SURF

Kendall Fitzgerald

Systematics and Paleoecology of PlioPleistocene Shrews from South Africa

One of the most ambitious expeditions in the history of UC Berkeley has yet to be completed. In 1947, the University of California Africa Expedition, led by researchers from the UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology, set out for southern Africa to collect fossils from early hominid sites. However, upon their return, many of the micro-mammal fossils were stored away without being properly examined or categorized. My project will focus on a subset of this wealth of Plio-Pleistocene fossils: the shrew fossils (family Soricidae). Though sometimes overlooked, these small mammals have long served as paleoenvironnmental indicators, due to specific habitat preferences. My goal is to use both the literature and comparative specimens to finalize the curation, morphological description, and taxonomic assessment of the soricid fossils, in order to better understand the paleoecology of South African mammal evolution. By aligning the various habitat preferences of the different genera with the taxonomic assessment of the soricid fossils, I hope to provide information for paleoclimatic reconstruction of the fossil collection sites. This project will help shed light on the evolutionary history of shrews in southern Africa, and it will complete one important piece of the original expedition by finally categorizing a set of fossils brought back to UC Berkeley nearly 75 years ago.

Message to Sponsor

I would like to deeply thank the Pergo Foundation for their generous support of my project! At first it was daunting to conduct my own research overseas, but I now have a new found confidence in my research abilities that I hope to carry with me throughout my career. Personally, my favorite part of this project was working with international scientists and institutions in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and Cape Town, South Africa. This work was enjoyable and also empowering because I learned many new communication and collaboration skills. This summer has furthered my love for museum work and also helped me identify my interests in the intersections of science and communities. As a scholar I now know that I will always want part of my work to be global and I know first hand how rewarding it is to collaborate with scientists from other parts of the world. I am excited to continue working on the UC Africa Expedition project fossils and as well as the history of the project and its significance. I am so excited to carry all that I have learned from this summer into my future growth and work!
  • Major: Integrative Biology
  • Sponsor: Pergo Fund
  • Mentor: Dr. Alan Shabel