Dallas-Fort Worth ABC Affiliate WFAA 8′s Marcus Moore reports that Dr. Anthony Fiorillo, a vertebrate paleontologist and Curator of Paleontology and Earth Sciences at the Dallas Perot Museum of Nature & Science, is making another research sortie to Alaska to continue his team’s work there, excavating a large collection of dinosaur footprints in Denali National Park.
Dr. Fiorillo is also an adjunct associate professor in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where his research interests are in vertebrate taphonomy, and particularly its role in understanding dinosaur paleoecology, the evolution of Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems, and the distribution of Mesozoic vertebrates in western North America. He is also interested in the application of paleontological research to federal land management issues, and directs a field program that extends from the Alaskan Arctic to west Texas.
A Connecticut native who was formerly the Rea Postdoctoral Fellow at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, then a museum scientist at the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California-Berkeley, Dr. Fiorillo has a bachelor of science from the University of Connecticut, a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska, and a Ph.D. in Vertebrate Paleontology from the University of Pennsylvania. He recently told WFAA 8′s Moore that “The fact that we’re really the first ones to get in there, [the Alaska find] gives us a tremendous opportunity to make discoveries that are just mind-blowing in scale,” a reference to the track site his research team found there last year, measuring roughly the size of a football field, and with a collection of thousands of dinosaur footprints, big and small.
A report on the team’s work is published in the most recent edition of “Geology,” the Geological Society of America’s prestigious journal titled “Herd structure in Late Cretaceous polar dinosaurs: A remarkable new dinosaur tracksite, Denali National Park, Alaska, USA.” (First published online June 30, 2014, doi: 10.1130/G35740.1) co-authored by Dr Fiorello with Stephen T. Hasiotis of The University of Kansas Department of Geology, Lawrence, Kansas, and Yoshitsugu Kobayashi of Hokkaido University Museum at Sapporo, Japan.
The coauthors note that their discovery of the Alaskan tracksite of mostly hadrosaurid dinosaur footprints, made by a herd living in an ancient high-latitude continental ecosystem, provides insight into the herd structure and behavior of northern polar dinosaurs and perspective on populations of large-bodied herbivores in an Arctic greenhouse world.
The Geology report notes that the tracksite is located in Denali National Park’s Upper Cretaceous Cantwell Formation in the Alaska Range, and is the largest tracksite known this far north. The coauthors report that preservation of the tracksite is exceptional, with most tracks, regardless of size, containing skin impressions, and co-occur with well-preserved plant fossils and invertebrate trace fossils of terrestrial and aquatic insects. Statistical analyses of the tracks show that individuals of four different age classes of hadrosaurids lived together in a large social group, and the team’s research results independently corroborate the growth curve for hadrosaurids proposed by paleohistologists that suggests that these dinosaurs experienced a period of rapid growth early in their life history.
“We are changing the way the science thinks about dinosaurs, in that finding polar dinosaurs is challenging everything we think we know about dinosaurs,” Dr. Fiorillo told WFAA 8, which is sending a crew to Alaska to document the team’s efforts, and reports that the researchers will be in Alaska for almost a month, hiking to another location where more fossils can be unearthed.
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science, which is displaying some of the finds from the Alaska dig, opened its doors to the public on December 1, 2012, and last year served over 600,000 people. The Museum, located in Victory Park near Downtown Dallas, through its permanent exhibits and programming, and by hosting world-renowned traveling exhibitions, expects to draw international attention and become a premier attraction for curious minds.
The Perot’s 180,000-square-foot facility provides visitors with an opportunity to explore new ideas through tangible, galvanic exhibits, where they can learn about everything from dinosaurs to DNA.
Programming includes tactile exploration areas, discovery stations, workshops, demonstrations, lectures and symposia, field trips, labs, a teacher development center, after-school and summer classes, clubs, interactive media and more. Online activities, interactive media and online education programs further extend the reach of the Perot Museum.
The Perot Museum also sponsors research programs, currently concentrated mainly on the work of Dr. Fiorillo on Late Cretaceous vertebrate faunas across the globe, with a particular interest in polar Late Cretaceous communities and dinosaur paleoecology. For Dr. Fiorillo, the appeal of fieldwork in Alaska is the result of the combination of intellectual pursuit and the rigors of working in the Arctic environment. Though he has collected fossils throughout North America and parts of Asia, he has primarily worked in western Texas and Alaska.
The Perot Museum’s research program also operates North Texas’ largest and most active fossil preparation laboratory, overseen by vertebrate paleontologist and fossil preparator Dr. Ronald Tykoski, who has overseen preparation of the Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum skull from Alaska, description and naming of North America’s oldest fossil bird, Flexomornis howei, from Grapevine, Texas. And most recently preparation of the Perot Museum’s neck vertebrae of the giant Alamosaurus sanjuanensis from Big Bend National Park.
Dr. Fiorillo chaired, co-chaired and served on the Education Committee of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology from 1996-2004. His work in over a dozen units of the National Park Service has earned national recognition. He was named a Fellow of the Geological Society of America in 2008. Dr. Fiorillo has published over 100 scientific and popular papers.
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