News Article | May 11, 2017
This week’s news that Australian customs officers incinerated irreplaceable plant specimens has shocked botanists around the world, and left many concerned about possible impacts on international research exchanges. Some have put a freeze on sending samples to Australia until they are assured that their packages won’t meet a similar fate, and others are discussing broader ways of assuring safe passage of priceless specimens. "This story is likely to have a major chilling effect on the loan system between herbaria across national boundaries," says Austin Mast, president of the Society of Herbarium Curators and director of the herbarium at Florida State University in Tallahassee. "Without the free sharing of specimens, the pace of plant diversity research slows." As a result of the customs debacle, curators in New Zealand put a stay on shipping samples to Australia. So has the New York Botanical Garden in New York City, which holds the second largest collection of preserved plants in the world. "We, and many other herbaria, will not send specimens to Australia until we are sure this situation will not be repeated," says herbarium Director Barbara Thiers. Herbaria are guardians of plant biodiversity data. Around the world, about 3000 institutions keep a total of 350 million plants specimens that have been pressed, dried, and stored in cabinets. Some are hundreds of years old; others are rare examples of extinct species. Particularly valuable are so-called type specimens, used to describe species for the first time. Botanists consult these when they are identifying new species or revising taxonomy. Many herbaria have digitized images of their specimens, allowing initial research to be conducted remotely. But some details must be examined first-hand. To do that, biologists often request specimens through a kind of interlibrary loan. "The system works well when the risk of damage or destruction of loaned specimens is perceived to be very low," Mast says. But sometimes things go awry. Earlier this week, many botanists learned about the destruction of six type specimens of daisies—some collected during a French expedition to Australia from 1791 to 1793—which the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Paris had mailed along with 99 other specimens to the Queensland Herbarium in Brisbane, Australia. After the package arrived in Brisbane in early January, the specimens were held up at customs because the paperwork was incomplete. Biosecurity officers asked the Queensland Herbarium for a list of the specimens and how they were preserved, but the herbarium sent its responses to the wrong email address, delaying the response by many weeks. In March, the officers requested clarification, but then incinerated the samples. "It's like taking a painting from the Louvre and burning it," says James Solomon, herbarium curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. According to Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, which enforces biosecurity rules, part of the problem was that the samples had a declared value of $2—and its agents routinely destroy low-value items that have been kept longer than 30 days. Michel Guiraud, director of collections at NMNH, says his museum's policy is to put minimal values on shipments. "If it is irreplaceable, there is no way to put an insurance value on it," he says. Guiraud says the package was sent with the usual documentation and he's trying to find out what went wrong. Concerned about the possibility of other scientific samples being destroyed, the museum is considering stopping loans from all of its collections to Australia. Australia’s agriculture department admitted in a statement that it erred in prematurely destroying the specimens, but didn't take sole responsibility for the snafu. "This is a deeply regrettable occurrence, but it does highlight the importance of the shared responsibility of Australia’s biosecurity system, and the need for adherence to import conditions." The department has reviewed its procedures for handling delayed items and is considering how package labels could highlight the “intrinsic value” of scientific specimens. On Monday, officials met with representatives from a consortium of Australasian herbaria to help them understand and comply with importation rules. "At this stage it appears we are resolving the matter very positively," says botanist Michelle Waycott of the University of Adelaide in Australia and the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria. A second incident came to light after botanists at the Allan Herbarium in Lincoln, New Zealand, heard last month about the destruction of the French specimens. They inquired about six lichen samples, including a type specimen of Buellia macularis, that they had shipped to the Australian National Herbarium in Canberra last year. It turned out the specimens had been destroyed in October 2016 by biosecurity officers in Sydney, Australia. The department is investigating what happened in this case. New Zealand herbaria have suspended loans to Australia while they wait for written guarantees that their specimens will be safe. “We are disappointed we have lost an important part of our collection but we’re looking forward to further international collaboration,” said Ilse Breitwieser, director of the Allan Herbarium, in a statement this week. Curators elsewhere are reviewing how they ship samples internationally. "We will rethink our policy of