2008 Patterson Memorial Grant Recipient

Joshua Miller

Joshua Miller

My interests in science (and taphonomy) were jump-started during summer family vacations to Washington's Pacific Coast where I spent countless hours exploring the mussels, crabs and other life filling rocky tide pools and inching my way across beaches covered in the shells and other remnants of those same critters. My interests in biology were later fostered in a one-room elementary school that believed in hands-on learning and field trips to national parks and active science labs where we were encouraged to poke around and make our own discoveries. That same philosophy of learning through first-hand exploration, careful consideration and discussion was a major theme in high school, where Mark Terry (The Northwest School; Seattle, WA) first exposed me to the nitty gritty of vertebrate paleontology during a field trip to Oregon's John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Prospecting across those outcrops, discovering fossils imbedded in rock, touring the preparation facilities and gazing at undescribed species imprinted upon me the excitement of scientific pursuit and the wonders of paleontology.

While attending Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, Jerry Webers and Ray Rogers helped me explore sedimentology and paleontology more seriously and helped foster those interests into my main academic focus. One trip to the Cretaceous of Madagascar later and exposure to the questions and community of scientists involved in the Mahajanga Basin Project permanently hooked me into questions of ancient biodiversity, paleoecology and taphonomy.

My work focuses on the ecological data contained within death assemblages to (1) refine paleoecological and evolutionary interpretations of fossil accumulations, and (2) provide historical ecological insight into modern ecosystems where biomonitoring efforts have been inconsistent or only recently initiated. Although recent increases in melting rates of glaciers around the world are a geographic tragedy with measurable detriment to nearby ecosystems, the release of previously entombed carcasses and other biological remnants of extinct species and populations provide a unique but rapidly decomposing window into the ecology and evolution of many lineages. Assemblages of frozen carcasses and their geographic distributions provide paleoecological, evolutionary and climatic contexts for extant species and populations. In addition, these carcasses provide important glimpses of pre-industrial, pre-agricultural, and even pre-human ecological baselines — such data are rare but essential for establishing the effects of current climate trends and anthropogenic assaults on global biodiversity.

The Patterson Grant provides essential support for the time-sensitive retrieval of these fragile and quickly vanishing paleobiological resources. I greatly appreciate the support of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.