A team of paleontologists explore the fossil-rich Corral Bluffs near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Photo: Rick Wicker (DMNS)
A new research grant will fund an investigation of the ecological and environmental changes that occurred on land after the asteroid impact and mass extinction event at the Cretaceous/Paleogene (K/Pg) boundary. Led by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS), the research will include biogeochemist and paleoclimatologist Julio Sepúlveda (INSTAAR Fellow and GEOL Associate Professor) as well as scientists from five other collaborating institutions. The grant is from the National Science Foundation's Frontier Research in Earth Sciences program.
During the K/Pg mass extinction, which occurred 66 million years ago, roughly 75% of all species on Earth went extinct, notably including all non-avian dinosaurs. This event completely changed the trajectory of the evolutionary tree of life, leading ultimately to the formation of today’s extraordinary mammal diversity. The aftermath of the K/Pg mass extinction represents a natural laboratory in which ecosystem reorganization can be studied in high resolution.
This award will allow my research team (Organic Geochemistry Lab) to trace how temperature, precipitation, and forest fires responded to the catastrophic environmental events caused by the asteroid impact, and how they influenced the evolution of terrestrial ecosystems in the aftermath of this event.
--- Julio Sepúlveda
The collaborative research grant will fund important work in paleontology across the Rocky Mountain region in the western United States. This includes extensive fieldwork to study ancient life, as well as various chemical analyses. The goal is to understand how and when ecosystems recovered after a major extinction event. Not only will this project help researchers understand the evolution of many modern plants and animals but will also provide unique insights into the current biodiversity crisis facing the planet, as ancient extinctions can teach about the extinctions happening today.
This ambitious five-year research project has assembled a large, multidisciplinary team of scientists and is being led by DMNS Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, Tyler Lyson. "We are tremendously honored and excited about the opportunities this grant offers our team. Over the next 5 years, we are looking forward to building some amazing datasets to expand our knowledge of how and when life on land rebounded after Earth’s last mass extinction event 66 million years ago. And we can’t wait to share our amazing fossil discoveries with the world," said Lyson.
At CU Boulder, Julio Sepúlveda and a graduate student will investigate a series of molecular fossils (biomarkers) preserved in ancient soils that can record past changes in climate and environmental conditions. “This award will allow my research team (Organic Geochemistry Lab) to trace how temperature, precipitation, and forest fires responded to the catastrophic environmental events caused by the asteroid impact, and how they influenced the evolution of terrestrial ecosystems in the aftermath of this event,” said Sepúlveda. Along with two ongoing NSF awards, his team is now uniquely positioned to address some long-standing questions about the timing of environmental and biotic responses to extreme and abrupt climate change in both terrestrial and marine realms.
The scientists across the seven institutions have decades of cumulative experience in their various field areas and the skill sets necessary to address these questions. Furthermore, the team will incorporate their findings in classrooms, museum exhibits and outreach at their home institutions to reach audiences of multiple ages and backgrounds. "We are committed to sharing our discoveries with the world and inspiring people to connect with the natural wonders that surround us," said George Sparks, president and CEO of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. "This research project will allow us to engage with a global audience, fostering meaningful connections with science, nature and our planet's history."
Collaborating institutions include Brooklyn College - City University of New York, College of Charleston, Colorado College, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, University of British Columbia, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Oregon, and University of Wyoming. The project will span from September 1, 2023, to August 31, 2028.
- Denver Museum Of Nature & Science receives its largest research grant ever from the National Science Foundation
- The INSTAAR news story you are reading is based on this DMNS press release.
- You’re reading this because an asteroid killed the dinosaurs, allowing mammals to dominate the Earth. But why?
- A Q&A by collaborator Kendra Chritz (Univ of British Columbia) explains how clues may lie in the fossilized teeth of mammals
- Collaborative Research: How did terrestrial ecosystems rebuild following the Cretaceous/Paleogene Mass Extinction?
- The award's page on the National Science Foundation website includes a project abstract.