lending specimens to countries that would pose a risk for loss of collections," says Christine Niezgoda, collections manager of flowering plants at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, who, like others, was surprised to learn that specimens would be destroyed rather than returned. The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, which is following the situation in Australia, hopes to increase communication among curators about shipping regulations and border inspection procedures. A long-standing frustration for many is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), like its counterpart in Australia, does not have a separate category for low-risk scientific specimens. "The way that the U.S. and Australian governments are treating these shipments is basically going to bring taxonomic work to a halt," says Ellen Dean, curator of the Center for Plant Diversity at the University of California, Davis. "We are thinking of no longer loaning our specimens to other countries, because we are uncertain that APHIS will allow our own specimens back into this country." Whatever the destination, veterans emphasize that every detail matters, even the most obvious. "Nothing derails a shipment faster than a wrong address," says Thiers, who maintains a public database of herbaria addresses and contact information. "Sometimes they don't get returned for years, and unless you take extraordinary measures, you won't get them back." (With the volume of specimens that get mailed from the New York Botanic Garden—up to 30,000 a year—Thiers can't afford tracked shipments and uses cheaper library rate shipping.) Even the most diligent curators confess to late-night worries. "Any time you let something go out the door, there's a risk," says Solomon, who is continuing to send specimens to Australia. "The benefit from making the material available far outweighs the risk." Says Niezgoda: "Collections are meant to be used to promote scientific inquiry and this should not change."
Ronsted N.,Botanic Garden
Current topics in medicinal chemistry | Year: 2014
The subject of chemosystematics has provided insight to both botanical classification and drug development. However, degrees of subjectivity in botanical classifications and limited understanding of the evolution of chemical characters and their biosynthetic pathways has often hampered such studies. In this review an approach of taking phylogenetic classification into account in evaluating colchicine and related phenethylisoquinoline alkaloids from the family Colchicaceae will be applied. Following on the trends of utilizing evolutionary reasoning in inferring mechanisms in eg. drug resistance in cancer and infections, this will exemplify how thinking about evolution can influence selection of plant material in drug lead discovery, and how knowledge about phylogenetic relationships may be used to evaluate predicted biosynthetic pathways.
News Article | December 21, 2016
The two most common large molecules - or 'polymers' - found on Earth are cellulose and xylan, both of which are found in the cell walls of materials such as wood and straw. They play a key role in determining the strength of materials and how easily they can be digested. For some time, scientists have known that these two polymers must somehow stick together to allow the formation of strong plant walls, but how this occurs has, until now, remained a mystery: xylan is a long, winding polymer with so-called 'decorations' of other sugars and molecules attached, so how could this adhere to the thick, rod-like cellulose molecules? "We knew the answer must be elegant and simple," explains Professor Paul Dupree from the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, who led the research. "And in fact, it was. What we found was that cellulose induces xylan to untwist itself and straighten out, allowing it to attach itself to the cellulose molecule. It then acts as a kind of 'glue' that can protect cellulose or bind the molecules together, making very strong structures." The finding was made possible due to an unexpected discovery several years ago in Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard. Professor Dupree and colleagues showed that the decorations on xylan can only occur on alternate sugar molecules within the polymer - in effect meaning that the decorations only appear on one side of xylan. This led the team of researchers to survey other plants in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden and discover that the phenomenon appears to occur in all plants, meaning it must have evolved in ancient times, and must be important. To explore this in more detail, they turned to an imaging technique known as solid state nuclear magnetic resonance (ssNMR), which is based on the same physics as hospital MRI scanners, but can reveal structure at the nanoscale. However, while ssNMR can image carbon, it requires a particular heavy isotope of carbon, carbon-13. This meant that the team had to grow their plants in an atmosphere enriched with a special form of carbon dioxide - carbon-13 dioxide. Professor Ray Dupree - Paul Dupree's father, and a co-author on the paper - supervised the work at the University of Warwick's ssNMR laboratory. "By studying these molecules, which are over 10,000 times narrower than the width of a human hair, we could see for the first time how cellulose and xylan slot together and why this makes for such strong cell walls." Understanding how cellulose