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Seminar with the Turkana Miocene Project

Endless Forms Seminar Series

7 Feb 2023

"Drivers of Mammalian Evolution in the Miocene of East Africa"

Principal and Co-Investigators of the Turkana Miocene Project Isaiah Nengo, Stony Brook University Catherine Beck, Hamilton College Craig Feibel, Rutgers University Greg Henkes, Stony Brook University Chris Poulson, University of Michigan (now Dean of Arts and Sciences, U of Oregon) Kevin Uno, Columbia University.

The goal of this project is to apply a high-resolution, basin-focused approach to constrain the complex relationships between tectonics, volcanism, erosion, climate, and the long-term transformation of ecosystems and mammalian fauna in the Turkana Basin over the entire Miocene Epoch. We proposed an ambitious integration of fundamental and cutting-edge datasets from across for Earth, Climate, and Life disciplines that when coupled together will significantly advance our understanding of hominoid and African ecosystem evolution. We contend that such an integrated approach is the future of reconstructing terrestrial environmental change worldwide and that our proposed research will substantially accelerate our understanding of how modern East African ecosystems came to be. Our research objectives are to collect new geological, paleoenvironmental, and paleontological data, targeting time intervals and sites with limited geological or fossil data, and integrate them with published data and tectonic, landscape, and climate models to resolve the relationship between rifting and climate change in the Turkana Basin, as well as evaluating their respective roles in driving biotic change across the Miocene. The project has completed two major field seasons, working with TBI. In 2021 we focused on Lothagam with a short visit to Napudet. In 2022 we continued work at Lothagam, Napudet, as well as Loperot and Buluk. Plans for 2023 are to continue work at Lothagam, Napudet, Loperot and Buluk, as to also visit Topernawi, Nakwai, Locherangan, Sibilot and Kajong. We’ve been successful in improving the stratigraphic framework for these sites, adding critical paleomag sampling, and extensive sampling for phytoliths, isotopes and biomarkers. Students from the Turkana University HEB Program have participated in much of the fieldwork, as have the staff and technicians of TBI on both sides of the lake. Beyond the fieldwork, laboratory investigation of isotopes, biomarkers, petrology and dating have been completed, and a two-pronged approach to modelling is being pursued, with Chris Poulson’s team working on climate models and Bill Holt’s group working on a geodynamic model of rifting and landscape evolution. The project interacts closely with paleontologists including Ellen Miller (Buluk), Gabrielle Russo (Napudet) and John Rowan (Lothagam). The Life Team of co-Investigators also includes Nasser Malit and Francis Kirera (Sibilot), Chris Campisano (Kajong), Mikael Fortelius and Indre Zliobaite (ecomorphology), Tara Smiley (community ecology). The project website at has additional information.

The recording of the seminar can be found on our YouTube channel:

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