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Plant Stories Trapped in Tar: Paleobotany at the La Brea Tar Pits

February 25, 2021 @ 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm

The La Brea Tar Pits in the heart of Los Angeles, California are world famous for their preservation of Ice-Age mammals, especially the iconic, extinct megafauna such as saber-tooth cats, dire wolves, mammoths and mastodons. What is less known, is that the unique asphaltic preservation of past life at La Brea includes much more than mammals, but entire ecosystems of Los Angeles from the Late Pleistocene through the Holocene spanning the last ~57,000 years. While much attention has been given to the fauna, relatively little is known about plant life during this time. Fossil plants preserved at the La Brea Tar Pits include seeds, wood, leaves, needles, cones, pollen and phytoliths. We will detail how these ancient floras reveal a rich history of climatic and environmental change in Los Angeles and Southern California over the last several millennia leading to the formation of our modern day ecosystems.

Join scientists Dr. Regan Dunn, Assistant Curator at La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, and Jessie George, UCLA PhD Candidate, to explore the ancient flora of Los Angeles and learn about the fascinating field of paleobotany.

Dr. Regan Dunn is an Assistant Curator at La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. She is a paleobotanist whose research seeks to understand the interplay between climate, plants and animal evolution through time. She studies phytoliths, pollen, leaf fossils and wood to reconstruct ancient vegetation structure and composition. She has a PhD in Biology from the University of Washington, a M.S. in Botany from the University of Wyoming, and a B.S. in Biological Sciences from Colorado State University. She recently completed two postdoctoral fellowships, one at the University of Wyoming and another at the Field Museum of Natural History. She has extensive field experience having worked in the Western U.S. (Wyoming, Colorado, Washington, Oregon), and in Central and South America. She has worked for the National Park Service as a Geologist and has extensive work experience in museums including the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Thomas Condon Paleontology Center in Kimberly, Oregon, the Burke Museum of Nature and Culture in Seattle, WA, and the Field Museum in Chicago, IL. Her work at La Brea Tar Pits focuses on understanding vegetation and vegetation change over the last 50,000 years in the Los Angeles Basin.

Jessie George is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at UCLA. She has an MSc in Environmental Archaeology from the Institute of Archaeology at University College London where she studied ancient agriculture through preserved plant material from archaeological sites. Her current PhD research is on the fossil plants of the La Brea Tar Pits, working to identify and radiocarbon date fossils in the collection to better understand how vegetation changed through time in the Los Angeles Basin in response to changing climates and fauna. Her research interests and work in biogeography and archaeology are focused on the interactions of climate, plant life, and society.
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