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The Royal Tyrrell Museum believes that science should be accessible for everyone to understand and engage with. This is why we are involved with the citizen science movement. Citizen science is the concept of having civilians work with professionals to collect and measure scientific data together. To engage people with palaeontology, there are several programs at the Museum that enable citizens to contribute to active scientific research.

Fossil Identification

One of the services the Museum offers to the public is fossil and rock identification. We provide an electronic form for people to submit, that includes photos and location information about the objects they encounter. Although more than 80% of discoveries can be identified from photographs alone, many turn out to be non-fossiliferous rocks or modern bone. Those that are fossils can often be identified in broad terms using the photographs. Dr. David Eberth, lead scientist for the Museum’s fossil identification process estimates that each year the Museum receives hundreds of reports from the public and follows up on 10–20 of the these with field investigations or by contacting appropriate researchers at scientific institutions across Canada. Among this smaller subset, four or five are eventually deemed significant enough to warrant further study by the Museum.

If you find something you think is a fossil, take a picture, note its location and contact us here. (Don’t move it! The original location is called the provenance and it’s very important). It could be one of our annual significant finds!

Encana Badlands Science Camp

The Encana Badlands Science Camp at the Royal Tyrrell Museum is a little bit different than most summer camps. There is no horseback riding or archery. There is, however, real palaeontological work.

The Museum has been running an educational camping program since 2005, but it was only in 2010 that campers began working with the Museum’s researchers, principally Dr. Don Brinkman, Director of Preservation and Research, and former Betsy Nicholls Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Mike Newbrey (now a palaeoichthyologist at Columbus State University).

Their first major project was sorting through Myledaphus (a Late Cretaceous guitarfish) teeth. Dr. Newbrey wanted to prove that both adults and juveniles were present at the site the teeth were from, but to do that, every single tooth had to be inspected. The campers were given this project and eventually helped Dr. Newbrey prove his hypothesis.

Myledaphus

A fossilized Myledaphus

While the campers sorted, Dr. Newbrey was doing a parallel experiment; testing to see how accurate the data was. The acceptable error rate for a project of this nature is 2-5%. How did the campers stack up? At a very competent 3% error rate, they were well within acceptable limits.

microfossil_0024

Some of the campers sort fossils

Since then, the campers have prospected for fossils, helped in excavations, screenwashed and sorted fossil matrix, and have done more data collection. They have also helped in conservation efforts for Midland Provincial Park and began work on a cast of an Ornithomimus skeleton that they are hoping to donate to the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

It’s a win-win situation. The campers get valuable experience doing real scientific work and our researchers get solid data from extremely large projects.

This experience has had far-reaching benefits. Many campers who participated are now pursuing science degrees or degrees in science education. Some are already on the road to becoming palaeontologists themselves one day. In fact, former camper Greg Funston has just published a paper on Avimimus, in collaboration with the University of Alberta’s Dr. Philip Currie and our own Dr. David Eberth.

There are three kinds of Science Camp: Junior (for campers aged 9-12), Senior (for campers aged 13-16) and Family Camp (for adults and their children). You can find more information about Science Camp here.

Palaeo Project Edutours

camp-ins

With the success of Encana Badlands Science Camp, the Museum decided to extend the concept to targeted school groups. In 2012, the Palaeo Project was piloted with a group of high school students for a day, and the first Palaeo Project Edutour was delivered in October 2013.

The Palaeo Project Edutour is now a two-day session offered to targeted school groups, with participants sleeping over in the Museum. They are introduced to the fossil specimen, participate in a screenwashing exercise, taught how to identify microfossils, sort through fossil matrix, and then in the evening, they do data collection for real research projects. Their current project is measuring fossil crocodile teeth for Dr. Don Brinkman to understand the size-frequency distribution of crocodile teeth in vertebrate microfossil localities. The goal of this study is to use this information to draw inferences about growth rates in crocodiles. In previous years they have worked with gar fish scales and Myledaphus teeth.

crocodile

The students work in groups. They measure the fish scales but they also double-check each other’s results. In this way, the program is self-regulating. Through this hands-on work, the students not only learn about palaeontology but also about following the steps of the scientific method from hypothesis to data collection to conclusion.

