2007 Romer Prize Recipient
I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, where I spent my early years tagging along after my science-teacher-dad as he traveled south to the John Day Fossil Beds each spring with a crop of high school students in a rickety old yellow school bus named "Number 11." I too was eleven when, on a chilly eastern Oregon morning, my dad first introduced me to the study of taphonomy using a long-dead but still quite savory cow carcass scattered along the grassy margin of our campground. My formal introduction to paleobiology and taphonomy finally came when I was old enough to enroll in his class — a Primate Biology elective for seniors offered at the Northwest School. After high school I attended Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, where I completed a degree in geology with a biology minor, under the mentorship of Ray Rogers. During this time, Ray and Kristi Curry Rogers gave me the incredible opportunity to accompany them to Zimbabwe and Madagascar. Harassed by baboons and bit by a lemur, I loved working alongside them and other inspiring scientists who taught me how to excavate fossils and how to collect taphonomic and geologic field data. It was an amazing experience.
Throughout my life I have been surrounded by role models who stressed the importance of being a responsible citizen and having a positive impact on the world. In the face of unprecedented levels of anthropogenic alteration of the environment and dramatic rates of biodiversity loss, I initially struggled after graduating with whether or not I should continue on an academic path or devote my efforts to a more applied career. During this time I enrolled in a Field Taphonomy course offered at the Friday Harbor Marine Labs in the San Juan Islands. Mentored by Michael LaBarbera and Michal Kowalewski, I realized I could do both — I could become an "applied paleontologist." This initial spark grew into my dissertation work at the University of Chicago. Under the invaluable guidance of Sue Kidwell I have devoted myself to developing ways to unlock the wealth of pre-settlement ecological baseline information that is contained in Holocene deposits of small-mammal skeletal remains. I will complete my dissertation this spring. In the future I plan to continue combining paleoecological analyses with more traditional neo-ecological approaches to the study of biotic response to environmental change, thereby incorporating an expanded temporal depth into modern conservation studies — something that can't be done without paleontologists!
I am deeply honored to be chosen as the 2007 Romer Prize winner by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. And I have many people to thank — My amazing family: Mark, Catherine, and Sam Terry; Mark Novak; My fellow students from 2nd floor Hinds and the Darwinian Cluster at the University of Chicago; My advisor: Sue Kidwell; My committee members: Michael Foote, Michael LaBarbera, Lawrence Heaney (Field Museum), and Donald Grayson (University of Washington); Team Utah: Eric Rickart, Rebecca Rowe, and Shannen Robson: Macalester Geology: Ray Rogers and Kristi Curry Rogers; And the Northwest School community.