Sarah is an evolutionary palaeobiologist at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Her research involves reconstructing the evolutionary relationships of fossil echinoderms and understanding how changing climate might have influenced these evolutionary patterns. Her work is based both on studying museum collections of echinoderms and on finding new fossils in the field to add to what is known about echinoderm evolution. To do this, she travels to museums and field localities all over the world.
Sarah also works with many science-communication groups, helping bring fun and accurate science information to school-age children and interested adults. Sarah fell in love with palaeobiology when she took an elective science course in college, while she was a music major; she immediately changed her major to geology and never looked back.
When Sarah isn’t researching, she enjoys teaching college courses in palaeobiology, kayaking, hiking and spending time with her dogs, bunnies and guinea pigs.
Dr Sarah L. Sheffield, The University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org
by Sarah L. Sheffield*1
Echinoderms, a group of marine animals that includes familiar organisms such as sea stars and sea urchins, were much more diverse in the past than they are today. There are five living classes of echinoderms (sea stars, sea urchins, brittle stars, sea cucumbers and crinoids), but more than 20 extinct classes are known only from the fossil record. During the Palaeozoic Era (542 million to 251 million years ago), especially, echinoderms were incredibly diverse and thrived all over the globe (Fig. 1). This was a time of significant environmental change, with the climate ranging from very warm oceans with high sea levels and high atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to much colder oceans, with extensive glacial ice. By studying how fossil ...
by the Palaeontology [online] team
Palaeontology and the history of life are topics that capture the imaginations of children and adults alike, many of whom are keen to learn all about the latest weird wonders discovered by science. Communicating cutting-edge research to the public can be difficult, however, partly because scientists tend to publish their results in technical papers aimed at other scientists, but also because these papers are generally not freely available to non-academics — although the growth of open access means that this is improving in many countries. Popular-science writers provide accurate and accessible summaries of some of the most topical work, but can cover only a fraction of the research carried out by palaeontologists, naturally focusing on current stories ra