2008 Romer Prize Recipient
Family vacations to Washington's Pacific Coast jump-started my scientific (and taphonomic) curiosity. During these summers, 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 the same critters. My interests in biology were later fostered in a one-room elementary school run by Luanne Billings who believed in hands-on learning, self-discovery, and fieldtrips to national parks and active science labs. That same philosophy of learning through 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. In this time of rapid climate change and severe anthropogenic disturbance, paleobiology is in a unique position to provide the historical context for current communities and (through investigations of the skeletal remains of recently past generations) establish baselines with which we may create appropriate conservation goals for athropogenically modified communities around the globe.
I am truly moved and honored to have received the 2008 Romer Prize. The support I have received from those around me over the years has been invaluable and my thanks go to them as well as the Romer Committee. Aside from those already mentioned, I want to highlight the members of my committee: Sue Kidwell (advisor), Kay Behrensmeyer, Michael LaBarbera, Kevin Boyce, and Larry Heaney; my family: Cathy, Howard, and Jeremy Miller; my fellow graduate students at the University of Chicago in both Biological and Geological Sciences; and my professional colleagues who study the animals of the Yellowstone ecosystem (Doug Smith, P.J. White, Tom Lemke, Rick Wallen, Christie Hendrix and Christine Smith) without whom my research would not be possible.
Photo courtesy of Joshua Miller.