2018 Schlanger Fellow – Sarah Trubovitz

Sarah Trubovitz

University of Nevada


What drives plankton evolution? : An investigation of the paleoenvironmental impacts on radiolarian macroevolution using the constrasting histories of tropical and polar Neogene oceans







Despite the crucial role of plankton in ocean ecosystems, geochemical cycling, and regulating Earth’s climate, specific environmental impacts on their biodiversity remain poorly
understood. Radiolarians are siliceous zooplankton that are globally abundant and speciose across latitudes throughout the Neogene. This study will document radiolarian biodiversity and turnover from 23-1 Ma in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific (EEP) for comparison to a similar Southern Ocean dataset and regional paleoenvironmental proxies. Understudied relative to other plankton, radiolarians provide an opportunity to examine potential driving factors (i.e. ocean temperature, watermass structure, and nutrient availability) that manifest themselves differently at low and high latitudes.




The relationship between evolution and environment is what fascinates me most about the natural world. Inspired by my time as a ranger, exploring the parklands of Oregon and California, I decided to shift academic focus from literary studies to geology upon entering graduate school. For my MS, I worked with Alycia Stigall at Ohio University to constrain the timing of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event using brachiopods from North America. This experience was not only vital to my development as a researcher, but also gave me an appreciation for the quality, sample sizes, and continuous nature of the fossil record preserved in deep-sea sediment cores. Now at the University of Nevada with Paula Noble and Dave Lazarus, my goal is to characterize radiolarian evolutionary patterns in the context of paleoclimate. I look forward to examining the potential impacts of multiple environmental factors on biodiversity, community structure, and turnover rates throughout the Neogene. I hope this will better establish the controls on plankton evolution, and contribute to our understanding of how ocean ecosystems respond to climate change.