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EPS Seminar: Dr. Cindy Looy "Tales from the Pennsylvanian coal swamps: unlocking the secrets of a giant dataset fossilized on paper and 1st generation floppies."

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Event Details:

The Pennsylvanian (323-299 Myr ago) was a time when the presence of vast amounts of standing plant biomass was still relatively new to our planet and rapidly expanding. Major plant groups developed tree habits and built-up terrestrial fuel supplies. Simultaneously, the atmosphere is thought to have been hyperoxic. Consequently, it seems plausible that during such times wildfire grew into a major ecological and evolutionary force. Thus, with heightened selective pressures, Pennsylvanian wildfire records may hold clues about the evolution of emerging fire adaptations. An exceptional opportunity to investigate this was found in a recently (re-)digitized dataset, the Phillips Coal Ball Collection—in which tissues of the plants that made up the peat layers in the iconic Pennsylvanian swamp forests have been permineralized and preserved at a cellular level. Many hundreds of thousands of tissue subsamples have been identified, both taxonomically and as to what plant organ they represent. Additionally, it has been noted whether the tissues were charcoalified. I will share the long and windy road of the (re)digitization of the coal ball data set and the reopening and curation of the larger collection. I will illustrate the kind of questions we can ask the data set by exploring fire ecology and fire adaptations from data strongly filtered by other factors that acted during peat formation.
Short bio - Cindy Looy (UC Berkeley) is a plant ecologist who tumbled down the rabbit hole of deep time. She studies the response of plants and plant communities to major environmental change and its evolutionary consequences. Her primary interest is investigating aspects of the terrestrial end-Permian biotic crisis and its aftermath, and the terrestrial consequences of the transition from an ice-house world to an ice-free  one from the Pennsylvanian to the middle Permian. Although she likes almost all things green (or formerly green), she has a soft spot for conifers and lycophytes.
For the Zoom information, please get in touch with Jannis Simões-Seymens (