New York State Museum Scientist Selected to Investigate Climate Change

ALBANY, N.Y. – A New York State Museum paleontologist has become the only scientist in the U.S. selected to participate in an all-expense paid research program in Spain that will enable him to investigate the effects of climate change on mammals over the last 2 million years.

Dr. Robert Feranec, the Museum’s curator of vertebrate paleontology, will work with Dr. Nuria Garcia from the Department of Paleontology at the University at Madrid. The three-month research project, and all expenses associated with it, are totally funded through the Program of Distinguished Visiting Foreign Investigators at the Complutense University of Madrid. Feranec’s selection is a rare honor since historically, most scientists chosen to participate in this program are within the European Union.

During the research stay Feranec will help excavate a cave for vertebrate fossils in Madrid. He will also visit numerous museums collecting data to conduct analyses.

The data from this extended research stay will be critical to Feranec’s research in New York State for several reasons. The Pleistocene vertebrate paleontological record in Spain is significantly greater than what exists in New York. Many of the fossils that Feranec will examine in Spain will come from caves, and the extensive Spanish fossil record will allow him to put the fossils in the State Museums collections (also mostly from caves) into both an ecological and evolutionary context. For example, he will be able to study and analyze ancestral species related to the Cohoes Mastodon and mammoths.

Spain also offers Feranec the opportunity to explore the effects of humans and climate change on animals, an increasingly important topic. Humans have existed in Spain and interacted with animals for 1.8 million years as opposed to New York where the record is only 13,000 years. Analyses of the Spanish fossils will allow Feranec to compare and contrast what happens to animals with global warming in the presence of humans (data from Spain), and what happens when humans are not present (data from NY).

Also, Feranec will have a unique opportunity to study fossils that come from United Nations designated World Heritage Sites. During his museum visits, he will be able to see the techniques that museums in Spain use to curate and manage the extremely rare and important fossils in their care. He can then use this knowledge to better curate and maintain the fossil collections at the State Museum.

In 2007, Feranec oversaw the conservation of the Cohoes Mastodon, the reconstruction of its frame, and its relocation from the State Museum lobby window to its new location in the Museum’s Exhibition Hall. The iconic Museum treasure is now the centerpiece of an expanded exhibition, which Feranec collaborated on.

Feranec joined the Museum staff in 2006. Prior to that, he had a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford University and was a part-time teacher at Contra Costa College, in Richmond, California. In addition to his research in New York State, he also has conducted field work several times in Spain, as well as in Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, and California. He has a bachelor’s degree in biology and geology from Syracuse University, a master’s degree in Geological Sciences from the University of Florida and a doctorate in Integrative Biology from the University of California, Berkeley.

The New York State Museum is a program of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education. Founded in 1836, the Museum has the longest continuously operating state natural history research and collection survey in the U.S. Located on Madison Avenue in Albany, the Museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is free. Further information can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877

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