This past summer I worked in Dr. Lauren Sallan’s lab studying how fish biodiversity changed during the late Paleozoic Ice Age. For the past 33 million years, Earth has been facing a major period of glaciation, popularly known as an Ice Age. The sole presence of polar ice caps shows us that this period is ongoing. However, for most of Earth’s history, there were no polar ice caps. The late Paleozoic Ice Age, which lasted from about 360-260 million years ago, was another one of the few periods in which ice caps existed. With the mass extinction of land animals and rapid warming after this period, it is an important time to study in comparison to the climate we face today. Current biodiversity was likely heavily influenced by these fluctuating glacial conditions. However, there are a very limited number of studies looking at the fish fossil record to the extent in which researchers do not know how many fish species lived 1 million years ago. In order to understand how living fish species have diversified to their current state as well as predict future evolutionary patterns, it is important to compile and analyze fish fossil records from these ice ages. This project specifically involved gathering fossil records from the late Paleozoic Ice Age. To find these fossil records, I went through dozens of journal articles as well as books. The database I worked on aims to be the most complete record of fish fossils from the late Paleozoic Ice Age. Using the database from this project, future studies can include surveying fish ecosystem structures or investigating the origination of new species and changes in temperature.
By working in Dr. Sallan’s lab, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the research community at Penn. Prior to coming to Penn, I was really looking forward to pursuing my passion in research. However, I struggled to find the time to conduct research along with my course load during freshman year. Through this experience, I was able to get a feel for what research is like at Penn. Eventually, I soon recognized how supportive the research community is here through programs like the Hayden Research Summer Fellowship.