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WHAT DO SPICULES SAY ABOUT THE PAST?

November 11, 2014

WHAT DO SPICULES SAY ABOUT THE PAST?

Anyone who has ever stepped barefoot on a sandy beach and felt the painful prick of a nearly invisible spike has encountered Magdalena Lukowiak’s study subject

Anyone who has ever stepped barefoot on a sandy beach and felt the painful prick of a nearly invisible spike has encountered Magdalena Lukowiak’s study subject. Spicules are the skeletal remains of sea sponges. From sediments, seabed cores and twomillion- year-old rocks around Panama’s Bocas Del Toro, Lukowiak collects spicules by the thousands.

A paleontologist based at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, Lukowiak collaborates with STRI scientist Aaron O’Dea to reconstruct marine communities of the past based on fossil finds. Her part may be one of the most difficult —two months of sampling will require two years of microscope work to analyze.

“I want to reconstruct the very recent history to see if the communities have changed because of the influence of people; if human appearance, plantations or something else influenced sponge communities,” said, Lukowiak, who first came to STRI’s Bocas Del Toro Research Station three years ago to test the feasibility of her project.

Different sponge species are associated with seagrasses, mangroves and coral. By identifying the spicules, she will also gain insight into the type of marine flora that lived in a related place or time. “I would like to find a spicular pattern for all three of these environments,” she said.

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