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Molly Miller

MollyMiller

Professor
molly.f.miller@vanderbilt.edu
Ancient Antarctica
Office: 6702 Science & Engineering Bldg
Phone: (615) 322-3528

Education

Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles, 1977
M.S. George Washington University, 1971
B.S. College of Wooster, 1969

Specializations

  • Paleoecology
  • Clastic Sedimentology
  • Ichnology

 

General Interests

What is the relationship between soft-bodied animals and physical and biologic components of their environment, and how has this relationship changed through the Phanerozoic? Has the history been different for those living in marine versus freshwater conditions? Molly Miller’s long-term research goal is to find answers to these questions. To reach this goal, she integrates sedimentologic data with information about biogenic structures and the ecology of living organisms in order to reconstruct the ecological controls on ancient soft-bodied organisms.

Current Research

Molly Miller’s most recent project is a study of taphonomic, sedimentologic, and bioturbation processes under semi-permanent sea ice off the coast of Antarctica (Explorers Cove). She and collaborators S. Bowser, S. Walker and D. Furbish are identifying processes and rates, constructing models, and using them to refine interpretations of cores recently recovered from Cenozoic deposits off the coast of Antarctica. The idea is to link modern biologic, sedimentologic and taphonomic processes to the characteristics of cores in order to enhance interpretation of ancient ecosystems. Striking results to date are that epifaunal clams thoroughly bioturbate sediment beneath the nearly permanently frozen ocean but are rarely found as body fossils in cores, and similarly that ossicles of the abundant ophiuroids also are uncommon in shallow cores.Antarctica Burrow

Miller and graduate student Beverly Walker are in Explorers Cove from October to December, 2010. Divers are retrieving sediment traps, colonization aquaria, and ophiuroid ossicles that have been bathed in cold sea water for two years. Results of these experiments will be used to document the rates of sedimentation and rates of dissolution of ophiuroid skeletal material. Rate of addition of carbonate skeletal material will be estimated based on the density of animals observed in quadrats and transects. Examination of material in cores will be used to determine the amount of skeletal material that actually enters the subfossil record.

Undergraduates Kyle Broach and Katherine Murray will also be working in Antarctica in December, 2010. Katherine Murray will be evaluating how much sediment is transported far onto the sea ice offshore of Explorers Cove, and thus will be evaluating the role of eolian processes. Kyle Broach will be conducting experiments on how rapidly ophiuroids bioturbate the sediment. These studies will help constrain the rate of bioturbation.

 An important goal of this study is to produce a model of the sedimentary, bioturbation, and taphonomic processes acting in Explorers Cove. The modeling component is being done in collaboration with Professor David Furbish. Results of the model will be compared to the sub-fossil record preserved in shallow cores from Explorers Cove.

Ultimately, this project will provide a model for depositional, taphonomic, and bioturbation processes occurring under semi-permanent sea ice. 

sea iceMolly Miller also reconstructs the benthic communities of freshwater ecosystems and how they have changed through the Phanerozoic. Focused on the spectacularly well exposed upper Paleozoic to Mesozoic freshwater sequence in the Transantarctic Mountains, she uses biogenic structures and extent of bioturbation as a proxy for fossils of bottom-dwellers, and interprets the type and abundance of benthic animals in different environments (e.g. lakes, streams) during this crucial period in the development of freshwater habitats. Development of a semi-quantitative method for assessing bioturbation allows for comparison of benthic activity recorded in rocks of similar age deposited in the same environment in high latitude vs. low latitude settings and for comparison of animal activity in marine versus freshwater depositional systems. This work has documented that fresh water habitats were colonized by burrowing animals much later than those in the marine realm, and raises questions about mechanisms of colonization.

A continuing interest is in today’s lakes and how known modern processes can be used to enhance reconstruction of ancient lakes. An example of this approach is in a new GSA Special Paper, in which Miller and Isbell interpret number of ice free days, productivity, and other characteristics of a Permian polar lake based on analogy with modern lakes (see references). Work on modern lakes is done in collaboration with David White, Director of the Hancock Biological Station on Kentucky Lake.

Recent video put together about the Allan Hills in Antarctica where Molly and a number of collaborators have been working:

What Students Do

Molly Miller’s students have undertaken a wide variety of projects ranging from sedimentologic and petrologic studies of shales and sandstones, to studies of modern and ancient bioturbation to taphonomic investigations. The students use this preparation to pursue research in PhD programs and to enter careers in secondary education and environmental management.

 The following are some examples of current and recent theses:

Molly Miller’s students have undertaken a wide variety of projects ranging from sedimentologic and petrologic studies of shales and sandstones, to studies of modern and ancient bioturbation to taphonomic investigations. The students use this preparation to pursue research in PhD programs and to enter careers in secondary education and environmental management.