and xylan fit together could have a dramatic effect on industries as diverse as biofuels, paper production and agriculture, according to Paul Dupree. "One of the biggest barriers to 'digesting' plants - whether that's for use as biofuels or as animal feed, for example - has been breaking down the tough cellular walls," he says. "Take paper production - enormous amounts of energy are required for this process. A better understanding of the relationship between cellulose and xylan could help us vastly reduce the amount of energy required for such processes." But just as this could improve how easily materials can be broken down, the discovery may also help them create stronger materials, he says. There are already plans to build houses in the UK more sustainably using wood, and Paul Dupree is involved in the Centre for Natural Material Innovation at the University of Cambridge, which is looking at whether buildings as tall as skyscrapers could be built using modified wood. Explore further: Plant cell structure discovery could lead to improved renewable materials More information: Simmons, TJ et al. Folding of xylan onto cellulose fibrils in plant cell walls revealed by solid-state NMR. Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms13902
News Article | December 21, 2016
Molecules 10,000 times narrower than the width of a human hair could hold the key to making possible wooden skyscrapers and more energy-efficient paper production, according to research published today in the journal Nature Communications. The study, led by a father and son team at the Universities of Warwick and Cambridge, solves a long-standing mystery of how key sugars in cells bind to form strong, indigestible materials. The two most common large molecules - or 'polymers' - found on Earth are cellulose and xylan, both of which are found in the cell walls of materials such as wood and straw. They play a key role in determining the strength of materials and how easily they can be digested. For some time, scientists have known that these two polymers must somehow stick together to allow the formation of strong plant walls, but how this occurs has, until now, remained a mystery: xylan is a long, winding polymer with so-called 'decorations' of other sugars and molecules attached, so how could this adhere to the thick, rod-like cellulose molecules? "We knew the answer must be elegant and simple," explains Professor Paul Dupree from the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, who led the research. "And in fact, it was. What we found was that cellulose induces xylan to untwist itself and straighten out, allowing it to attach itself to the cellulose molecule. It then acts as a kind of 'glue' that can protect cellulose or bind the molecules together, making very strong structures." The finding was made possible due to an unexpected discovery several years ago in Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard. Professor Dupree and colleagues showed that the decorations on xylan can only occur on alternate sugar molecules within the polymer - in effect meaning that the decorations only appear on one side of xylan. This led the team of researchers to survey other plants in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden and discover that the phenomenon appears to occur in all plants, meaning it must have evolved in ancient times, and must be important. To explore this in more detail, they turned to an imaging technique known as solid state nuclear magnetic resonance (ssNMR), which is based on the same physics as hospital MRI scanners, but can reveal structure at the nanoscale. However, while ssNMR can image carbon, it requires a particular heavy isotope of carbon, carbon-13. This meant that the team had to grow their plants in an atmosphere enriched with a special form of carbon dioxide - carbon-13 dioxide. Professor Ray Dupree - Paul Dupree's father, and a co-author on the paper - supervised the work at the University of Warwick's ssNMR laboratory. "By studying these molecules, which are over 10,000 times narrower than the width of a human hair, we could see for the first time how cellulose and xylan slot together and why this makes for such strong cell walls." Understanding how cellulose and xylan fit together could have a dramatic effect on industries as diverse as biofuels, paper production and agriculture, according to Paul Dupree. "One of the biggest barriers to 'digesting' plants - whether that's for use as biofuels or as animal feed, for example - has been breaking down the tough cellular walls," he says. "Take paper production - enormous amounts of energy are required for this process. A better understanding of the relationship between cellulose and xylan could help us vastly reduce the amount of energy required for such processes." But just as this could improve how easily materials can be broken down, the discovery may also help them create stronger materials, he says. There are already plans to build houses in the UK more sustainably using wood, and Paul Dupree is involved in the Centre for Natural Material Innovation at the University of Cambridge, which is looking at whether buildings as tall as skyscrapers could be built using modified wood. The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). Simmons, TJ et al. Folding of xylan onto cellulose fibrils in plant cell walls revealed by solid-state NMR. Nature Communications; Date; DOI: 10.1038/ncomms13902
News Article | February 22, 2017
