Paleontologists are often seen by the public as an Indiana Jones-esque man, scouting for dinosaur bones somewhere in the badlands of Montana or in the Argentinian pampa. While such paleontologists may exist, they do not represent reality; in fact, the inspirational subject of this piece was a woman whose life’s work involved small, unassuming insects, tucked under the microscope for the long hours in the lab, meticulously documenting and interpreting traces of life long gone.

Dr. Nadezhda Sergeevna Kalugina (21 Jan 1930 – 07 April 1990) came from the generation of Soviet scientist who experienced the horrors and hardships of WWII in their youth, and who were invigorated by the post-war hope and promise of the boundless progress and growth offered by science.

Her way to a career in paleontology was not direct nor very quick. She entered law school at Moscow State University, and after one year she transferred to the school of Biology (big win for the latter!), from which she graduated in 1954. After that, she became a Ph.D. student at Moscow State’s Department of Invertebrate Zoology (1954-57) in the lab of Dr. Nina Sokolova – a renowned Soviet expert on the aquatic insect’s production ecology and population dynamics.

During her years as a graduate student, she focused her attention on the systematics and ecology of the phytophilous and leaf mining non-biting midges (Diptera, Chironomidae) of the Ucha reservoir near Moscow.

Chironomidae are among the most abundant and diverse aquatic insects. Over 7000 described extant species of Chironomidae are known worldwide. The geological history of chironomids stretches from the late Triassic onwards. Since chironomid larvae from different genera are closely associated with the specific types of habitat and natural conditions, chironomids are quite often used in the environmental monitoring and paleoenvironmental reconstructions.

Kalugina excelled in her work with these insects, and in 1960 she had defended Candidate of Science (Ph.D. equivalent) thesis titled “Systematics and biology of the phytophilous chironomids of the Ucha reservoir (Diptera, Chironomidae)”.

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Laboratory of Arthropods, Palaeontological Institute (1981)
Rear row, standing from left to right: Irina Dobrohotova; Prof Alexander Rasnitsyn; Dr. Vladimir Zherikhin; Dr. Ludmila Pritikina; Dr. Vladimir Kovalev; Valentyna Vishniakova. Front row (sitting) from left to right: Tamara Ivanova, Dr. Nina Sinichenkova; Dr. Irina Sukacheva; Dr. Nadezhda Kalugina. Prof. Boris Roddendorf is on the portrait.
Image courtesy Dr. Alexander Rasnitsyn, under a Creative Commons License.

 

After finishing her graduate studies she proceeded to attain a prestigious position of the Nematocera Diptera curator in the Zoological Museum of the Moscow State University (1957-1964). Then, she worked as a hydrobiologist at the Moscow aquacultural-meliorative station of the Moscow Timiryazev Agricultural Academy and in the Institute of Genetics, Soviet Academy of Science. It is, however, her next position which became very formative in her career – as a researcher in the Boris Roddendorf’s lab of Arthropod of Palaeontological Institute Ac.Sci.USSR, Moscow. She worked there from 1971 until her premature death in 1990.

At some point (1977-79), after the death of her PI -Prof Boris Roddendorf- she was an acting head of the lab. She not only became an excellent systematic palaeoentomologist but also produced a number of highly original conceptual works in paleoecology.

Kluging had an understanding that many paleontologists lacked back in the day – she had the profound understanding of the biology and ecology of the modern representatives of the group she worked studied. That allowed her to gain unprecedented insights into the life of the fossil Diptera, and learn more about the functions of the aquatic ecosystem of the Mesozoic.

