History Experience – Ohio University | College of Arts & Sciences

Starting this fall semester, a new Paleontology Minor is available to Ohio University undergraduates interested in fossils and ancient life. The Paleontology Minor provides a broad overview of the discipline of paleontology for students interested in developing additional training in fossil identification and interpretation, sedimentary systems, and the history of …

Significance of outreach and broader impacts

by Alycia Stigall
Significance of outreach and broader impacts

Engaging in outreach and public education are very important to me personally. I participate in formal and informal public education in a variety of contexts, and it is honestly somewhat difficult to describe this work concisely.  Working with a variety of groups ranging from kindergarteners and in-service teachers to amateur paleontologists, like the Dry Dredgers, and the public in general is really rewarding.

My experiences comprise only a small subset of the ways that scientists engage and benefit the public from our work.  Most of my colleagues are involved with projects like podcast (like Palaeocast), website (here are some great ones: PaleoMap project, PaleoPortal), or media development (so many YouTube videos like this one: ).  Others organize tremendously impressive efforts, such as the FOSSIL project and National Fossil Day. In general, scientists are approachable people who LOVE to talk about their research and teach others about science in general.  I invite you to get to know a scientist in your region!

Recently, Rachel Salter from the STEPPE office interviewed me about my experiences with outreach, broader impacts, and career issues in general.  Rachel did a wonderful job transcribing our broad ranging conversation into two concise blog pieces, which are available via the STEPPE website:

Part 1: Focuses on my career, research, and how to make education in geosciences more effective and fun! https://steppe.org/interview-with-alycia-stigall-life-education/

Part 2: Focuses on developing strong broader impacts for research projects https://steppe.org/interview-with-alycia-stigall-part-2-broader-impacts/

Species-level diversity curve for Middle Ordovician Laurentian brachiopods published in GEOLOGY

Congratulations to alumnus Sarah Trubovitz on the publication of her MS thesis research in GEOLOGY!   **clicking this link bypasses the paywall, so click here!

Also, this is the first official publication of IGCP 653: Onset of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event. Our project is off to a great start!


Synchronous diversification of Laurentian and Baltic rhynchonelliform brachiopods: Implications for regional versus global triggers of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event

The profound global impact of marine radiations during the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE) is widely appreciated; however, diversification varied among paleocontinents and these individual trajectories are less understood. Here we present a new species-level diversity curve for rhynchonelliform brachiopods from midcontinental Laurentia based on bed-by-bed analysis of the Simpson Group of Oklahoma (USA).

Ordovician meets the Anthropocene @ ESA

Ordovician meets the Anthropocene @ ESA

IMG_5997For my final adventure of the summer, I traveled to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to present an invited talk about lessons learned from invasive species in the fossil record at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting.  I was very honored to be part of an exciting symposium titled: “Ecological novelty in the Anthropocene: Are novel communities novel ecosystems?” convened by Jacquelyn Gill and Alejo Ordonez.

The organizers did a wonderful job of arranging a series of presenters who explored the issue of ecosystem novelty from multiple perspectives including conceptually, experimentally, and policy implications.  My talk (abstract here) provided the deep time context and an exploration of what does novel mean within a non-human context.

As a scientist who studies the deep history of life (~450  million years ago), I am always very cognizant of the different lenses with which we can study and discuss patterns at varying temporal scales.  One of the key concepts that was emphasized, particularly in the panel discussion at the end of the session, was that novelty is continuously being produced.  Earth does not now, and never has, existed in a steady state for extended temporal intervals.  So it is extremely important to consider consequences and definitions when attempting to generate a conservation plan.  What is it that you are attempting to conserve?  Is it a species?  Is it ecosystem services? It is energy flow and functioning?  These are incredibly important questions that must be answered by policy makers.  They are also the types of issues that the fossil record can help to provide insight into as well.
In addition to the formal session, I had the opportunity to spend time with some of the other speakers over meals and down time.  I made some new colleagues with potential new collaborations, and learned quite a bit about various areas of ecology that will help me to consider my paleontological questions with new eyes and insights.  This was my first time to an ESA meeting, and I hope it will not be my last.IMG_6011

Side notes: Poolside hammocks and bar at the ESA hotel were a nice touch! And the place was crawling with Magicarp and Psyduck (which I dutifully captured for my kids, right for my kids).