One of the big challenges of the Edutours is finding willing students. Unlike in Science Camp, where all the campers are there because they are interested in palaeontology, classrooms have students with diverse interests. One of the most important and tricky aspects of planning a Palaeo Project Edutour is finding classes who will enjoy the work.

Although Palaeo Project Edutours have not been in operation as long as Science Camp has, the results so far have been promising.

Citizen science is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Scientists get much needed help quantifying and analyzing massive amounts of data, while participants learn about the scientific method, improve their critical thinking skills, and develop a stronger feeling of connection with scientific research. Successful citizen science projects prove that science truly is for everyone.

The Royal Tyrrell Museum is proud to be involved in the citizen science movement. For more information on getting involved with the Museum’s citizen science projects, visit tyrrellmuseum.com.

On August 14, Dr. David Hone did a special lecture at the Royal Tyrrell Museum on tyrannosaurs.

His first book, The Tyrannosaur Chronicles: the Biology of the Tyrant Dinosaurs, tracks the rise of tyrannosaurs, the most famous and best-studied of all dinosaurs. This engaging book presents the science behind the research and tells the story of the evolution, anatomy, behaviour, and ecology of the over two dozen tyrannosaur species and how they fit into the world of the dinosaurs. Good for all ages, his talk is a fun exploration and debunks some popular misconceptions about tyrannosaurs.

Dr. Dave Hone, palaeontologist and writer, focuses his research on the behaviour and ecology of dinosaurs and flying reptiles— the pterosaurs. He also writes extensively online about palaeontology and science outreach, has a blog for the science pages of The Guardian, and is a regular contributor for other media outlets as a scientific consultant.

 

 

 

British Columbia’s Eocene Lakes and Forests: New Perspectives on Temperate Islands from a Past Greenhouse World

Dr. David R. Greenwood, Brandon University, Manitoba

During the early Eocene, about 55 to 50 million years ago, warm climates extended into Canada’s Arctic as far north as Ellesmere Island, supporting biologically rich forests of conifers, broadleaf trees, and a diverse fauna. In the south, climates were subtropical to tropical. In the 1890s, fossil palm fronds were routinely collected from Eocene-age rocks in what is now downtown Vancouver. Inland from Vancouver, however, are many other plant fossil sites that tell a story of a much cooler climate where the plant and animal fossils reconstruct Eocene forests with a temperate character, much like the Arctic Eocene forests.

In this talk, Dr. Greenwood discusses the history of study of these cooler highland Eocene fossil sites starting with J.W. and G.M. Dawson and important contributors from Canadian and U.S. universities over the 1950s to present day, highlighting how our understanding of the age, and the kind of questions being asked have changed as successive generations of palaeobotanists have studied the fossil leaves, seeds, fruits, flowers, and conifer cones. Once considered middle Eocene, these interior British Columbia fossil sites are now known to fall within the Early Eocene Climatic Optimum, a sustained period of globally warm climates from 52 to 50 million years ago. The plant fossils reveal ancient connections between East Asia and North America. Using case studies, Dr. Greenwood shows the early Eocene temperate forests of British Columbia were much more diverse than those of present day eastern North America, under climates not that different from modern-day Seattle and Portland.

 

 

 

 

In this Speaker Series guest speaker Dr. Mary Silcox of the University of Toronto explores “Why So Big? Understanding the Early Evolution of the Brain in Primates and Their Relatives Using the Fossil Record.”

Dr. Silcox’s main research focus is on the earliest evolution of our own Order, the Primates. In particular, she studies fossils of some of the most primitive primates, which date to the period just after the extinction of the dinosaurs, some 65 million years ago. Her talk on February 12 focuses on one particular characteristic of primates that has garnered a lot of attention: large brain size. Humans are exceptional as mammals with the largest brains relative to our body size, and the members of our Order are also typically quite “brainy” compared to other groups.

