Pursuing a Potential New Species
Imagine being a 17-year-old high school student, and in your first semester of a geology research internship, your professor asks you to identify a tiny specimen of an extinct 300-million-year-old unknown crustacean.
While most high school students might feel intimidated, Megan Schinker—then an ambitious Stow-Munroe Falls High School junior participating in Kent State’s College Credit Plus Science Experience Internship Program—jumped right in.
She began comparing the cyclid specimen to anything she could find in literature and online sources in the lab of Rodney Feldmann, PhD, a Kent State professor emeritus of geology, who continues to teach graduate-level courses in paleontology and conduct grant-funded research. The two requested samples and pictures of lost samples from all over the world and examined them closely, cataloging their physical and structural attributes.
“I don’t think this quite matches anything,” Schinker told Feldmann. He agreed, and they began to explore the morphology of these cyclids. Their research collaboration has led to several scientific publications and presentations on cyclids—and ignited Schinker’s passion for geology. Starting in fall 2019, she is majoring in geology and chemistry at Kent State and continuing her work in Feldmann’s lab.
Their most recent journal article, co-authored with Carrie Schweitzer, PhD, professor of geology at Kent State, solidifies the fact that the cyclid, first reported around 200 years ago, is actually a unique species. Cyclids are extinct marine crustaceans that lived from the Carboniferous Period, about 350 million years ago, through the Cretaceous, about 65 million years ago. Their fossil remains are rare and have not been well studied—although they’ve been considered as belonging to many different groups of arthropods, including crabs.
“This is pioneeering work and could yield a whole new class of organisms.”
“They don’t fit into any other groups, so this is pioneering work and could yield a whole new class of organisms,” says Feldmann, who has conducted field and museum research concentrating on fossil crabs, lobsters and shrimp at sites all over the world. “Naming this species and getting more information about different types of cyclids is important.”
In November 2018, Schinker, Feldmann and Schweitzer presented their findings to colleagues at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.