SITE VISIT: Dusting Off Lost Worlds

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Science  07 Apr 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5463, pp. 7
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5463.7d

From a handful of ancient dust, a sharp-eyed palynologist can conjure up an entire vanished ecosystem by scrutinizing pollen grains, spores, and other durable microscopic fossils, collectively known as palynomorphs. These studies provide insights into climate and chronology that help scientists interpret more spectacular fossil and archaeological finds. But palynologists often labor in obscurity, says Owen Davis of the University of Arizona in Tucson. “There is no booth at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show for fossil pollen,” he says. Spreading the word about this field is just one of the goals of his Palynology Page.

Aimed at students and other curious visitors is the definitions section, where you can discover acritarchs (a catch-all class of microfossils) or read about subfields such as stratigraphic palynology. Entries often lead to detailed accounts packed with references, illustrations, and hyperlinks. Stumped researchers trying to identify a specimen can link to catalogs of pollen pictures—magnified images of bristly spheres and honeycombed flakes from 1000-and-counting species. Palynologists will also find links to journals, research groups, educational sites, scientific societies, and commercial labs. And for true aficionados, there's even a Pollen Grain of the Month.

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