Biology Seniors Take First Place at Regional Meeting

Two Loyola Marymount University biology students presented a research poster that earned them a tie for first place at the annual meeting of the Southern California Academy of Sciences.

Melissa Morado ’19 and Anna Yager ’19, presented their research titled, “Ontogenetic Distribution of Late Pleistocene Megafauna at Rancho La Brea,” in spring 2019. The students worked on a collaborative study funded by the National Science Foundation to study Late Pleistocene megafauna at the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.

Their team – led by Wendy Binder, professor and chair of the Biology Department at LMU, and comprising Joshua Cohen, a postdoctoral researcher, along with other intercollegiate collaborators – focused on the La Brea Tar Pits and the Hancock collection, the original collection of mammal bone deposits.

“We were predicting that the larger adult fossils would be kept compared to the smaller juveniles, indicating a preference towards larger museum specimens,” said Morado.

Photo 300x300 - Biology Seniors Take First Place at Regional Meeting
Melissa Morado ’19 and Anna Yager ’19 at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum

Morado and Yager formed a smaller research team to concentrate on census data which meant going through all the fossils collected and categorizing correctly for juvenile animals, morphological and taxonomical data.

“We had to learn to compare bones to be accurate. Were the animals, adult or juvenile? To be able to tell by looking at the bones of a mammal meant a great deal to us,” said Morado. “Our general result was that all the localities showed a trend of more juvenile ungulates, like horses or bison, than carnivora.”

Morado plans to apply to a master’s degree program in Zoology/Wildlife Biology with an emphasis on animal behavior or physiology. “I have always liked communications with animals,” said Morado. “The research is fascinating.”

“Dr. Binder was an excellent research mentor,” said said Morado. “She was extremely helpful in always giving us information about the animals we were observing, informing us about the broader project and guiding us to become critical thinkers. Working in a collaborative scenario with other undergraduates and gaining knowledge made it amazing.”

Yager and Morado are thankful for the knowledge they gained in this very specific niche of research. “We were not expecting the award. For us, we were having fun with our research, but this was another chance to go for it,” said Yager. “We learned to ask for help, and now I am more comfortable working in this setting and on these topics.”

Yager plans to spend a year working as an emergency medical technician before furthering her education as a physician’s assistant or pursuing medical school. Yager also encourages Seaver College students to get involved early and not be afraid.

“You learn when you get there and fear held me back during my first two years,” said Yager. “The professors, staff, teacher’s assistants are very supportive of Seaver students and will help you through anything.”

Creative Writing major Nina Gibson is a graduate student with the Department of English in LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts.