A new book chapter for a new year: Evolutionary history of colonial organisms as hosts and parasites

My Estonian colleague and friend Olev Vinn and I have a chapter in the new book The Evolution and Fossil Record of Parasitism. Ours is chapter four on the evolutionary history of colonial organisms as hosts and parasites.

One of the figures (shown above) is of a Cretaceous coral-bivalve system in Israel we published (with Tim Palmer) in 2014 and described in an earlier blog post. It was one of my most enjoyable small projects, so it is fun to see it in a larger context.

The Abstract: Parasitic associations involving colonial animals are fairly evenly distributed through the post-Cambrian Phanerozoic and have a long evolutionary history. Parasitism may have played an important role in the evolution of colonial animals. In the Paleozoic, the majority of marine symbioses involved colonial animals,and it is likely that colonial animals were also important hosts of parasites in the Mesozoic and Cenozoic, but further studies are needed. In the Paleozoic, stromatoporoids and corals were the most common hosts to various invertebrate parasites. Corals continued to be important hosts to parasites in the Mesozoic and Cenozoic. In addition, colonial animals themselves often infest or otherwise live in association with other organisms and can be parasites; however, colonial animals are more often hosts than parasites, and this has been so throughout the Phanerozoic. The stratigraphic distribution of parasitic associations in colonial animals is divided into two separate blocks: Paleozoic (Ordovician to Permian) parasitic associations of colonial animals form the first block and Mesozoic to Recent parasitic associations of colonial animals form the second block. This division of parasitic associations corresponds well to the Sepkoski Paleozoic and Modern faunas and therefore these subdivisions are termed as the Paleozoic and the Modern parasitic associations of colonial animals.

The book took forever to come out, so there are a few new examples not covered, but our hypotheses about the patterns are clear. If you want a pdf, just let me know by email.


Vinn, O. and Wilson, M.A. 2021. Evolutionary history of colonial organisms as hosts and parasites, p. 99-119. In: K. De Baets, J.W. Huntley (eds.), The Evolution and Fossil Record of Parasitism. Topics in Geobiology 50, chapter 4. (https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-52233-9_4)

Wilson, M.A., Vinn, O. and Palmer, T.J. 2014. Bivalve borings, bioclaustrations and symbiosis in corals from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian) of southern Israel. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 414: 243-245.

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Wooster’s Department of Earth Sciences 2020-2021 Annual Report!

Our Administrative Coordinator Patrice Reeder has assembled another magnificent annual report for our department. Once again the Covid Pandemic made this task all the more complex. The cover shows one of our remote courses during the eventful year. We’re back in person on campus now, of course. Let’s hope it stays this way!

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Petroleum Experts Ltd. Donates MOVE Suite to Wooster Earth Sciences Once Again

Wooster, Ohio — The Department of Earth Sciences again is pleased to announce that Petroleum Experts Ltd. recently donated ten licenses of their MOVE suite software package to be used for educational and training purposes.  This marks the fourth year in which Wooster Earth Sciences has worked with Petroleum Experts Ltd.  This generous donation of 10 licenses of the MOVE suite to the College currently has a market value of $2.54 million (US$), and it is accessed through a hardware based software protection device (a bitlock by Petex’s Network Licensing Manager, HARDLOCK).

The MOVE suite is the global industry standard for structural modelling, and its software modules include 2D/3D kinematic modelling, geomechanical modelling, sediment modelling, fracture modelling, fault analysis, and stress analysis, to name a few.  When using the MOVE suite, Wooster faculty and students are able to interpret data, build cross-sections, and kinematically and dynamically analyze structural histories.  More information about Petroleum Experts Ltd. and the MOVE suite can be found at https://www.petex.com/products/move-suite/move/.

Petroleum Experts Ltd. is based in Edinburgh, Scotland, with a satellite office in Houston, Texas.  The Department of Earth Sciences is appreciative for the diligent team effort at Petroleum Experts Ltd. that worked to make this current year’s donation possible.  We are also grateful for the conscientious work of numerous colleagues at the College (Vince DiScipio, Ellen Falduto, Lisa Perfetti), especially those in Technology Services who install and upkeep the MOVE suite.

