About This ProjectEarth is currently experiencing a mass extinction directly caused by human activities. Furthermore, climate change continues to be denied by U.S. government leaders as well as by gas and oil companies which have collectively spent more than $500 million lobbying against climate change legislation. The goal of my research is to use the fossil record to very cheaply study the effects of mass extinctions on the diversity of our fishy ancestors.
Ask the ScientistsJoin The Discussion
What is the context of this research?
Paleontology is a field that has been quickly advancing since the advents of high-speed computing and sophisticated mathematical modeling of evolutionary processes.
Researchers in paleontology have significantly helped the scientific community understand in detail topics (including this research) such as the following:
1) the anatomical origins of modern-day structures such as the vertebral column, scales, teeth, limbs, beaks, feathers, and wings and their ecological significance.
2) the use of computer programming in modeling change in animal diversity over large time scales (our fish ancestry goes back 419 million years.
3) predicting the non-random patterns of animal diversity and evolution which are dictated by the environment.
What is the significance of this project?
The overall goal of my research is to know the history of our human ancestry. However, as mentioned above, Earth is currently undergoing much environmental change, including a mass extinction (1). The clear scientific evidence however, is still being denied by politicians and gas and oil companies which clearly have private agendas (2).
In light of political and some public denial of the clear scientific consensus of global climate change which will affect sea levels, human populations and wild populations, the goal of my research is to use anatomical/ecological data from the well-known fossil record of our limbed fish ancestors to study how we can expect the human-driven sixth mass extinction and climate change to affect animal diversity.
1) Washington Post Article
2) New York Times Article
What are the goals of the project?
- I will create a database with anatomical, geographical, and geological data on >500 species (fossils) of our limbed fish ancestors critical for future study.
- I will create an evolutionary tree of our early ancestors which is needed to analyze paleontological data.
- I will use robust mathematical models to understand the effects of mass extinctions on animal diversity (number of species and diversity of animal shapes) as well as other questions of interest to public and private groups/institutions.
- I will publish this peer-reviewed research on Open Access journals for public view as well as share this research with experts in the field.
Modeling the effects of changing environments and mass extinctions on animal diversity requires images of actual fossils. Much like in criminal cases, paleontologists use (anatomical) evidence to make hypotheses, test those hypotheses and decide what scenario is most likely -- similar to the concept of "innocent until proven guilty".
Like in most studies, having more data versus less data is always best. Not being able to include data from museum collections due to lack of funding would only result in a less powerful analysis by decreasing the sample size of my study.
I plan to use the funding to pay for room and board, as well as travel to the Smithsonian Institution's Vertebrate Paleontology Collections to image specimens. The time period which maximizes cost as well as data collected is about 1 week.
Meet the Team
Team BioHello! My name is Bryan H. Juarez. I was born a first-generation american citizen to Mexican parents in southern California. This project has special meaning to me because it shows, to family, friends, the public, and myself, that first generation students can succeed in pursuing non-traditional careers such as being a professional scientist.
Ecology, evolutionary biology, and paleontology all interest me because like other things, one would not exist without the others. Scientists must use cross-disciplinary evidence and compile all available data from different fields in order to "solve" natural "crime scenes". Using data gathered from the natural world in order to understand natural processes that have occurred or that will occur is the closest anyone in the tangible future will get to time travel, and that is what fascinates me about my field.
Outside of my field I enjoy playing video games, water sports, and especially reminiscing about the wonders of living in sunny, breezy CA.
Press and MediaMy research has been shared on social media by the University of Michigan Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB Facebook) Department, the University of Michigan College of Literate, Science, and the Arts (LSA Facebook, LSA Twitter), and the Primitive Fishes (Twitter) page, among other individuals.
My research is financially (but only in part) supported by the University of Michigan EEB Dept. and the University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School.
Additional InformationBelow are some scientific reconstructions (illustrations) of our beautiful amphibious/aquatic ancestors (distant cousins) as well as some pictures of a few "living fossils" which I propose to study.
Figure 1. Tiktaalik was one of the first animals to walk on land. It is known to have walked on land judging from its robust skeletal structures such as the pectoral and pelvic girdles as well as the fins. (https://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/f2013/raabe_mic2/r...)
Figure 2. A living lungfish. Lungfish are the closest fish relatives of humans. Lungfish are known to walk on land and breathe air. (http://primitivefishes.com/lungfishes/)
Figure 3. A living coelacanth. Coelacanths are very closely related to lungfish and humans. Coelacanths have extremely flexible fins. Both coelacanth and lungfish fins resemble actual hands more closely than any other type of fish. Original Nat Geo Source
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