In New York, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is using the cloud to handle too much rain. When Superstorm Sandy dumped more than 7 inches of rain across the east coast in 2012, New York got hit hard. The city sustained up to $19 billion in damages and saw 5 billion gallons of sewage overflow. Those volumes worried the staff of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which had been planning a Water Garden with a pool that doubles as storage for rainwater but feared another overflow. As a result, the mixture of excrement, rainwater and sewage streaming into New York's waterway played a part in the city's first "smart garden." The garden relies on an automated system called OptiNimbus that uses an algorithm to track rainfall and adjusts its water levels accordingly. "We're discharging in advance of rain so we're not putting water through the sewer system," said Scott Simpson, the project manager for Opti, the Boston-based company that created OptiNimbus. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is just the latest public venue to embrace tech to run more efficiently or offer more services. From the California Academy of Science's Living Roof, which helps control the museum with weather stations, to the 49ers' high tech stadium and even whole cities like Amsterdam, many are embracing the idea of connecting their infrastructure to the internet or letting more bits of code handle their operations. In order to smarten up its system, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden worked with Opti and the designers at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates to dry their water worries. "The garden-wide Water Conservation Project -- taking place underground -- is every bit as remarkable, with a water management system that will be a model for other institutions and civic organizations," Scot Medbury, the garden's president, said in a statement. Opti created the OptiNimbus program in 2007 to handle water flow in a salt marsh using a web server on the valve's controls. Since then, it's expanded to connecting water systems to the cloud from Washington, DC to Oregon. For the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, OptiNimbus grabs data from the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's forecasts and pairs it with an algorithm to automatically determine if it should drain the pond based on how much rain it expects to come. It recalculates the weather forecast once a minute. With the valve connected online and managed through a web dashboard, staffers at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden can control it from devices anywhere. That means if it's expected to rain three inches on any given day, the valves underneath the Water Garden could automatically release the same amount of water from its pond, keeping the water levels steady after the downpour. By doing this, the Water Garden doesn't overflow from the rainfall, preventing excess water from splashing toward the storm drain and combining with the sewage. OptiNimbus also talks with a water level sensor under the pond through a cellular connection for real-time data. The pond can rise up to three feet before the system decides water should be released prior to rainfall. The algorithm has already made the right call in cases where people would have trouble deciding. When New York expected flooding and heavy rain on January 23, conventional wisdom might have been to drain the pond in anticipation of the heavy influx of water expected. The day before the storm, the pond's water levels had been pretty low, and OptiNimbus opted not to drain. It was the right decision. "Sometimes we would watch a storm come in and we'd say, 'I think we should release water.' But the algorithm would say 'no, don't do it,'" said David Roman, a water resources engineer at Geosyntec, a consulting firm that worked on the garden. "It was really cool how often it was right." No water has been discharged from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Water Garden since the system went live. After enough situations, the algorithm is expected to learn enough to run entirely on its own. OptiNimbus reviews its systems every few days and analyzes its decisions, Simpson said. The first phase of the project was unveiled when the Brooklyn Botanic Garden opened the Water Garden to the public last September. It's expected to be completed by 2018, when the pond's water can be recirculated and used in its Japanese Garden pond. Completing the next phase would mean the garden could stop relying on 22 million gallons a year for the Japanese pond, dropping down to only 900,000 gallons annually. But it wouldn't be a garden without some floral life. Unlike Opti's other projects, which are basic storage systems or rainwater-harvesting tools, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden disguised its stormwater management as a lake surrounded with nature that adapts with the adjusting water levels. They're described as riparian, or "wet-feet" plants, including rhubarbs, perennials and the cardinal flower. These plants, which are used to being at the water's edge, thrive in changing water levels. "The goal of the garden is not to be a piece of infrastructure," Roman said. "It allowed us to create something that was unique and meet the engineering goals and without hitting people over the head with it." Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech's role in providing new kinds of accessibility.