 The following are some examples of current and recent theses:

Beverly Walker (current; MS expected 2011) Ophiuroid taphonomy in Explorers Cove, Antarctica

Katherine Murray (B.A. exp 2011) and Ellery Richardson (B.A., 2010): Depositional processes under semi-permanent sea ice in Explorers Cove, Antarctica

Kimberly Mead (B.A. 2010) Rates of bioturbation by the epifaunal scallop Adamussium colbecki and the Ophionotus victoriae in Explorers Cove

Kyle Broach (B.A. exp 2012) Predicted and actual shell material in cores from Explorers Cove, Antarctica

Roberta Challener (M.S. 2008) Alteration of sand-sized sediments by scutelline sand dollars (Echinodermata: Echinoidea)

Brooke Traynham (M.S. 2007): Factors controlling the distribution of the burrowing mayfly Hexagenia in Kentucky Lake

Nichole Knepprath (M.S. 2006): Reconstruction of a high-latitude Permian forest, Antarctica


Antarctica1 Antartica2

Selected Publications (*student authors)

Articles

Miller, M.F., and Isbell, J.L., 2010, Reconstruction of a high-latitude post-glacial lake: Mackellar Formation (Permian), Transantarctic Mountains: GSA Special Paper 468, p. 193-207.

Briggs, D.E.G., Miller, M.F., Isbell, J.L., Sidor, C.A., 2010, Permo-Triassic arthropod trace fossils from the Beardmore Glacier area, central Transantarctic Mountains: Antarctic Science, v. 22, p. 185-192.

*Challener, R.C., Miller, M.F., Furbish, D.J., and McClintock, J., 2009, Examination of sand grain crushing in the sand dollar Mellita tenuis (Echinoidea: Echinodermata): Aquatic Biology, v. 7. p. 261-268.

Miller, M.F., Cowan, E.A., and Nielsen, S.S, 2009, Significance of the trace fossil Zoophycos in Pliocene deposits, Antarctic continental margin (ANDRILL 1B drill core): Ant. Science v. 21, p. 609-618.

Miller, M.F., Cowan, E.A., and Nielsen, S.H.H., 2009, Significance of the trace fossil Zoophycos in Pliocene deposits, Antarctic Continental margin. Antarctic Science, v. 21, p. 609-618.

Sidor, C.A., Miller, M.F., and Isbell, J.L. 2008, Tetrapod burrows from the Triassic of Antarctica: Jour. Vertebrate Paleontology, June issue.

White, D.S. and Miller, M.F., 2008, Benthic invertebrate activity in lakes: linking present and historical bioturbation patterns. Aquatic Biology, v. 2, p. 269-277.

Miller, M.F. and White, D.S., 2007, Ecological and evolutionary controls on the composition of marine and lake ichnofacies, in Miller, W., ed., Trace Fossils: Concepts, Problems, Prospects: Elsevier, p. 531-544.

Miller, M.F., and White, D.S., 2007, Ecological and evolutionary controls on the composition of marine and lake ichnofacies, in Miller, W., ed., Trace Fossils: Concepts, Problems, Prospects: Elssevier,Amsterdam, p. 531-544.

Miller, M.F., and Labandeira, C.C.,2002, The slow crawl of invertebrates across the salinity divide. GSA Today, 12, no. 12:1, 4-10.

Miller, M.F., *McDowell, T.A., *Smail, S.E., Shyr, Y., and Kemp, N.R., 2002, Hardly used habitats: dearth and distribution of burrowing in Paleozoic and Mesozoic stream and lake deposits. Geology, 30:527-530.

Miller, M.F., Hasiotis, S.T., Babcock, L.E., Isbell, J.L., and Collinson, J.W., 2001,. Tetrapod and large burrows of uncertain origin in Triassic high paleolatitude flood-plain deposits, Antarctica. PALAIOS, 16:218-232.

Miller, M.F. and Curran,H.A., 2001, Behavioral complexity of modern and Cenozoic thalassinid shrimp: Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimat. Palaeoecol., v. 166, p. 219-236.

Miller, M.F. and Mabin, M.C.G., 1998, Antarctic Neogene landscapes -- in the refrigerator or in the deep freeze? Introduction, Summary: GSA Today, v. 8, (4), p. 1-3, 8.

Meeting Abstracts

*Broach, K.H., Miller, M.F., *Mead, K.A., *Murray, K.T., Furbish, D.J., Roseberry, J.C., Walker, S.E., Bowser, S.S., 2009, Observed vs. modeled abundance of the Antarctic scallop Adamussium colbecki in the recent sedimentary record, Explorers Cove, Antarctica. Geol. Soc. America Abst. with Programs, v. 41 (7), p. 705.

*Murray, K. T., *Richardson, E.R., Miller, M.F., Bowser, S.S., Walker, S.E., 2009, Sediment texture in Explorers Cove, Antarctica: How is sediment transported from Dry Valley to ice covered seafloor? Geol. Soc. America Abst. with Programs, v. 41 (7), p. 141. 

*Mead, K.A., Miller, M.F., *Broach, K.H., Walker, S.E., and Bowser, S.S., 2009, Bioturbation on Antarctica’s Explorers Cove seafloor: why animal activity has a greater impact on the sedimentary record than animal abundance: Geol. Soc. America Abst. with Programs, v. 41 (7), p. 706.

Miller, M.F., *Richardson, E.R., *Murray, K.T., *Mead, K.A., Bowser, S.S, Walker, S.E., 2009, Polar ophiuroid taphonomy: disintegration and ossicle destruction of Ophionotus victoriae in Explorers Cove, Antarctica: Geol. Soc. America Abst. with Programs, v. 41 (7), p. 705.

* Knepprath, N.E., Miller, M.F., Isbell, J.L., Furbish, D.J., 2005, Permian high-latitude Gondwanan climate and environment constrained by plant taphonomy: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 37, p.484.

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