Rusinga Island documentary based in part on the research of Daniel J. Peppe, now on display in the American Museum of Natural History

Oct. 12, 2012
Rusinga Island leafRusinga Island leaf

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WACO, Texas (Oct. 11, 2012) - A documentary based in part on the research of Daniel J. Peppe, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of geology at Baylor University is online and on display at the American Museum of Natural History. Peppe has been conducting research on Rusinga Island in Kenya since 2007. Supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Leakey Foundation, his work focuses on reconstructing the island's ancient environment using fossil leaves.

"Dan Peppe has clearly established himself as a leader in the search for early primate origins and has been influential in leading interdisciplinary expeditions for this research, funded by NSF and other organizations. We are very pleased to have him with us at Baylor University," said Steven Driese, Ph.D., geology department chair. Driese accompanied Peppe to Rusinga Island during the summer of 2011 when the documentary was filmed.

Rusinga Island lies in the north-eastern portion of Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and second largest freshwater lake in the world. Right off the coast of Kenya, Rusinga Island is globally known for its extraordinarily rich and important fossil beds of extinct Miocene mammals, dated to 18 million years. It provides ideal conditions for the preservation of biological structures in fossil-form. Beginning approximately 20 million years ago the Kisingiri volcano, located just across the lake on Kenya's coast, spewed forth vast quantities of ash, rock and other geologic material. These sediments accumulated in the area, one layer on top of the next.

What made Rusinga Island so famous was the discovery of primitive fossil apes. Proconsul, the best known fossil early ape has been found at many different sites in Kenya and Uganda. However, most of its anatomy is known from the finds at Rusinga.

"The behavioral and morphological adaptations of mammals are a direct reflection of the habitats in which they evolve," Peppe said. "Detailed reconstructions of climate and paleoenvironment are vital to better understanding the evolution of humans and their ancestors."

Understanding the relationship between the ecosystem and its response to global change is a hot topic of debate in science today. Peppe's research, which is primarily conducted in East Africa and North America, is focused on answering questions about how terrestrial ecosystems have been influenced by large scale environmental perturbations, such as long and short term climate change events.

To watch the documentary, click here.

by Rebecca Malzahn, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805

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Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

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