News Article | September 16, 2016
Researchers took a 3D model of a small herbivorous dinosaur to the University of Bristol Botanic Garden to determine its likely habit based on its countershading camouflage(Credit: Jakob Vinther) Recent research has found dinosaurs may have cooed instead of roared, and the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex may have been even bigger than we imagine. Now, using a particularly well-preserved fossil with hints of skin pigmentation intact, researchers at the University of Bristol have managed to produce what they call "the most scientifically accurate life-size model of a dinosaur," and used it to infer the creature's likely habitat. An ancestor of Triceratops, the Psittacosaurus was a herbivore about the size of a labrador, which lived in Asia about 120 million years ago. The Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, is home to one of the best preserved Psittacosaurus fossils in the world, which still contains segments of skin, complete with what University of Bristol's Jakob Vinther realized were structures that would have carried melanin pigments. He was then able to map out the creature's skin pattern and found that it reflected a type of camouflage commonly used by animals today. "The fossil … preserves clear countershading, which has been shown to function by counter-illuminating shadows on a body, thus making an animal appear optically flat to the eye of the beholder," says Vinther. Out in the wild, animals and objects will usually be lit from above by the sun, resulting in them appearing lighter on top and darker underneath, which makes them appear solid and easy to spot. But animals with a countershading pattern invert this to avoid predators, being generally darker on their upper body with a lighter colored belly, which better hides them from view. To test how well a countershaded Psittacosaurus could hide and determine what kind of habitat it may have lived in, the researchers built a physical 3D model of the Psittacosaurus using the Senckenberg specimen as a base. They measured its bones and noted the pigmentation, and collaborated with palaeontologists to determine its muscle structure. Bob Nicholls, an artist who specializes in recreating anatomically-correct drawings and models of extinct animals, came on board to help build the Psittacosaurus as accurately as possible. "Our Psittacosaurus was reconstructed from the inside-out," says Nicholls. "There are thousands of scales, all different shapes and sizes, and many of them are only partially pigmented. It was a painstaking process but we now have the best suggestion as to what this dinosaur really looked like." The team then took the completed model out into the field to test its hide 'n' seek skills, along with a second version that was painted a solid gray color, to study how the shadows fell across it. Photographed under trees in the Bristol Botanic Garden, the Psittacosaurus seemed particularly well-suited to a world of diffuse lighting, like that filtering down through a canopy of trees. "By reconstructing a life-size 3D model, we were able to not only see how the patterns of shading changed over the body, but also that it matched the sort of camouflage which would work best in a forested environment," says Innes Cuthill, co-author of the study. "This demonstrates that fossil color patterns can provide not only a better picture of what extinct animals looked like, but they can also give new clues about extinct ecologies and habitats," confirms Vinther. "We were amazed to see how well these color patterns actually worked to camouflage this little dinosaur."