Teaching (and learning from!) teachers

by Alycia Stigall
Teaching (and learning from!) teachers

LogoThe first two weeks of August, I was privileged to help colleagues from the OHIO Patton College of Education lead a workshop to provide training for teachers of science in grades 4-8 in southeastern Ohio. As all good programs do, we had an unwieldy title: Scaffolding Inquiry and Problem Solving through Literacy and Assessment, which we shortened to SIPLAS.

I collaborated on a similar grant in 2013, and it is such a rewarding experience to work with these dedicated and talented educators. The teachers are really inspiring educators, and I learn so much from working with them that allows me to improve my own practice.  The SIPLAS program was designed to introduce participants to pedagogical methods in engineering design, literacy, and assessment while providing updated training in scientific content.IMG_5923

My role was to provide training in a series of geology topics. In my two days of leadership we covered: Fossils of Ohio (in the lab and in the field!), building dichotomous keys, earthquakes and plate tectonics, and development and extraction of ore deposits. The hallmark of the lessons is that they must employ authentic data. So we studied Ordovician fossils from near Cincinnati, Pennsylvanian fossils on nearby hills, the IRIS earthquake server, and USGS browsers of ore deposits.

My education faculty colleagues, particularly Danielle Dani and Sara Helfrich, worked hard to make sure my science ideas translated into standards aligned lessons with practical utility. For example, we practiced writing strategies (in which most participants wrote essays about why brachiopods preserve better than bivalves!  Awesome!) The integration of authentic and place-based data really makes these lessons work. Some of our participants planned to start of the year with the new lesson plans and others had excellent ideas for how to incorporate the new pedagogical strategies to improve their students learning. Clearly a successful week!

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Paleozoic geology of the Welsh Basin: IGCP 591 Conference Field Trip

Paleozoic geology of the Welsh Basin: IGCP 591 Conference Field Trip
Silurian outcrops

Thanks to a successful grant proposal to the College of Arts and Sciences Professional Development Fund (note: it’s always good to write proposals internal funding opportunities!), I was able to join the post-conference field trip to examine the Paleozoic evolution of the Welsh basin.  The outcrops in Wales are famous for both their interesting geology and historical significance.  The Cambrian, Ordovician, and Silurian systems were each named for Wales: Cambria was the Roman name for Wales, and the Ordovices and Silures were Welsh tribes.

During the trip, our fantastic field trip leader, Mark Williams (University of Leicester), developed the story of the Welsh basin from inception as part of the microcontinent Avalonia to the collision of Avalonia and Baltica at the end of the Ordovician and then the final collision with Laurentia during the Acadian Orogeny (learn about Welsh Geology here).

Our itinerary took us to southern Wales to sites around St. Davids, Marloes Peninsula, and Freshwater West as well as to a few locations in central Wales near New Quay.  We examined mostly Cambrian through Devonian strata, with some bonus late Pre-Cambrian volcanics.  We visited sites mapped by Murchinson, localities that contributed to the development of the classic Benthic brachiopod assemblages, well-studied exposures of the Old Red Sandstone, and newly recorded debris flows related to Ordovician glacial lowstands.  Along the way, we were presented with a broad array of depositional environments, tectonic influences, and fossils (mostly trace fossils).

Overall it was a tremendous learning experience.  I was impressed by the diversity of geology that could be observed in a small area—it’s definitely not the simple flat-lying rocks of the North American midcontinent!  Visiting classic locations located in dramatic (or romantic as our leader liked to say) coastal scenery was thrilling.  The discussions with my international colleagues (representing eight countries) in the field, in the car, and at meals were stimulating and very productive.  I was able to meet and get to know quite a few new (to me) geologists with similar interests.  Observing the same rocks and comparing interpretations is a rapid way to develop new friendships and potential collaborations.  I am extremely glad that I was able to participate in this trip.  There were not very many brachiopods, but the rest of the experience made that minor hardship very insignificant.


