Well, to be honest, the blog fell behind schedule. My apologies for those of you who were on the edge of your seats waiting for my next post. From now on, I will post intermittently as topics arise and share those posts on social media.
Moving on, many things have happened in the past 10 months or so. I have retooled my dissertation questions, presented as a couple of conferences, published a paper, and am currently on the road for my fieldwork somewhere in the Great Plains!
My dissertation has been refocused to test two possible mechanisms controlling body size change in bison over a large and small time and space scales. These two identified mechanisms are heat stress and nutrition, more on this later. I have presented some of my first chapter dissertation findings at the American Society of Mammalogists and the International Bison Conference; both conferences were an absolute blast and I met many new people that are interested in bison at some level. It always make me happy to meet new people that will likely become long term friends. Immediately following the International Bison Conference, I took a long-weekend mini-vacation with Rachel to celebrate her birthday in Yellowstone. It was her first time in Yellowstone and my fourth, but it never ceases to amaze.
Back in March, I published a peer-reviewed version of my Master's thesis with Dr. Jim I Mead and Rachel Short-Martin, which was published by The Southwestern Naturalist (the paper can be accessed here: www.researchgate.net/publication/316177669_Late_Pleistocene_and_Holocene_Bison_of_the_Colorado_Plateau). We specifically targeted this journal because the readership includes resource managers and scientists in the Southwestern United States. This seemed fitting because the paper is focused on the natural history of bison on the Colorado Plateau (a.k.a. the four corners region). I am working on two other manuscripts to be submitted for review and hopefully published soon; again, more on this later.
As I write this, I am in South Dakota, nearly half-way completed with my summer transect of 19 bison herd heat stress analyses from Saskatchewan through Texas. I have been collecting data for about a month now and will be returning home in about a month. The whole trip is 7 weeks long and was initially estimated to total 7500 miles, but those miles were vastly underestimated. I have already driven 7000 miles with an additional 3300 miles estimated to go. However, I am on schedule, even though I've been hailed on twice (one of those times not in a car for protection) and rained out once. This trip will be repeated in the dead of winter (I can faintly hear in distance, winter is coming...).
I was in Hot Springs at The Mammoth Site during one of the rare events of a skull removal from the bonebed. This process was very smooth and lasted less than 10 minutes. It was great to be a part of the team of which I assisted in the extraction and you can find a few videos linked below:
The Mammoth Site Facebook page (video):
CNN online (video): www.cnn.com/videos/us/2017/07/19/mammoth-skull-excavation-south-dakota-ekr-orig-vstan.cnn
Rapid City journal (article): rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/giant-skull-removed-at-mammoth-site/article_ce970154-2cd6-5238-98fd-ca2d7f5bfae5.html
KEVN - Black Hills Fox (video): www.blackhillsfox.com/content/news/Mammoth-skull-removed-from-Bonebed-at-Mammoth-Site--435262303.html
That's all I have for now, from somewhere out there on the Great Plains, dancing with bison.
Guest Post: Rachel A. Martin - Rhinos
I figured since I typically cover topics related to conservation paleobiology and today is World Rhino Day; I asked my colleague, editor, and wife, Rachel, to write a post on what she focuses on with rhino research. -Jeff.
I began working with rhinos during the summer of 2009. I had just completed my bachelor’s degree in biology at Illinois Wesleyan University and started an internship at Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historic Park in Royal, NE. Ashfall has many fossil animals buried in ash that was deposited when the Yellowstone hotspot erupted approximately 12 million years ago. A small, barrel-bodied rhino called Teleoceras is the most common fossil found at Ashfall.
I continued my work with rhinos at East Tennessee State University and the Gray Fossil Site in Gray, TN. The fossils at Gray were buried in clay that was deposited as a lake filled approximately 5-7 million years ago. Gray Fossil Site has at least five individuals of a different species of Teleoceras.
These are just two of many sites in North America that have rhino fossils preserved. Rhinos lived in North America for over 40 million years before going extinct approximately 5 million years ago. This is a poorly understood extinction event and was probably related to changes in climate and environment. Today’s five living species of rhinos are only distantly related to the rhinos that once lived in North America. The white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) and the black rhino (Diceros bicornis) are found in Africa. The Indian rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus), and Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) are found in Asia.
According to the IUCN Red List, the white rhino is near threatened, the Indian rhino is vulnerable, and the remaining three species (black, Javan, and Sumatran) are all critically endangered. A number of subspecies have been declared extinct recently, including the Vietnamese population of Javan rhinos in 2011. The northern white rhino is limited to one confirmed population of three individuals who were reintroduced in 2006.
The largest threats to rhinos come from humans in the form of poaching and habitat loss. Poaching continues to be a problem for rhino populations because of the illegal wildlife trade and demand for rhino horn. Habitat loss and fragmentation is often a result of human development and increases in grazing lands. Because these activities decrease the number of rhinos, many populations suffer from reduced genetic diversity. Other threats to rhino populations include natural disasters, diseases, and invasive plants.
Today, most rhinos live in zoos, parks, and reserves. Conservation efforts are seeing some successes, but are challenged to keep up with the losses. Breeding programs have allowed for the management of genetic diversity and reintroduction of individuals. World Rhino Day (http://www.worldrhinoday.org/) was started in South Africa to celebrate the five species of rhinos and to raise awareness about rhino conservation.
Additional information can be obtained from these organizations:
World Wildlife Fund (https://worldwildlife.org/species/rhino),
Tusk Foundation (http://www.tuskusa.com/endowment-fund.asp),
Save the Rhino (http://www.savetherhino.org/), and
International Rhino Foundation (http://www.rhinos.org/).
Rachel A. Martin
Jeff M. Martin