I spent Saturday at Roanoke College, attending the RC Conference on Student Research and Creativity. Roanoke has put together an impressive formal conference for students to demonstrate their academic achievements. The conference lasted all day and had multiple concurrent sessions, which included 29 platform talks and 35 posters on a diverse range of topics; presenters were not limited to the sciences (pdf of the abstracts available here).
I’ve been working with three different RC students on projects that were presented at the meeting. Laura Kellam presented a talk co-authored by Vince Schneider and me on the Lake Waccamaw Balaenula skull (above), making the case for why the skull is referable to Balaenula, and that it’s recovery from the Bear Bluff Formation makes this the youngest North American specimen from this genus by over 1.5 million years.
Brandi Neifert also presented a paleontology paper (with DB Poli and me) on tooth breakage patterns among carcharhiniform sharks from Carmel Church. The Carmel Church deposit includes large numbers of non-reworked specimens of the genera Hemipristis, Carcharhinus, Galeocerdo, and Physogaleus, yet all the sharks have roughly similar tooth sizes and morphology. To see if there might be niche partitioning due to different dietary preferences, Brandi is examining large numbers of teeth from these genera to see if they have different styles and rates of tooth breakage like that seen in the two Carcharhinus specimens below. Preliminary results indicate that there are indeed differences between genera, with Hemipristis much less likely to exhibit breakage than Carcharhinus.
The third talk in which I was involved was not even a paleontology talk. Stephanie Vogel (again with DB Poli and me) presented on the reactions of of the club moss Lycopodium
(below) to burning. While working on the Carboniferous plant deposits at Beckley, which includes large numbers of giant lycopods, DB pointed out to me that modern Lycopodium spores are highly flammable. We wondered about the implications of this for lycopod evolution, and decided we needed to understand better exactly what happens to lycopods when they burn. To that end, Stephanie has been burning Lycopodium strobili at different points in their life cycle and recording the plants’ reactions.
It turns out that it’s really hard to get Lycopodium to burn. The plant is extremely fire resistant until it has released all its spores, and seems to have specific adaptations to prevent the release of spores during a fire. It also turns out that lightly burned spores actually germinate faster than spores that haven’t been burned, suggesting that while Lycopodium might have a lot of adaptations to suppress fires, it’s also prepared to take advantage of them when they occur.
This was a fun conference, and I was impressed with the quality of the student presentations and posters. Roanoke College deserves a lot of credit for organizing this event, as it provides students with an excellent introduction to the nature of professional conferences.