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Francesca McInerney

Adjunct Professor (Senior Lecturer, University of Adelaide)

Ph.D. Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago
M.S. Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago
B.A. Geology and Studies in the Environment, Yale University


Plants are sensitive recorders of climatic and atmospheric conditions through the stable isotope signature of their tissues. Some plant compounds, such as lipids, are well preserved in the geologic record, and their isotope ratios can tell us a great deal about the growth conditions (paleoecology, climate, atmospheric conditions) of the plants that produced them. However, to decipher these records, we must understand the factors that control these isotope signatures in the modern ecosystems. Therefore, my research focuses on both modern calibration of new isotopic proxies, as well as applications of those proxies to the geologic past during times of ecologic and climatic changes. Examples of past and current research include: Hydrogen Isotope Ratios of Plant Lipids as a Paleohydrologic Proxy, Terrestrial Ecosystem Responses to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, Reconstructing Neogene Grasslands.

Selected Publications

Baczynski, A., McInerney, F., Wing, S., Kraus, M., Bloch, J. & Secord, R. (2017). Constraining paleohydrologic change during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum in the continental interior of North America. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 465, 237-246.

Caddy-Retalic, S., Andersen, A., Aspinwall, M., Breed, M., Byrne, M., Christmas, M. ... Lowe, A. (2017). Bioclimatic transect networks: powerful observatories of ecological change. Ecology and Evolution, 7, 13, 4607-4619. 

Bush, R., Wallace, J., Currano, E., Jacobs, B., McInerney, F., Dunn, R. & Tabor, N. (2017). Cell anatomy and leaf δ13C as proxies for shading and canopy structure in a Miocene forest from Ethiopia. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 485, 593-604. 

Baczynski, A., McInerney, F., Wing, S., Kraus, M., Morse, P., Bloch, J. ... Freeman, K. (2016). Distortion of carbon isotope excursion in bulk soil organic matter during the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 128, 9, 1352-1366. 

Cernusak, L., Barbour, M., Arndt, S., Cheesman, A., English, N., Feild, T. ... Farquhar, G. (2016). Stable isotopes in leaf water of terrestrial plants. Plant, Cell & Environment, 39, 5, 1087-1102. 

Tibby, J., Barr, C., McInerney, F., Henderson, A., Leng, M., Greenway, M. ... McNeil, V. (2016). Carbon isotope discrimination in leaves of the broad-leaved paperbark tree, Melaleuca quinquenervia, as a tool for quantifying past tropical and subtropical rainfall. Global Change Biology, 22, 10, 3474-3486.

Bush, R. T. & McInerney, F. A. (2015). Influence of temperature and C₄ abundance on n-alkane chain length distributions across the central USA. Organic Geochemistry, 79, 65-73. 

Baczynski, A., McInerney, F. & Wing, S. (2014). n-Alkane PETM records from the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming: A core-outcrop comparison. Rendiconti Online Societa Geologica Italiana, 31, 19-20. 

Clyde, W., Gingerich, P., Wing, S., Rohl, U., Westerhold, T., Bowen, G. ... Brady, K. (2013). Bighorn Basin Coring Project (BBCP): A continental perspective on early Paleogene hyperthermals. Scientific Drilling, 16, 16, 21-31. 

Baczynski, A., McInerney, F., Wing, S., Kraus, M., Bloch, J., Boyer, D. ... Fricke, H. (2013). Chemostratigraphic implications of spatial variation in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum carbon isotope excursion, SE Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 14, 10, 4133-4152. 

Kraus, M., McInerney, F., Wing, S., Secord, R., Baczynski, A. & Bloch, J. (2013). Paleohydrologic response to continental warming during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology, 370, 196-208. 

Bush, R. & McInerney, F. (2013). Leaf wax n-alkane distributions in and across modern plants: implications for paleoecology and chemotaxonomy. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 117, 161-179. 

Secord, R., Bloch, J., Chester, S., Boyer, D., Wood, A., Wing, S. ... Krigbaum, J. (2012). Evolution of the earliest horses driven by climate change in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Science, 335, 6071, 959-962.

Lynch, D., McInerney, F., Kouwenberg, L. & Gonzalez-Meler, M. (2012). Plasticity in bundle sheath extensions of heterobaric leaves. American Journal of Botany, 99, 7, 1197-1206. 

Sachse, D., Billault, I., Bowen, G., Chikaraishi, Y., Dawson, T., Feakins, S. ... Kahmen, A. (2012). Molecular paleohydrology: interpreting the hydrogen-isotopic composition of lipid biomarkers from photosynthesizing organisms. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 40, 1, 221-249.


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