Writing a daily blog is way more work than I imagined! But it’s also the most rewarding thing I’ve done in the last five years, and I can already feel how much it has energized me to do science. I have had wonderful conversations with colleagues (male and female), found several new role models, and learned a whole lot more about some pretty inspiring field paleontologists. Today’s profile is a case in point. Before May 1, I had only interacted with Dr. Lisa Park Boush through her role as an NSF program officer. That changed the day I unveiled this blog, when I received a Facebook notification from Lisa. Lisa changed her profile picture to the totally bad-ass picture above, with the comment, “This is for Ellen Currano….” I knew immediately that this was a scientist after my own heart and that I had to learn more about her and feature her here!
Lisa studies ostracodes, also called “seed shrimp.” Still unfamiliar to you? Imagine a teeny shrimp inside a tiny clam shell (~1 mm, but can be up to 3 cm). Freshwater ostracodes are extremely useful for paleoenvironmental reconstruction. Because individual species often tolerate only small ranges in salinity, fossil assemblages can be used to infer past lake salinity. If we know how salinity changes, we can interpret lake level changes (more saline = lower lake level), which in turn can be used to reconstruct climate (lower lake levels = more arid conditions). Lisa has conducted live-dead studies of ostracodes from the African rift lakes to better understand the possible taphonomic biases affecting reconstructions of past climate, environment, and lake ecology. (If you didn’t understand that sentence, take a scavenger hunt for an earlier profile that explains some of these words!)
Freshwater ostracodes are also model organisms for evolutionary studies. Lakes are geographically restricted bodies of water, and the African rift lakes in particular are known for their high diversity and endemism (species found only in one place). Lisa’s work comparing the ostracod faunas of Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi demonstrates that a combination of lake longevity (older lakes steadily accumulate species) and lake level fluctuations (driving endemism and extinction) drive ostracod evolution and species diversity.
I’m an Africa-phile, so Lisa’s work on Tanganyika, Malawi, and the Danakil Depression are most fascinating to me. Lisa’s current research, however, is in the Bahamas, coring the saline ponds on San Salvador Island to construct high-resolution climate and hurricane records and to assess the impact these factors have on biodiversity. Climate models have suggested that hurricane intensity will increase with global warming, and so it is important to understand the impact of these storm events on ecosystems.
For more information on Dr. Lisa Park Boush, visit: http://www.lisaparkboush.com/home.html