Although there has been a lot of research on living primates to try and understand the evolution of this feature, much less work has been done probing the fossil record for what it can tell us about the early evolution of the brain.


The Royal Tyrrell Museum’s Speaker Series talks are free and open to the public. For more information, visit tyrrellmuseum.com.

The Ediacaran Period of Earth’s history lasted from 635 to 541 million years ago and represents an important and exciting step in the evolution of life on Earth. The Ediacaran is of great interest to scientists because it is the period during which life transitioned from microscopic single cells, too small to see with the naked eye, into large and complex multicellular organisms, similar to those that inhabit much of the world today.

The Ediacaran period was only officially accepted in 2004 and as such there are many big questions that are still being debated, such as what these organisms are most closely related to, and why they disappeared.

In her talk, Calla Carbone, Royal Tyrrell Museum technician, explores the new discoveries constantly being made, which allow us to piece together the morphologies and behaviours of these enigmatic creatures, and ultimately the earliest evolution of animals.

The Royal Tyrrell Museum’s Speaker Series talks are free and open to the public. For more information, visit tyrrellmuseum.com.

Photo courtesy of Royal Tyrrell Museum and Rich McCrea.

Photo courtesy of Royal Tyrrell Museum and Rich McCrea.

A scientific paper published in Ichnos: An International Journal for Plant and Animal Traces, called “Vertebrate Ichnopathology: Pathologies Inferred from Dinosaur Tracks and Trackways from the Mesozoic”, focuses in-depth on a rarely published component of palaeontology—ichnopathology. Darren Tanke of the Royal Tyrrell Museum assisted nine other authors from Canada, the United States, and China in the benchmark multidisciplinary paper. Ichnopathology is the study of injuries and deformities displayed in fossilized footprints and trackways (a series of footprints). Just like people, dinosaurs suffered injuries from a variety of foot ailments. This study, focussing on carnivorous dinosaur footprints, is the first to examine the types and extent of injuries in great detail.

Some of the specimens from western Canada that were analyzed include a lengthy trackway of an allosauroid with a hip-injury, a footprint of a young tyrannosaur with a severely dislocated toe, and a trackway of an adult tyrannosaur with a missing inner toe. Other specimens included in study are theropod footprints from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods of western North America and Asia.

The research described the abnormalities by studying the toe impressions, which include examples of swelling, extreme curvature, dislocation, fracture, and amputation.

A number of occurrences were also found in single trackways with significant deformation implying dislocation, fracture, or absence of a single toe. Preserved footprints and trackways demonstrated injuries were not infrequent and that non-life threatening injuries affected their locomotion. For example, 21% of all tyrannosaur prints known at the time of this study showed examples of ichnopathology.

The publication is not available without subscription; however, we are happy to answer any questions pertaining to this research.

Illustration by © JULIUS T. CSOTONYI

Illustration by © JULIUS T. CSOTONYI

A new paper published this month in PeerJ biological and medical sciences journal describes a specimen of the small pterosaur (flying reptile) Rhamphorhynchus. The specimen is noteworthy due to the spectacular preservation of soft tissue, stomach contents, and what’s considered to be coprolite (fossilized poop).

Research featured in the journal was the collaborative effort of Drs. David Hone (Queen Mary University of London), Donald M. Henderson and François Therrien (Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology) and Michael B. Habib (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles).

Numerous pterosaur specimens had been found previously, preserving fish remains in their gut, indicating these animals lived near water bodies and fed on fishes.  This particular Rhamphorhynchus specimen is the first to preserve the remains of a fish, shark, and potential tetrapod (i.e., a four-legged animal) in its stomach, and a coprolite filled with strange hooklets. Although the identities of the material preserved in the stomach and coprolite could not be determined, they reveal that Rhamphorhynchus did not feed exclusively on fish. This spectacular specimen gives researchers unique insight into dietary and ecological traits of this small Late Jurassic pterosaur.

The specimen is housed at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Midland Provincial Park, Alberta.

Rhamphorhynchus

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