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We Are. . .The Integrative Paleontologists

Nowadays, news stories about paleontology–the study of Earth’s past life–often focus on  “new tools for old bones,” or any other number of oft-used phrases. The fact of the matter is that many technological approaches to the science are no longer as novel as they once were. For instance, the first CT (computed tomography) scan of a fossil skull was nearly 30 years ago! Paleontologists are now moving beyond the “gee-whiz” factor of shiny technological toys and working towards using these tools to answer some big research questions. In other words, it’s an integration of science and technology.

Paleontology is an integrative science in many other ways, too. Fossils represent once-living organisms–organisms that can be studied as biological entities. By understanding the biology of modern life forms, we can interpret the biology of long-dead dinosaurs, or trilobites, or ferns. The reverse is true, too (as you will see in at least some of our upcoming posts). Furthermore, fossils are found within the rock record; thus, geology is also a key to understanding fossils (and vice versa). Throw in some geochemistry and engineering principles, and paleontology begins to look like a pretty dynamic and exciting discipline!

Microstructure of dinosaur bone (modified from Werning, 2011)

As researchers, all of the authors of this blog take an integrative approach to our work. Sarah Werning slices up modern and fossil bones to extract details of growth, metabolism, and life history in mammals and archosaurs. Andy Farke delves into museum collections, fieldwork, statistics, and scientific imaging to document and interpret the life of dinosaurs. Shaena Montanari analyzes the chemistry of fossil bones and eggshell to interpret the lifestyle and habitats of long-vanished organisms throughout the world. Because our pursuits incorporate so many fields, we call our blog group “The Integrative Paleontologists.”

Skeleton of the dinosaur Protoceratops. Image by Daderot.

In our posts, we will focus on the many directions in which contemporary paleontological research is heading. We anticipate hosting overviews of recent research, interviews, and tutorials, with the format changing as our own moods and interests change. We also have an interest in the changing face of science communication (such as open access publishing), and those topics will also show their face on the blog from time to time. Our aim is to post at least once a week, alternating between Shaena, Sarah, and Andy, with other posts from us as opportunity dictates. With all of the research on all of the species from all of earth’s history to choose from, there will be no shortage of things to talk about!

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