News Article | October 31, 2016
Plenty of us wanted to be paleontologists when we grew up, but most never got a chance to realize that dream. Little did we know, however, that right beneath our feet, caches of urban fossils were just waiting to be discovered. An "urban fossil" is exactly that: a recognizable fossil hiding in plain sight among city architecture, such as buildings, roads, and monuments. Here in the United States, for example, our capital is chock full of them. You can spot all manner of organisms peppering the walls, lobbies, and steps of Washington, DC's grandiose architecture. For many people, fossil hunting has become a bit of a sport. "There are fossils all over the place, and most people don't know about them. But once you know what to look for, they're everywhere," Christopher Barr, a lawyer and urban fossil sleuth told the Washington Post earlier this year. And, as the saying goes, one you see them, you can't unsee them. In 2015, a geologist in Girona, Spain stumbled upon a spectacular find in the city's limestone streets. A collection of bones, appearing to be parts of a creature's skull and spine, were clearly embedded in the pavement. What this unsuspecting pedestrian had discovered were the fossilized remains of an ancient sea cow, possibly belonging to the extinct genus called Prototherium, according to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. When photos of the fossils were submitted to Paleourbana, an online forum dedicated to this sort of thing, paleontologists Manja Voss and Oliver Hampe from Berlin's Museum für Naturkunde were able to identify it. The local find was deemed important enough to remove from the pavement (with permission from the city), which allowed the researchers to analyze it using a CT-scan. As it turns out, the limestone rock comprising the slab was some 40 million years old, making Girona's sea cow one of the oldest known specimens in Europe. "While the limestone used to build the city of Girona are enriched by fossils—it is quite common to identify invertebrates for example—finding a marine mammal on which thousands of people walked over for the last two decades is indeed very peculiar," Voss said in a statement this week. So for anyone feeling that childlike-wonder again, here are some of the coolest accounts of architectural fossil finds to date. The list is constantly growing, so if you try hard enough and believe in yourself, maybe you too can become the Indiana Jones of urban fossil hunting. According to the website Fossils and Other Living Things: "The Botanic Garden is located just southwest of the U.S. Capitol Building, next to the Capitol Reflecting Pool. It is constructed of gray and beige Indiana limestone. Its patio is made of reddish orangey Pennsylvania sandstone. Needless to say, it was the limestone exterior walls that drew me since they held my quarry. The limestone is clearly nearly all fossil… One of my special finds on this hunt was this relatively large brachiopod shell enmeshed in an oblong lens of finer grains of shelly material." Ossicles from "sea-lillies" and bryozoans: Capitol Reflecting Pool, Washington, DC, US Also from Fossils and Other Living Things: "The pool and its steps are made of Indiana limestone… The limestone steps are awash with the ossicles from crinoids. Ossicles are the round segments that make up the stems or stalks of crinoids, so-called "sea lilies," which are invertebrate animals, not plants at all. These little disks are typically all that remains…. The fossil tapestry of the steps includes the latticework remnants of the structures built by colonies of bryozoans, tiny invertebrates who lived in chambers within the upright branches. The structures can consist of relatively thick interconnected branches." In an interview with the National Building Museum, DC's resident fossil hunter, Christopher Barr described his favorite findings: "The entrance to the Reptile House at the National Zoo is framed with a stone from Spain that is Jurassic in age and displays the shells of squid-like animals, ammonites and belemnites, directly under a mosaic of a Jurassic-era dinosaur (Stegosaurus). It was designed by the noted artist Charles Knight, who worked on the Reptile House shortly after studying in Spain. Is that likely to be a coincidence? Also, the use of "Champlain Black" stone, with its large, visible snail fossils in the floor of the Arts and Industries Building, which was the Smithsonian's first museum of, among other things, natural history, may not have been accidental."
News Article | February 15, 2017
American Meadows and High Country Gardens Announce the Botanic Garden Getaway Contest--Grand Prize is a Trip for Two to a Botanic Garden in the USA American Meadows and High Country Gardens have launched the Botanic Garden Getaway-- a contest that will award a grand prize trip for two to visit a botanic garden in the continental U.S. The trip will include round-trip airfare for two, a four-night hotel stay, admission to the selected botanic garden, and spending money for meals and additional transportation. “The Botanic Garden Getaway is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to our country’s great public gardens and to gardeners who love plants,” said Mike Lizotte, partner of American Meadows. “We love traveling to visit our nation’s impressive public gardens, and we want to share that experience with our customers. We can’t think of a better prize to give any plant fanatic.” To enter, visit BotanicGardenGetaway.com or visit the American Meadows or High Country Gardens websites and click on the contest links. In addition to providing basic contact information, contest entrants will also be asked to name their favorite flower from the American Meadows or High Country Gardens websites and explain why they want to travel to their chosen botanical garden. The garden they select must be a member of the American Public Garden Association and located within the continental (Lower 48) United States. Throughout the contest entry period, gardeners are invited to visit the American Meadows and High Country Gardens Facebook and Instagram pages for contest updates, information on new plants, and exciting stories about some of America’s premier public botanical gardens. In addition to the grand prize, $50 gift certificates are awarded weekly. The deadline to enter the contest is April 30, 2017 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time.
