A networking resource devoted to biological soil crusts and the researchers who study them. We will provide a means for international scientists to communicate, share their research, share important news and announcements, ask questions and find collaborators. We will also provide a space for informal writing on research, opinion, and ideas (now seeking posters!).

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Julius Csotonyi's mashup of arts & sciences

Every morning as I'm drinking enough coffee to kill a lesser man (but just enough to get me to the office), I read all the science news I can find. That includes a perusal of research blogging, wired science blogs, whatever NPR has posted, and an obsessive compulsive daily search for "Mars Curiosity". So, I read about our neanderthal and denisovan ancestry, psychology, and dinosaurs, among many other things. So naturally, this illustration caught my eye in a story about a new feathered dinosaur fossil, and the possible role of bright plumage in dino-sexiness.

Not only is it a cool illustration, I saw that it was credited to Julius Csotonyi. Why am i posting cool dinosaur art on this biocrust blog? Well, in addition to being an illustrator, he's a scientist with very diverse interests and an occasional biocrust researcher to boot. Once upon a time, I was an art student, but I find all my creative energy goes elsewhere now. So, it's always interesting to see people that balance and mix art and science. In looking for additional biocrust papers that he'd written, I learned about his "other" career a while ago. Now I realize that we see his work pretty frequently. He seems to be getting pretty famous for his paleo-illustration; there are quite a few blog posts about the dinosaur work including this recent scientific american piece, which calls him a "paleoart rockstar".  He also writes a truly excellent blog, Evolutionary Routes, which is a model of how to communicate science to non-scientists (also added to the blogroll on the left).

He has a dissertation and a couple papers on the biocrusts of Canada:
Csotonyi JT, Swiderski J, Stackebrant E, Yurkov V. 2010. A new extreme environment for aerobic and oxygenic phototrophs: biological soil crusts. Pages 3-14 In: Cohen IR, Lajtha A, Lambris JD, Paoletti R (eds),  Recent Advances in Phototrophic Prokaryotes. Springer, Berlin.

- Here, the authors document the existence of autotrophic bacteria in biocrusts that do not use the oxygenic photosynthesis that was all the rage when cyanobacteria came around (and still is about the coolest thing happening on Earth). So, crust communities may have multiple unique approaches to photosynthesis.

Csotonyi JT, Addicott JF. 2004. Influence of trampling-induced microtopography on growth of the soil crust bryophyte Ceratodon purpureus in Jasper National Park. Canadian Journal of Botany 82:138-1392.

- This one caught my eye years ago because I was working on the influence of bumpy crust micro-topography on the generation of favorable microsites for biocrust growth. Julius shows the same phenomenon in depressions initially created by elk footprints.

I end with one comment and one question for Dr. Csotonyi:
1. Colonization of land by biota was a significant event in the history of Earth. Some think the first organisms to do so were cyanobacteria, and we know that cryptogams such as mosses pre-dated the vascular plants. This age of the crusts could be some nice material for a paleoartist (perhaps not paying the bills like dinosaurs, but interesting nonetheless).

2. Since I was 7, and not a bad dinosaur artist, I have seen Allosaurus (lifelong personal favorite dinosaur predator) interpreted as some shade of tan with tiger-like stripes. Where did this come from and why does it persist, even in your work?

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