Kevin McCartney, Professor of Geology and Environmental Science at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, has recently published three papers in international peer-reviewed science journals. These publications complete the research that McCartney did during a University of Maine System Trustee Professorship in Szczecin, Poland in 2014; altogether, six papers resulted from that sabbatical. The three recently published papers include co-authors from four continents (North America, Europe, Asia and Australia).
Over the past seven years, Dr. McCartney has been deeply engaged in a diversity of studies that deal with a single-celled group of plants known as silicoflagellates. His work began in cooperation with a colleague at the University of Nebraska but has now expanded to a group of nearly a dozen scientists from around the world. This cooperation has produced nearly 20 papers in only a few years, and includes work over the entire 120-million-year history of the group, as well as samples from all five of the Earth’s oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic and Southern).
According to McCartney, each of the recently published papers is unusual in its own way. Perhaps the most significant of these, he said, is a general paper published in the journal Marine Micropaleontology titled “Cenozoic silicoflagellate skeletal morphology: a suggested terminology.” McCartney explained that silicoflagellates have had, over their history, a wide variety of different skeletal designs and researchers working in different portions of this record have used contrasting descriptive terms. McCartney, working with his Polish colleague Jakub Witkowski, reviewed the terminologies used during the past 50 years and presented a unified silicoflagellate “dictionary,” which should provide a more consistent vocabulary in the future.
The terminology paper does not have any new discoveries that advance scientific knowledge of the natural realm. However, McCartney considers this to be in some ways the most important of the three recent publications because it will likely be cited in many silicoflagellate papers that might be published in the coming decades. Future papers can now simply cite the recent paper by McCartney and Witkowski rather than including an illustration that defines terms. McCartney said the paper should be particularly useful since it presents a terminology that applies to the entire range of skeletal designs, illustrated by especially good photographs taken with a scanning electron microscope.
The other two papers are also unusual in the context of McCartney’s overall work because both deal with modern silicoflagellates. McCartney is a paleontologist who has generally dealt with fossils recovered from deep ocean drill cores. However, while in Japan two years ago, McCartney assisted a graduate student in the study of silicoflagellates from the Seto Inland Sea, in southern Japan. This developed into a paper that was published late last year. During this study, McCartney saw some unusual skeletons which provided a new perspective on the evolution of the silicoflagellate genus Octactis. The resulting paper, titled “Did the silicoflagellate genus Octactis evolve from Bachmannocena?” was also published in Marine Micropaleontology and has two Japanese co-authors.
The third paper is titled “Silicoflagellate assemblages as indicators of the main hydrological systems of the Southern Ocean: applications for paleoreconstructions” and is published in the journal Geo-Marine Letters. This study is the result of advice provided to a post-doctoral student at Macquarie University, in Australia. McCartney said his contribution to this paper was mainly on the identification of species, with all the real work being done by his Australian colleagues. However, he is listed as third among the seven co-authors. The paper studies how the assemblage of silicoflagellate species changes with oceanographic conditions. The results presented in this publication may later be applied to the interpretation of oceanographic conditions present when fossil silicoflagellates were deposited.
In August, McCartney delivered a presentation at the 24th International Diatom Symposium, in Quebec City, where many of these colleagues were also in attendance, and met with him to prepare for further work. Shortly after that conference, McCartney departed for Poland, this time as a Fulbright Scholar. He will spend eight months in Szczecin, Poland, looking at many sediment samples from around the world in a quest to present a large scale evolutionary history of the silicoflagellate group. The last such study was done by a Russian colleague in 1962. During his Fulbright, McCartney will also tackle several other major studies and conduct talks at universities throughout the country.
A postscript: McCartney has just finished his second week in Szczecin and is already deeply involved with several projects. While at the Diatom Symposium, his colleague in Japan gave him a manuscript in progress to work on as co-author. McCartney is also working with a Chinese student at Szczecin who has silicoflagellates in his samples from the modern South China Sea, and he is also processing sediment samples for his first major project. To follow McCartney on his Fulbright journey, check out his daily photo blog at wp.umpi.edu/kevinsfulbright.