The first-ever Stuart A. Northrop Distinguished Lecture series, hosted by The University of New Mexico’s Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, features Professor Jonathan Payne in a talk titled, “The Modern (6th) Mass Extinction: A Geological Perspective,” on Friday, May 5 at 3 p.m. in Northrop Hall rm. 122. A reception will follow.

Payne, who is a professor and chair of Geological Sciences at Stanford University, asks if the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history already begun? And if so, what lessons does the fossil record offer for how ecosystems will respond to massive loss of biodiversity?

Professor Jonathan Payne
Stanford Professor Jonathan Payne

In his talk, Payne will compare the intensity and ecological selectivity of past mass extinction events to the current biodiversity crisis using a new database of animal sizes and ecological traits spanning both fossil and living species. Both on land and in the ocean, the strongly selective removal of large-bodied animals across many taxonomic groups is unique to the current diversity crisis and appears to be a unique signature of human influence on the biosphere.

The geological record provides many past examples of climate warming, ocean acidification, and sea level change that can help to inform projections of future environmental conditions. However, it does not contain a biodiversity crisis with a similar pattern of extinction, adding to the challenge of forecasting future ecosystem function.

Payne’s research addresses the relationship between environmental change and biological evolution in the fossil record. His primary focus is on understanding the causes of mass extinctions and the processes that control subsequent recovery of biodiversity and global ecosystems. He and his research group also use global data on fossil occurrence patterns and body sizes to study connections between environmental change and biological evolution over the full history of life, focusing on the evolution of body size and patterns of extinction selectivity.

Payne has received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation and is the 2015 recipient of the Allan V. Cox Medal from Stanford University for excellence in advising undergraduate research and of the Charles Schuchert Award from the Paleontological Society for excellence and promise in the science of paleontology.Payne’s research addresses the relationship between environmental change and biological evolution in the fossil record. His primary focus is on understanding the causes of mass extinctions and the processes that control subsequent recovery of biodiversity and global ecosystems. He and his research group also use global data on fossil occurrence patterns and body sizes to study connections between environmental change and biological evolution over the full history of life, focusing on the evolution of body size and patterns of extinction selectivity.

Jonathan Payne Research Group
Professor Jonathan Payne's research focus is on understanding the causes of mass extinctions and the processes that control subsequent recovery of biodiversity and global ecosystems.

At Stanford, Payne teaches courses for undergraduates in historical geology and invertebrate paleobiology, and courses for graduate students in carbonate sedimentology, geobiology and paleobiology. He also directs the Stanford History of Life Summer Internship Program, which has hosted 71 high school students over the past three summers.

He received his B.A. in Geosciences from Williams College in 1997. After two years working as a high school math and science teacher, he returned to graduate school, earning a Ph.D. in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Harvard University in 2005. Following a post-doctoral fellowship at Penn State, he joined the Stanford faculty in the fall of 2005.

The Stuart A. Northrop Distinguished Lecture Series, launched in 2016 through a generous donation by Dr. Bill Lovejoy (UNM Alumnus and former student of Dr. Northrop), honors former EPS Professor and Chair Dr. Stuart ‘Stu’ Alvord Northrop. Northrop’s contributions to the UNM Department of Geology during his long tenure as chairman (1929-1961) were profound.

Stuart Northrop
Professor Stuart Northrop, former UNM Department of Geology chair (1929-1961).

Northrop laid the foundation of the present department, including the creation of the MS and Ph.D. programs and the construction of the department's building, which now bears his name. He was a kind and generous scholar and teacher, always ready to share his vast knowledge of New Mexico geology. The legacy he Ieft his students, colleagues, and the State of New Mexico is a large one.

Lovejoy is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Georgia Southern University, who influenced generations of students with his own teaching and research. Lovejoy was born in a small Ohio town coming from four generations of coal miners and became a first generation college graduate. After serving in the Navy, he attended Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, where he majored in geology. A month later he boarded a bus for Albuquerque and UNM where he earned a master’s degree in geology.

Lovejoy worked as a geologist for Shell Oil Company in Midland Texas, then after six years enrolled at OSU to pursue a Ph.D. in zoology. Lovejoy has had three interesting and satisfying careers:  geologist, biologist, and teacher. The Department of E&PS is pleased he can be here at UNM for the inaugural Stuart A. Northrop Distinguished Lecture.

The Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences looks forward to using this newly-created lecture series as a venue to showcase the type of research and enthusiasm for seeking knowledge that was emblematic of Northrop himself.