During the upcoming calendar year, our faculty and students will benefit enormously from using the integrative MOVE suite; those students enrolled in the following courses will have access to class modules that require MOVE modelling capabilities: ESCI 340 (Structural Geology), ESCI 345 (Tectonics and Basin Analysis), and ESCI 401/451/452 (Independent Study).

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On encountering a nest of fraudulent geology papers

This is a different kind of post! This semester I stumbled into an enormous collection of phony research papers published in the Arabian Journal of Geosciences. I became fascinated with the brazen nature of this fraud, and its large scale. I learned that my discovery was, sadly, not unusual in the murky world of scientific publishing. I’m outlining the story below to increase awareness of publishing fraud and the corrosive effects it has on the scientific literature, the credibility of publishers, and the integrity of science itself. I’ve embedded several links to expert sources that will provide a larger context for these scams.

I have a Google Scholar profile online that informs me when one of my papers is cited. In August 2021 I received a notice that Buatois et al. (2017; a trace fossil paper on which I am a co-author) was cited by:

Wei, X., Liu, L. Tropical cyclone and business English cross-cultural communication based on temporal big data. Arab J Geosci 14, 1734 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12517-021-07894-7

The title was so bizarre that I had to find the article and see how it cited us. What have we ever done with cyclones, let alone “English cross-cultural communication”? But there we are, cited in a reference section that has only authors A-C alphabetically. All the citations are concerned with geology and paleontology issues unrelated to the strange text of the paper. Clearly the reference list had been copied and pasted from a legitimate paper. (Maybe even fake papers need real references?)

I immediately contacted the Nature Springer Senior Editor for the Middle East and North Africa, who readily agreed that this paper and others in the special volume were problems and that Nature Springer would take action. (They initially tagged the papers with “notes of concern”.) I then learned about the publishing watchdog website PubPeer, where I made an account and posted my concerns with the Arabian Journal of Geosciences papers. Experts on PubPeer then took the story on and greatly expanded it, with the eventual result of articles in Retraction Watch (August 26, 2021) and The Chronicle of Higher Education (September 28, 2021). Six weeks later Nature published a summary article on this scam and others (November 8, 2021).

In November 2021, Springer Nature began retracting hundreds of fake papers. A typical retraction note looks like this:These fake papers are apparently produced in what are termed “paper mills” (in the publishing sense, not the physical plants that manufacture paper!). Dishonest scientists and other professionals purchase these manuscripts and submit them to journals to bolster their research credentials. Here is another Nature article on the bull market for this kind of scientific fraud. This growing list of fraudulent papers is astonishing. This fraud is all disturbing enough, but it is also clear that some journal editors are either not paying attention to what is being published on their watch or somehow benefit from the paper mill system.

In the geology case described here, I’m amazed that there are dozens of published papers that are complete nonsense, including their titles. You would think a customer would at least demand a generic science-sounding title to fly under the radar of editors and the readership. This is the brazenness of this particular scam — that they expected to be unnoticed by the legitimate scientific community.


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New paper: Introducing the taphonomic process of ooimmuration

I’m pleased to announce the publication of an article describing how fossils can be preserved within carbonate ooids, and what the implications are for this new aspect of taphonomy (the study of fossil preservation) we call ooimmuration. The team of authors include me, Anna Cooke (’20), fellow Wooster Professor Shelley Judge, and ace paleontologist Dr. Tim Palmer. The fieldwork for this project was done primarily on the Team Utah 2019 Expedition to the Middle Jurassic Carmel Formation exposed north of St. George.

The image above shows a microscopic view of a thin-section cut through Carmel ooids. Fossils are inside these ooids, most notably a calcareous foraminiferan in the center.

The abstract: Ooimmuration is here defined as a taphonomic process by which fossils are preserved within ooids. It is a form of lithoimmuration, although depending on the role of microbes in the formation of the ooid cortex, ooimmuration can also be considered a type of bioimmuration. Fossils enclosed within ooids are protected from bioerosion as well as the abrasion common in energetic depositional environments such as ooid shoals. Many taxa in some fossil assemblages may be known only because they were ooimmured. We describe as examples of ooimmuration fossils preserved in an oolite from the Middle Jurassic (Bajocian) Carmel Formation in southwestern Utah.

Now go forth and find more examples of ooimmuration!


Wilson, M.A., Cooke, A.M., Judge, S.A. and Palmer, T.J. 2021. Ooimmuration: Enhanced fossil preservation by ooids, with examples from the Middle Jurassic of southwestern Utah, USA. Palaios 36: 326-329. (https://doi.org/10.2110/palo.2021.036)

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Cambrian bryozoans? Not yet! [Update in October 2021: Now there ARE Cambrian bryozoans!]

Editor’s Note: The post below was written in December 2012 about a purported bryozoan found in Cambrian rocks. This would have been a major find because bryozoans, a major fossilized phylum, were notably missing from the Cambrian record, despite molecular evidence that they must have been there. The fossil described in this old post is almost certainly not a bryozoan, but NOW a recent publication describes clear and distinct bryozoans from the Early Cambrian of Australia and South China: Zhang, Z., Zhang, Z., Ma, J., Taylor. P.D., Strotz, L.C., Jacquet, S.M., Skovsted, C.B., Chen, F., Han, J. & Brock, G.A. 2021. Fossil evidence unveils an early Cambrian origin for Bryozoa. Nature; https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04033-w. (Note that friend of the department Paul Taylor is among the authors.) The new bryozoan fossil is erect, bilaminate, and secondarily phosphatized. Its taxonomic name is Protomelission gatehousei. Andrej Ernst and I wrote a Nature News & Views article about this fantastic story. Now we all must update our lectures on bryozoans and the Cambrian radiation!

The original December 2012 post is below.


Screen shot 2012-12-17 at 6.01.54 PMDUBLIN, IRELAND — It was a great day of talks at the 56th Palaeontological Association Annual Meeting being held at University College Dublin. I learned many things, from new ideas about the Burgess Shale and its characteristic fauna to why there is no demonstrated sexual dimorphism among Mesozoic vertebrates. (I also learned that the students in this university must sit in very cramped spaces in chilly rooms. Wooster students: note your classroom comforts!) My favorite talk of the day was one on which I was a co-author: “Is the world’s oldest bryozoan actually the world’s oldest pennatulacean?” Our senior author and genius of the project, Paul Taylor, gave the lecture. I’m presenting here two slides from the PowerPoint presentation. We’ll have much more about this topic when we have our paper on it in press. In the top image you see on the left Pywackia baileyi, a putative Cambrian bryozoan recently described in a high-profile journal. This is a big deal because bryozoans are known as one of the very few phyla not found in the Cambrian. We looked at the evidence and the specimens and quickly concluded this Pywackia baileyi is not a bryozoan. (Tell your friends!). Instead it appears to be pennatulacean-like octocoral. The image in the top right is of Lituaria, a modern pennatulacean. Note how similar these structures are, except for almost an order of magnitude size difference (which is reduced when looking at the range of sizes in other pennatulaceans).

Screen shot 2012-12-17 at 6.03.34 PMIn the above slide from Paul’s presentation you see Pywackia and Lituaria again on the left, and then a variety of living pennatulacean octocorals on the right. We have strong evidence, from the morphology to the possible original phosphatic composition, that Pywackia baileyi is not the earliest bryozoan. We have thus far a good case that it instead represents the earliest pennatulacean octocoral. Again, this story will be developed further later in this blog after our paper is accepted for publication.

Jameson121712The day ended with the traditional, raucous annual Palaeontological Association dinner at the Jameson Distillery in downtown Dublin. In the above image you can see in the foreground on the right Wooster alumna Lisa Park Boush and her husband Carlton. We are among just a scattering of Americans at this European meeting. It was a very pleasant (if very loud) evening!


Landing, E., English, A. and Keppie, J.D. 2010. Cambrian origin of all skeletalized metazoan phyla—Discovery of Earth’s oldest bryozoans (Upper Cambrian, southern Mexico). Geology 38: 547-550.

Taylor, P.D., Berning, B. and Wilson, M.A. 2012. Is the world’s oldest bryozoan actually the world’s oldest pennatulacean? Palaeontological Association 56th Annual Meeting, Dublin, Ireland, Programme and Abstracts, p. 52.

