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2007 Patterson Memorial Grant Recipient

Andrew A. Farke

Andrew A. Farke

I was raised on a farm about five miles outside of Armour, South Dakota, as the oldest of six children. As a four-year-old, I visited Dinosaur Park in Rapid City—something about the giant concrete statues "clicked" with me. My interests in paleontology developed more seriously in high school, through a series of paleontology-related science fair projects. These projects began my interests in ceratopsian dinosaurs and also introduced me to many members of the paleontological community. The kindness and encouragement of those academic, professional, and avocational paleontologists who had the patience to deal with a fourteen year-old kid will never be forgotten.

After graduating from high school, I enrolled in the geology program at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Collecting trips, museum visits, and some really great social events made for an enriching experience. I received my BSc in geology in 2003, and then moved out to New York, to begin my PhD studies in the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University. At Stony Brook, my dissertation has focused on the evolution and function of cranial sinuses in bovids and ceratopsian dinosaurs.

In May 2003, just a month before my wedding and my move "out East," Dave Krause called me up and asked if I would be interested in joining the Mahajanga Basin Project team in Madagascar that summer. Shortly after my wedding, I was on the ground in Madagascar. That field season, and a subsequent season in 2005, cemented my interest in this amazing island. The Mahajanga Basin Project has unearthed an amazing variety of Late Cretaceous terrestrial animal, including five species of non-avian dinosaurs, at least five species of birds, seven species of crocodilians, turtles, frogs, fish, and mammals. One especially puzzling aspect of this fauna (richly sampled over nine field seasons) is the relatively low diversity of non-avian dinosaurs, as compared to some contemporaneous Gondwanan fauna. Is this a result of local conditions in the Mahajanga Basin during the Late Cretaceous? Does it reflect an "island effect" limiting the diversity of large terrestrial animals? One way to answer this question is through sampling of other Cretaceous localities throughout Madagascar.

The support of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, through the Bryan Patterson Memorial Grant, has been invaluable in turning this idea of a field project into reality. For two weeks in August 2007, I will be leading a reconnaissance team to the Ambilobe Basin in northernmost Madagascar. The Ambilobe Basin preserves at least 140 meters of Cretaceous terrestrial sediments, but no vertebrate fossils have been reported there. Fieldwork will focus on prospecting for and collection of vertebrate fossils, in Late Cretaceous exposures in the northern part of the basin (near the city of Diego-Suarez). Due to the paucity of previous work in the Cretaceous of the Ambilobe Basin and the limited samples from elsewhere on the island, any fossils found will be highly significant for expanding our knowledge about the Cretaceous of Madagascar. This project is a springboard toward better understanding of Madagascar's geological and faunal history in particular and that of Gondwana in general.

Photo courtesy of Andrew A. Farke.