A brief travelogue with photos and comments:

Day 1: We drove from Ghent, Belgium to Piselli Hills, Wales.  This was a LONG travel day (7:00am to 6:30pm in a minibus).  But we took the ferry across the English Channel saw the fantastic White Cliffs of Dover (and also the correlative White Nose near Calais).  Yay Cretaceous chalk!  The geology was pretty boring after that (just very minor rolling hills with no outcrops) until we reached Wales.  Wales is extremely complex geologically, so topography and outcrops became much more intriguing.  We also experienced the expected misty rain of Wales upon arrival.

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Day 2: We spent the morning on Pwell Deri Bay near Dinas Mawr examining Ordovician bimodal volcanics and graptolitic shales (although no one has seen a graptolite here in decades!) with some very cool pillow basalts at the base of the sequence. We were kept company by fantastic scenery, many shore birds, and a curious seal. Over lunch break, we explored St. Davids Cathedral, the location of the longest continuous Christian worship in Britian.  The Norman cathedral was strategically located in a valley so the Vikings wouldn’t notice it and destroy it as they did the two prior cathedrals.  Interesting intersection of geology and anthropology.  We spent the afternoon at Porth Maen Melyn examining the shallow marine succession of Cambrian strata.  On our way back to the hotel, we visited a Neolithic Burial Chamber dating to around the same time (and made of the same rocks) as Stonehenge.  In fact, the rocks of Stonehenge were quarried from the Ordovician intrusive suite near our hotel, and then transported a long way over water to the Salisbury plains.

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Day 3: Today focused on the Silurian of the Marloes Peninsula.  The section is again shallow water through continental deposits that indicate the docking of Avalonia with Laurentia and associated basin inversion.  This is a fun area for historical reasons, as Murchinson also mapped this coast.  Although one formation was named “Coraliferous”, I was underwhelmed by the fossils.  Sadly, these poor rocks have been faulted and subjected to low grade metamorphism, so while there are nice layers of brachiopods, they are very difficult to access.  I felt very lucky to normally work on rocks like we have in Ohio.   The continental deposits, “Old Red Sandstone”–now the Red Cliff Formation, however, were spectacular!

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Day 4: We continued exploring the continental deposits of the Welsh basin margin at Freshwater West.  As all of our exposures are coastal and the tidal range is immense!, we couldn’t begin geology until after lunch.  So we made a historical excursion to Pembroke Castle in the morning.  The castle was impressive and geologically situated (aren’t they all) on a limestone cliff, atop a cave, in fact.  Our tour guide enthusiastically shared stories of the castle’s history and substantial importance (although perhaps overstated) in Engligh and world! history.   Fun fact: because the 800 years old castle is made of limestone, little stalactites grow from the ceiling.  After lunch, we headed back to the beach to explore more of the Old Red Sandstone and the Silurian to Devonian contact.  Again, the paleosols and continental trace fossils (both root structures and burrows) were spectacular!  The beach was also incredibly pleasant to walk along.  It was interesting for me to compare the intertidal communities of Britian vs. those I know better from the Bahamas.

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Day 5: We left the basin edge and went deep into the basin center (near New Quay) to investigate Ordovician to Silurian deep water deposits.  We were impressed by the thickness of basinal deposits (several kilometers) vs. the relative thin marginal succession of the past few days (a few 100 meters).  The basinal deposits included turbidites and debris flows in varying amounts.  In some places, dramatic channel cuts were obvious, but at other sites quiet water trace fossils (like Nereites) were dominant.  Certainly an interesting environment!

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Day 6: We began our LONG drive back to Ghent.  Most of the field party departed from Heathrow, but I traveled back to Belgium with the field trip leaders and van drivers.  We left our hotel and 8am, and we arrived in Ghent at 10:30.  It was a long day.  But the Ghent Festival was happening, so Thijs Vandenbrouke (who organized the conference and field trip), Mark Williams, and I headed back to the medieval town center for one last dinner and beers.  A great end to great trip.

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Link to full Belgium/Wales Album