By Jennifer Sheridan
The Section of Herpetology has welcomed a new curator—me! I’m happy to be writing this blog post as a way of introducing myself and to be joining the Carnegie Museums family.
I moved here from Singapore, where I was Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies for the past four years at Yale-NUS College, a small liberal-arts college entering its sixth year of operation. It was fantastic, but I’m very much looking forward to my new role as curator. People often ask me what exactly a curator does, and in my case, it won’t be too different from my job as a professor: my time will be divided between research & curation, outreach & education, and service to the museum (providing input for exhibits, for example). At Yale-NUS, about two-thirds of my time was teaching (education) and service, and about one-third was research, so I’m looking forward to being able to devote a larger portion of my time (closer to 50%) to research now that I’m here.
Additionally, it’s exciting to have such a great collection on hand with which to answer questions about ecological responses to climate change, one of the main foci of my research. In fact, a recent paper of mine relied heavily on specimens from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. My co-authors and I used more than 350 specimens from this museum, plus more than 900 specimens from 15 other museums, collected between 1901–2000, to examine how wood frog body size and breeding have shifted in response to climate change.
We found that breeding and size shifted as predicted at broad spatial scales, but when we examined the data at finer spatial scales, local changes in climate did not accurately predict local body size changes. This suggests that climate itself is not the driving factor of observed body size changes, but rather that there is another mechanism driving such changes, that also correlates with climate. Moving forward, I’ll be combining examinations of the collections with field work to uncover other ways that amphibians have responded to climate change, whether through shifts in body size, breeding date, or geographic range, and what impacts that might have on ecosystem function. I’m excited to be here with such great resources for answering these interesting questions!
Jennifer Sheridan is the Assistant Curator in the Section of Herpetology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.