The New York Times recently reported on the discovery and classification of over 450 new mammal species. The National Museum of Natural History contains one of the largest mammal collection in the world with over 590,000 specimens! The amazing animals on display in the Museum's Bering Hall of Mammals is only the tip of the iceberg. In this article, museum mammals curator, Dr. Kristofer Helgen, discusses the science of species discovery and the importance of classifying and understanding new species before they become extinct. John Robinson, an executive vice president at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said “The problem is, we’ve only described an estimated 15 percent of all species on Earth, so most of what’s going extinct are things we didn’t even know existed.”
Tales of Extinction and Recovery
A new paper by Conrad Labandeira and colleagues (Gastaldo, R.A., R. Adendorff, M. Bamford, C.C. Labandeira, J. Neveling and H. Sims. 2005. Taphonomic trends of macrofloral assemblages across the Permian-Triassic boundary, Karoo Basin, South Africa. Palaios 20: 480-498) examines plant fossils in South Africa’s Karoo Basin at the critical Permian/Triassic Boundary. The paper provides cautionary evidence addressing previous claims that a regional extinction of land plants resulted in a definite change in the patterns of rivers and streams in the Karoo Basin. The paper questions these earlier conclusions, and raises additional questions regarding the timing of terrestrial extinctions in this area.
International Polar Year 2007-2008
A worldwide effort is underway to plan scientific and educational activities for the upcoming International Polar Year (IPY). Scheduled to officially begin in March 2007, IPY promises to advance our understanding of how the Earth's remote polar regions impact global climate systems, to bring about fundamental advances in many areas of science, and to fire the enthusiasm of young men and women for future careers in science and engineering.
Is El Nino responsible for Mild Winter in Parts of the United States?
Meteorologists say the current winter warm spell in parts of the U.S. is due to a combination of factors: El Nino, a cyclical warming trend now under way in the Pacific Ocean, can lead to milder weather, particularly in the Northeast; and the jet stream, the high-altitude air current that works like a barricade to hold back warm Southern air, is running much farther north than usual over the East Coast."
Spotlight on Smithsonian Science
A new electronic newsletter reports the latest cutting-edge research by Smithsonian Scientists.
On a Remote Canadian Lake, Scientists Track Mercury’s Path Through the Food Chain
Here’s a recipe for understanding a widespread and stubborn environmental problem: Take one small, pristine Canadian lake and slowly add approximately one teaspoon of mercury (highly diluted and administered during a span of six years). Meanwhile, assign top researchers from the United States and Canada to study the lake’s sediments, fish and surrounding landscape. Read more in this fascinating Inside Smithsonian Research article.