As a paleontologist, she worked mostly on the fossil Diptera faunas from the Mesozoic of USSR and Mongolia, such as Cretaceous amber from Taimyr, Cretaceous Lake Manlay (Mongolia) and various Jurassic lacustrine deposits from Transbaikalia. She described 104 species and 43 genera of the fossil flies from the families Chironomidae, Chaoboridae, Ceratopogonidae, Dixidae, Tipulidae, Limoniidae, Eoptychopterydae, Ptychopteridae, Tanyderidae, and Simuliidae. A combination of the huge body of work on fossil material and expert knowledge of the ecology of extant flies, led her to spot certain patterns in the paleodiversity of aquatic Diptera. In particular, she found that representatives of the Chironomidae clade, Podonominae, are only found today in the cold streams and lakes in mountainous or cold-moderate areas, but were quite abundant in the lowland lakes during the Mesozoic. Then she found out with her colleague Dr. Vladimir Zherikhin, that this pattern was quite common among the Jurassic-Early Cretaceous aquatic insects. Based on her vast experience with modern ecosystems, Dr. Kalugina hypothesized, that rise of the deciduous forests made up of flowering plants in the late Cretaceous, led to the massive enrichment (eutrophication) of the lakes and rivers with decomposition products of their leaves. That caused the extinction of the many aquatic organisms, with some groups, such as Podonominae, surviving only in the cool, organic-poor waters of mountainous and subpolar streams. Her ideas gave rise to a much more nuanced and progressive view on the ecosystems of the late Cretaceous, and the world, in which flowering plants were created by their origin. She published 38 research papers and monographs, and her work on fossil Diptera was recognized by the prestigious award (“Diploma”) of Moscow Society of Naturalists (1987).

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Some of the Kalugina’s papers. All papers with author’s autographs and were received by (Viktor Baranov from the Arthropod Laboratory of the Palaeontological Institute (Moscow).

 

Post by Viktor Baranov, who also says:

I will often take from my shelf Kalugina’s monographs and paper offprints while working with fossil flies. Normally I will just find the measurement, or character description I need and put the volume back, but sometimes, quite often actually, I am stopping to reflect on how much this person I never meet made for my work, and how much her achievements keep inspiring me so many years after she’s gone. Actually, Kalugina’s work was so integral for me, that at some point I named a fossil midge after her- Paraphaenocladius nadezhdae Baranov & Andersen, 2015.

On the top of that I am a big fan of her son’s Sergey Kalugin- music (he is a frontman of the progressive metal band “Orgy of The Righteous”), so that’s another reason for me to be thankful to her, I guess… Not all paleontologist are scouting for the dinosaur bones, and this is wonderful, as the diversity of people and their aspirations, in the geoscience is what giving this science strength and unexpected insights, from things sometimes as unremarkable for non-initiated as midge larvae!

 

Acknowledgments: I am indebted to Prof.Dr. Alexander Rasnitsyn for his help with research on N.S.Kalugina’s career and permission to use photos from the archive of PIN Arthropod’s lab.

References and further reading

  1. Bibliography of the N.S.Kalugina’s published works at the website of the PIN’s paleonentomology lab: http://palaeoentomolog.ru/Publ/kalugina.html
  2. Short biography of N.S.Kalugina at the website of the PIN’s paleonentomology lab: http://palaeoentomolog.ru/Personnel/Kalugina.html
  3. Zoological Museum of Moscow State University in Personalia: http://zmmu.msu.ru/musei/zoomuzej-v-licakh
  4. Kalugina, N. S., Kovalev, V. G. 1985 Jurassic Diptera of Siberia.[in Russian]Izd. Nauka, Moskva. 200 pp. [Full text is available at the website of the PIN’s paleonentomology lab: http://paleoentomology.ru/publ/books/Kalugina-Kovalev-1985.pdf ]
  5. Kalugina, N. S., 1974. Change in the subfamily composition of chironomids (Diptera, Chironomidae) as an indicator of possible eutrophication of bodies of water during the late Mesozoic. Byull. mosk. Obshch. Ispyt. Prir. Otd. Biol. 79: 45-56.
  1. N.S. Kalugina ‘s Obituary: Netherland J. Aquatic Ecol. 1992, 26 (2-4): 99.
  2. Baranov, V., Andersen, T. and Perkovsky, E.E., 2015. Orthoclads from Eocene Amber from Sakhalin (Diptera: Chironomidae, Orthocladiinae). Insect Systematics & Evolution, 46(4), pp.359-378.

 

Nadezhda S.Kalugina in the 1950s. Image courtesy Dr. Alexander Rasnitsyn, under a Creative Commons License.

Holotype of Paraphaenocladius nadezhdae Baranov et Andersen, 2015, fossil midge from the Sakhalinian amber (Sakhalin Island, ca. 50 MYA old), named by us after Nadezhda Kalugina.

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