STEM Shoutout: Dr. Corinne Myers

Earth and planetary science professor earned grant to research the last mass extinction

Dr. Corinne Myers, assistant professor in the department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, received a $284,662 grant from the National Science Foundation to research the ecological, evolutionary, and paleoenvironmental changes that occurred during the last mass extinction, about 66 million years ago.  

 “The end-Cretaceous mass extinction was the last great extinction event in Earth’s history,” Myers said. “It was intense and occurred extremely rapidly in a climate that was globally quite warm.” 

The grant began on Sept.1 and will continue for three years until Aug. 30, 2022. 

 The research grant is focusing on marine animals in the shallow oceans of the Gulf Coastal Plain with Myers specifically looking at mollusk extinction and ecological change across this boundary. 

The Great Coastal Plain region includes the part of the states of Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida with the coastline of the Late Cretaceous period running through that area as well as other parts of the southern United States. Myers and her team will mainly be examining fossils and rocks from Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. 

She aims to determine the ecological conditions the sea creature thrived in before the mass extinction, how the mass extinction changed these conditions and whether those changes contributed to their eventual extinction. Myers will also compare related species of mollusks from before and after the extinction to see if their habitat preferences changed across the Gulf Coastal Plain.

“I hope that we will gain a better understanding of extinction mechanisms in an iconic mass extinction, as well as a better understanding of the macroecological characters that we are studying (niches, body size, diet, etc) and how they respond to rapid environmental change,” Myers said. 

Myers said that this research could provide more information for predicting extinctions that may occur as a result of the current climate change on Earth. 

“It’s important to understand the processes that impact the evolutionary trajectories of life on this planet,” she said. “Extremely rapid extinction in a globally warm world may provide insight into current and projected extinctions in our rapidly warming planet.” 

The grant involves two field work expeditions to collect fossils and geochemical data from the Gulf Coastal Plain. These expeditions will also be translated into virtual field trips so high school students in the area. 

“It will be really fun to participate in that and engage youngsters in this type of research!” Myers said. 

This research in being conducted in conjunction with six institutions, including the University of New Mexico with most of the co-principal investigators being early career women including Myers.