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Two Wooster Geologists Honored Today

It is inspiring to see two Wooster Geologists in the news today for national honors! Professor Shelley Judge has been named as this year’s NCAA Div. III Faculty Athletics Representative of the Year by the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association. Read the story here. Mazvita Chikomo (‘22, environmental geoscience) has been awarded the Idea Scholarship Award from the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG). Her story is here. Congratulations to both!

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Remote Summer Sampling in Southeast Alaska


We had the good fortune to work (remotely) with four TRAYLS groups in Alaska. The TRAYLS (Training Rural Alaskan Youth Leaders & Students) Groups from Southeast Alaska teamed up with Earth Scientist students  Ricky Papay (’22), Wenshuo Zhao (‘23) and Lucie Fiala (‘23) to investigate tree-rings and climate in Southeast Alaska. Students from the villages of Hoonah, Angoon, Klawock and Kake cored trees in the region, plotted the location of their sites on GIS software Survey 123, sent the cores to the WTRL for processing and analyses, and then the groups met to discuss results. The logistics and implementation of the program was possible through all the great group leaders in Southeast Alaska and Nick Wiesenberg (Wooster) and Ben Gaglioti (University of Alaska – Fairbanks).

The groups had a full summer and the tree-ring work was only one of their projects. They traveled by kayak, boat and floatplane across the region, sampling and taking notes on each tree they cored (various photos of the Kake and Angoon groups)

The Hoonah and Klawock teams shown measuring and coring and filling out the survey data.

The AYLS groups from Kake, Hoonah, Angoon and Klawock sampled an extensive portion of Southeast Alaska in the summer of 2021. The groups entered their data in to Survey 123 and Wooster students could check in each day and see the map populate with the sample sites.

Wooster students (Ricky Papay and Wenshuo Zhao) worked up the tree-ring data in the lab at Wooster and then we met on Zoom to share the results.

Representative samples from the AYLS groups. These are the first Red Cedar (far left) that the Wooster lab has worked with.

One of the tables showing the combined AYLS and Wooster data set. This was for the Prince of Wales group (Klawock). Three of the cedar trees are over 400 years old.


Some of the results included the Yellow Cedar tree-ring record above that brings the LIA (Little Ice Age) increase in growth and a recent release that could be related to warming or logging at a site on Prince of Wales Island.


A red cedar chronology appears to record reduced ring-width shortly after the 1815 eruption of Tambora (1816 called the year without summer in Europe) – it may be that the volcanic event forces a change in ocean temperatures that then causes the cooling to persist. Further study is needed.

Tree-ring series from Hoonah – these western hemlocks show an interesting suppression of growth in the mid to late 1700s, a change that persists for some decades. Western hemlock here also appear to track the warming well. Again further analysis can test some of the ideas the groups generated about the changes in observed tree growth.

Next summer we hope to visit some of these sites and expand on this work, as well a s continuing our remote collaboration.

A 40-foot spruce dugout canoes carved in Hoonah by master carver Wayne Price, and apprentices Steven Price, Zack James (Tlél Tooch Tláa.aa) and James Hart (Gooch Éesh) arriving Bartlett Cove, Glacier Bay, Alaska. The trip from Hoonah marked the return of the Tlingit to their ancestral homeland in 2016. Image courtesy of the Juneau Empire, the full story is here.


This project was funded by the National Science Foundation Paleoclimate Program (Awards: P2C2-2002561 and 2002454).

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Wolf Lake and the Surrounding Landscape, Glacier Bay, Alaska

Members of the Wooster Tree Ring Lab had a great opportunity to travel to a seldom-visited part of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve – a transect from Wolf Lake to Burroughs Glacier. We were there because there is 2500 year-old forest remnant that was overrun by ice. The ice has gone and continues to melt. Our interest is recovering these logs is to fill a gap millennial-scale tree-ring record from the Gulf of Alaska. The recently exposed logs are being lost to science each year as they flush out into the sea and rot away in this hypermaritime climate. Wooster student independent studies (ISs) in the region quite literally have surrounded this Wolf Lake site with their research, and over the last 10 years we have honed into this key location from all directions.