News Article | September 15, 2016
After reconstructing the color patterns of a well-preserved dinosaur from China, researchers from the University of Bristol have found that the long-lost species Psittacosaurus (meaning "parrot lizard,” a reference to its parrot-like beak) was light on its underside and darker on top. This color pattern, known as countershading, is a common form of camouflage in modern animals. The study published today in Current Biology led the researchers to conclude that Psittacosaurus most likely lived in an environment with diffuse light, such as in a forest, and has produced the most life-like reconstruction of a dinosaur ever created. "The fossil, which is on public display at the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History in Germany, preserves clear countershading, which has been shown to function by counter-illuminating shadows on a body, thus making an animal appear optically flat to the eye of the beholder," said Jakob Vinther from the Schools of Earth Sciences and Biological Sciences. "By reconstructing a life-size 3-D model, we were able to not only see how the patterns of shading changed over the body, but also that it matched the sort of camouflage which would work best in a forested environment," added behavioral ecologist Innes Cuthill from the School of Biological Sciences. Countershading most likely served to protect Psittacosaurus – an early relative of the triceratop - against predators that use patterns of shadow on an object to determine shape, just as humans do. Vinther realized that structures previously thought to be artifacts or dead bacteria in fossilized feathers were actually "melanosomes," small structures that carry melanin pigments found in the feathers and skin of many animals. In some well-preserved specimens, such as the Psittacosaurus the researchers worked on in the new study, it's possible to make out the patterns of preserved melanin without the aid of a microscope. Innes and colleagues at Bristol had also been exploring the distribution of countershading in modern animals. But it was no easy matter to apply the same principles to an extinct animal that had been crushed flat and fossilized. To explore this idea further they teamed up with local palaeoartist, Bob Nicholls in order to reconstruct the remarkable fossil in to a physical model which, they say, is the most scientifically accurate life-size model of a dinosaur with its real color patterns. Days of careful studies of the fossil, taking measurements of the bones, studying the preserved scales and the pigment patterns, with input on muscle structure from Bristol palaeontologists Emily Rayfield and Stephan Lautenschlager, led to months of careful modeling of the dinosaur. "Our Psittacosaurus was reconstructed from the inside-out. There are thousands of scales, all different shapes and sizes, and many of them are only partially pigmented. It was a painstaking process but we now have the best suggestion as to what this dinosaur really looked like," said Nicholls. In order to investigate what environment the psittacosaur had evolved to live in, Vinther, Nicholls and Cuthill took another cast of the model and painted it all grey. They then placed it in the Cretaceous plant section of Bristol Botanic Garden and photographed it under an open sky and underneath trees to see how the shadow was cast under those conditions. By comparing the shadow to the pattern in the fossil they could then predict what environment the psittacosaur lived in. "We predicted that the psittacosaur must have lived in a forest. This demonstrates that fossil color patterns can provide not only a better picture of what extinct animals looked like, but they can also give new clues about extinct ecologies and habitats,” said Vinther. "We were amazed to see how well these color patterns actually worked to camouflage this little dinosaur." Psittacosaurus, which Cuthill describes as "both weird and cute, with horns on either side of its head and long bristles on its tail" lived in the early Cretaceous of China and has been found in the same rock strata where many feathered dinosaurs have been found. Those deposits also include evidence for a forest environment based on plant and wood fossils. The researchers say that they'd now like to explore other types of camouflage in fossils and to use this evidence in understanding how predators could perceive the environment and to understand their role in shaping evolution and biodiversity.
