Albuquerque, NM—Curator of Paleontology at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Gary S. Morgan, is Co-Principal Investigator on a $3.8 million Partnerships in International Research and Education (PIRE) grant, funded by the National Science Foundation, for the project entitled, “Ancient biodiversity and global change in the New World Tropics: A once-in-a-century opportunity along the Panama Canal.”

The project will study the history of climate change and diversity in Panama. Students and researchers participating in the five-year grant will collect fossils from deposits excavated from the Panama Canal during construction to widen and straighten the channel and build new locks. The project will expand researchers’ understanding of global changes that occurred when the Isthmus of Panama formed, creating a land bridge between North America and South America.

“The marine connection between the Atlantic and Pacific was severed simultaneously with the rise of the Panama Isthmus, changing oceanic circulation and ushering in a new climate regime affecting the entire planet,” said Doug Jones, Director and Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History and Principal Investigator on the grant.

Partners in the grant include: The Florida Museum of Natural History; Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama; the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science; Florida State University, Panama Canal Campus; Biomuseo, Panama; Universidad de Panama; Sociedad Mastozoologica de Panama; and Autoridad del Canal de Panama.

“It’s a cooperative effort among institutions to learn about the paleontology of Panama and educate people both in Panama and the U.S.,” said Gary S. Morgan.

The grant involves field and research projects, educational programs, and a traveling museum exhibit highlighting the PIRE grant discoveries in Panama.

About the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science
The New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, a division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, is a regional center of excellence in scientific research, exhibits, and science education.