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New activities, events, and developments relating to the ETE Program at NMNH



The 30th Anniversary of the Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems (ETE) Program

Public Program: Survivors - What Fossils Tell Us about the Past and Future

On the evening of March 30th, the ETE Program held a public event in Q?rius to mark its 30th anniversary of research, education, and outreach about terrestrial ecosystems through geological time. 

This event was included in the “After Hours” and “Anthropocene: Life in the Age of Humans” discussion series at NMNH, but pioneered a new format, with a series of talks combined with hands-on activities.  ETE co-directors Kay Behrensmeyer and Kate Lyons, along with ETE post-doctoral fellow Silvia Pineda-Munoz, collaborated with the NMNH Office of Education and Outreach and the staff and volunteers of Q?rius to plan and produce the evening program.  

The program for the ETE 30th public event, Q?rius, March 30th.

Over 130 people attended the event, including families with children.  The lecture portion of the program was introduced by Sant Director Kirk Johnson and Associate Director for Science Maureen Kearney.  Eighteen ETE scientists, including ETE curators Hans Sues, Scott Wing, Conrad Labandeira, and Kay Behrensmeyer, were on hand to interact directly with the public.  There were lightning talks and fossils representing three examples of times when life on earth was faced with adapting, moving, or going extinct, i.e., the Cretaceous-Paleogene (asteroid impact), the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (global warming 56 million years ago), and the end-Pleistocene megafaunal extinction.   Our guest speaker, Dr. Anthony Barnosky of Stanford University, presented the latest crisis (6th extinction?), entitled Dodging Extinction: Power, Food, Money, and the Future of Life on Earth.  ETE members also created ecosystem-change games for the public, illustrating our long-term perspective on the Anthropocene that has grown out of 30 years of research on terrestrial ecosystems through the past 300+ million years.  The event was sponsored by the Deep Time MacMillan Fund, the NMNH Office of the Associate Director for Science, and the NSF-RCN grant to the ETE Program.

The Cretaceous – Paleogene extinction fossil table, with Carol Hotton, Conrad Labandeira, and Antoine Bercovici, left to right, on the right side of the table.

ETE 30th Anniversary Buttons, designed by ETE working group member Matt Davis and produced by a team effort, with special thanks to Nora Loughlin.

History of ETE

The ETE Program began in late 1986 with the idea that it would be exciting to explore ecological communities of land organisms using the new power of paleontological databases and a functional approach to characterizing organisms and their ecological communities through time.

The founding members, Kay Behrensmeyer, John Damuth, Bill DiMichele, Rick Potts, Hans Sues, and Scott Wing, developed the initial research proposal. ETE was launched with seed money from the SI Castle, then established with a federal line-item research allocation in 1989. The first ETE conference, held at Airlie House in 1987, led to publication of the “Red Book” – Terrestrial Ecosystems through Time, in 1992. Federal support continued until 2010, funding the creation of the ETE Database, which later contributed to the structure of the Paleobiology Database and the Neogene Old World (NOW) database. ETE also supported numerous interns, post-doctoral and pre-doctoral fellowships, workshops, and individual research projects supplemented by NSF and other grants.

In 2010, ETE was awarded a 6-year NMNH program grant that supported a half-time ETE scientist - Kate Lyons. As a trust employee, Kate was able to apply to the NSF Research Coordination Network program (along with Kay Behrensmeyer and Nick Gotelli as co-PI’s), resulting in the current grant that supports working group meetings, outreach and training, and post-doctoral fellow Silvia Pineda-Munoz, who manages the ETE database, website, and workshop logistics.

ETE Field Trip to the Catskill Delta, 1988, with 5 of the founding members and associated ETE personnel.  From left to right – Bill DiMichele, Bob Hook (post-doctoral fellow), Scott Wing, Elizabeth Bailey (ETE Database manager), Imran Khan (visiting scientist), Rick Potts, Anders Aslan (student researcher), Kay Behrensmeyer, Hans Sues.

A recent analysis by Richard Naples (NMNH Library) of 141 ETE publications listed in the Web of Science shows an average of >52 citations per article since 1992.  Over the past 30 years, ETE has provided resources leading to the publication of more than 250 scientific articles and books relating to the program’s research goals.  The 1992 “Red Book” has been widely used for undergraduate and graduate education and is still in print (University of Chicago Press).

ETE’s 11th Research Working Group meeting

The public celebration coincided with ETE’s 11th Research Working Group meeting, which occurred March 31 – April 2.  These semi-annual workshops are funded by an NSF RCN grant to Kate Lyons (PI, now University of Nebraska), Kay Behrensmeyer, and Nick Gotelli (University of Vermont) and will continue at least through 2018.  The 11th ETE workshop included reports from four different sub-groups led by ETE’s early career scientists, a number of whom are now moving into post-doctoral, tenure-track or permanent positions.  Several of the projects are nearing completion and should be submitted for publication in 2017. 

ETE Workshop #11 Participants, April 2, 2017.  From left, Josh Miller (University of Cincinnati), Katie Amatangelo (SUNY Brockport), Andrew Barr (GWU), Jessica Blois (UC, Merced), Kate Lyons (University of Nebraska), Scott Wing (NMNH Paleobiology), Anikó Tóth (MacQuarie University), Amelia Villaseñor (GWU), Laura Soul (Peter Buck Deep Time Fellow, NMNH), Cindy Looy (UC, Berkeley), Dani Fraser (Museum of Nature, Ottawa), Silvia Pineda-Munoz, NMNH Paleobiology), Advait Jukar (George Mason University), Andrew Du (University of Chicago), Matt Davis (Aarhus University), Kay Behrensmeyer (NMNH Paleobiology), Antoine Bercovici (NMNH Paleobiology Research Associate).  Not pictured:  Jussi Eronen (University of Helsinki), Nick Gotelli (University of Vermont), Rick Potts (NMNH Anthropology) and Gary Graves (NMNH Vertebrate Zoology).



ETE participates in the 2011 Natural History Research Experience Intern Program


NHRE participant Anikó Tóth spent her 10-week summer internship on an ETE project assembling mammal species lists for different areas of Kenya from early 20th century Smithsonian expeditions. Anikó used the NMNH Vertebrate Zoology catalogue, Google Earth, and early 20th century maps in the museum's archives to determine where the expeditions of those times (including one that included Teddy Roosevelt) collected their specimens. These were compared with late 20th century faunal lists to see how biodiversity has changed across time. These "site faunas" from specific areas and habitats also can serve as modern analogues for paleocommunities in the fossil record. Anikó is a senior at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA and is majoring in Biology and Applied Science. The ETE Program provided funding through NHRE for her internship, which is co-supervised by Kay Behrensmeyer and Kate Lyons. Anikó presented a poster on her work for NHRE and is now writing up the results of her study for publication.

Toth and Behrensmeyer work on google earth

Anikó begins work using Google Earth and the early 20th century maps to determine where the expeditions of those times (including one that included Teddy Roosevelt) collected their specimens.

ETE welcomes Tyler Faith

Tyler Faith is on contract with ETE during the Fall of 2011 to continue assembling and analyzing data generated by the first ETE workshop on Community Assembly and Disassembly. Some of these results will be presented in October at the 2011 Annual GSA meeting in Minneapolis, MN.

Links to past coverage of ETE scientists


S. Kathleen Lyons

Killing of methane-producing megafauna may have caused cooling 13,000 years ago

Bill DiMichele

Four Square Miles of Carboniferous Forest Discovered

Above the Fossil Location

Coal Swamp Reconstruction

Mine View

Scott Wing

Mississippi to Montana: Plants Danced to Climate's Quick Tune

Fossil Leaf



Rick Potts

Skull fuels Homo erectus debate


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