News Article | October 14, 2016
EVANSTON, Ill., Oct. 14, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Teachers at the Park School in Evanston will now be able to conduct a broader range of therapeutic activities with their students and create integration opportunities with the school district and community thanks to a grant to build an on-site sensory garden, designed by Clare Johnson of the Chicago Botanic Garden. The Park School Sensory Garden, supported by The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company’s national GRO1000 gardens and greenspaces program, was the site of a volunteer day in the garden with students and teachers to mark the installation. Park School first imagined the sensory garden project as part of its year-round horticulture therapy program led by the Chicago Botanic Garden’s horticulture therapy services department. The horticulture therapists primarily used container gardens and potted plants to work with the students, but envisioned a larger, in-ground sensory garden that could enhance the students’ experiences. “Gardens naturally inspire wellness, creativity and exploration and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to design a permanent sensory-enriching garden for Park School and the surrounding community,” said Clare Johnson, Horticulture Therapy Services Manager at the Chicago Botanic Garden. “The Park students, staff and families will utilize and learn from the garden year-round, enhancing their thriving therapeutic programs in a new, exciting way.” The Park School Sensory Garden includes handicapped accessible raised beds and walkways, as well as plantings that heighten all of the senses. Students with limited cognitive and physical abilities will be able to see, smell, touch and hear the many colors, fragrances, textures and sounds from the garden. The new garden will also increase students’ personal satisfaction and pride in growing something that can be eaten or shared with others. “The Sensory Garden will extend the knowledge and learning experiences of our students and provide a way for every student to be included in our horticulture therapy programs,” said Marlene Grossman, Park School Principal. “It will also provide accessibility to a beautiful urban garden to all of the Evanston community for years to come.” The GRO1000 sensory garden community event kicks off at 10 a.m. on Saturday, October 15, at 828 Main Street, Evanston, Illinois 60202. Area residents and youth will join ScottsMiracle-Gro volunteers and local leaders in garden-related plantings and activities. The garden will be dedicated at 2 p.m. “Gardens have the ability to improve a child’s life in so many powerful ways,” said Lindsay LaSala, Community Relations, ScottsMiracle-Gro. “It’s an honor for us to work with the Park School students and faculty and the Chicago Botanic Garden to help enhance the students’ daily learning experiences through this sensory garden project.” GRO1000 is ScottsMiracle-Gro’s commitment to bring the life-enhancing benefits of gardens and greenspaces to the children who need them most. The company launched the initiative in 2011 with the goal of supporting the creation of 1,000 gardens by the year 2018, in conjunction with its 150th anniversary. To date, more than 800 communities have received GRO1000 funding. For more information, visit www.GRO1000.com and follow ScottsMiracle-Gro on Twitter @Scotts_MGro, #GRO1000. About Chicago Botanic Garden The Chicago Botanic Garden is a 385-acre living plant museum featuring 27 distinct display gardens and four natural areas uniquely situated on and around nine islands, with six miles of lake shoreline. The Garden is managed by the Chicago Horticultural Society, on land dedicated by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Over one million people have visited the Garden each year for the past three years. The Garden mission, “We cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life” is realized through the conservation science, education, urban agriculture and horticulture programs that take place at the Glencoe campus, in the Chicago metropolitan area, in the Midwest region and throughout the world. The Garden is open 365 days a year. About ScottsMiracle-Gro The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company is passionate about helping people of all ages express themselves on their own piece of the Earth. With approximately $3 billion in sales, the Company is the world's largest marketer of branded consumer products for lawn and garden care. The Company's brands are the most recognized in the industry. In 2016, the Company ranked in Forbes 100 Most Reputable Companies in America for the second year in a row. To learn more about the Company and our initiatives, visit us at www.scottsmiraclegro.com