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Speaker Bio: Elizabeth Hermsen received her B.S. in botany and geology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Ph.D. from Cornell University. She held postdoctoral positions at the University of Kansas studying fossil plants from Antarctica and Cornell University studying fossil plants from Patagonia, Argentina. She later worked at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, as a faculty member. Today, she is a Research Scientist at the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) in Ithaca, New York. In addition to research, she helps edit PRI’s journal Bulletins of American Paleontology. She also contributed to the development of PRI’s Daring to Dig: Women in American Paleontology temporary exhibit and companion website.
Description of the Talk: Gray Fossil Site is an ancient lake deposit located in eastern Tennessee. It preserves a diverse fossil assemblage that is about 4.9 to 4.5 million years old. The site is one of only a few from eastern North America that yields plant macrofossils from the Neogene period (about 23 to 2.6 million years ago), and it is the only major Neogene macrofossil flora from the Appalachian region. Thus, Gray Fossil Site is very important to understanding the evolution of the vegetation of eastern North America. Plant macrofossils at the site include fruits, seeds, leaves, wood, and other structures. Many of the plant macrofossil genera so far identified from the site still grow in eastern North America, although some occur only in Asia today, and at least one is extinct. The Gray Fossil Site flora illustrates the relationships between the flora of the eastern North America and other regions of the world, as well as the selective extinction of plants in eastern North America between the time that the flora was preserved and today.