A view of Mount Wright through a gap in drift and bedrock. Tree-ring records from the flanks of Mt. Wright were part of a study led by Stephanie Jarvis and sampled by Sarah Appleton, who did their thesis work in the region.

We flew into the site this year. In previous years we attempted to walk in twice and once we were successful. I recommend the flying in – the brush and terrain makes it a brutal walk from Muir Inlet. Previous students Willy Nelson, Zach Downes, Dan Misinay, Jeff Gunderson, Andrew Wayrynen and  Jesse Wiles were some of those that would have appreciated a float plane ride into the lake.

Nick Wiesenberg at the head of a fan on Minnesota Ridge – in the distance is the blue of Wolf Lake and beyond is Muir Inlet. The ice covered this entire scene 100 years ago.


The flight over from Juneau afforded excellent views of Casement Glacier where students Sarah Appleton and Joe Wilch worked. 

Below is the sediment-charged plume from Casement Glacier as the Casement River empties out into Adams Inlet. IS students Jenn Horton and Lauren Vargo and I paddled through these waters on our way into the Inlet a some years ago.


Back to the Wolf Lake Basin – the upper reaches of the river and the pass (Glacier Pass) that we used to get to the Burroughs Glacier Basin.

We were there for the logs and here Nick is sneaking up on a potential sample.

The logs were dispersed in the river as well as hiding throughout some of the coarsest and most angular fans that ever existed. One can appreciate the weathering that is taking place on these fresh surfaces in this hypermaritime climate. The dot in the middle of the fan is Nick. 

The fans were more like rock glaciers and frankly we do not really understand these systems that are less than 100 years old.

I have to give credit to Nick for his tenacity and drive in systematically covering these fan surfaces and sampling the best hemlock logs we could find. This maps shows the sample sites – they are disperse across the landscape, but the logs are there and they cannot hide for long.

Nick coring a log beneath a snow bridge at the head of a fan.

The samples in the upper right portion of the map are taken from the flanks of the remnant Burroughs Glacier (named after the NY naturalist John Burroughs) who was a friend of John Muir and a member of the Harriman Expediti0n. At least five dissertations were written by glacial sedimentologists who studied ice-contact deposition along the margins of Burroughs – they include researchers from The Ohio State University, the University of Wisconsin – Madison and Michigan State. Wooster students Sarah Appleton, Andy Nash and Abby Vanlueven all worked in the area just south of Burroughs.

 Nick standing on the dead ice of Burroughs Glacier. Below he takes a core from a unsuspecting log.


    The granite in the area preserves dome nice glacial features – here a bullet-shaped boulder complete with a striated surface and a plucked (right side) end.

Must be some kind of bits of host rock (dark clasts) incorporated in a magma. 


We are lucky to be collaborating on this project with others on this project from the University of Alaska – Fairbanks and the Park Service. Dr. Ben Gaglioti worked earlier in the summer at another location along Glacier Bay’s wild outer coast – his work was written up in a 3-part series by Alaska Science writer Ned Rozell in the Juneau Empire, here, here and here. This project was funded by the National Science Foundation Paleoclimate Program (Awards: P2C2-2002561 and 2002454).

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Apple Creek & Trout Unlimited

Guest bloggers: Chamari Abercrombie and Ellen Yoon.

Good evening Wooster community, today the AMRE Water Team visited Apple Creek with Trout Unlimited to analyze the water quality of Apple Creek. To do so, we looked at macroinvertebrates and collected data from the transducer, which measures water level that we placed in the stream a few weeks ago. Special thanks to Dr. Skip Nault for teaching us about the method and what it indicates about water quality.

Grace Hodges before she goes in to use the dip net method to collect macroinvertebrates.

  • Chamari Abercrombie and Layali Banna used the kick seine method to collect macroinvertebrates. Next, Chamari used water to wash the macroinvertebrates into the silver pan while Layali held the kick seine at an angle to prevent the loss of macroinvertebrates.

  • Dragonfly larvae and Damselfly larvae were collected during the dip net method.

  • Overall data for the collection of macroinvertebrates and water quality – the indicators suggest excellent water quality. – The END. We hope you enjoyed our content.
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