Can’t Have Just One

I do much of my fieldwork in the badlands of Alberta, and when people learn this, they often ask, “Haven’t we found all the fossil species there yet? Why keep going back?”

I typically answer “no”, and then go on to explain that there have been many reports of new species from those rocks in recent years (including a new one today). But let’s say we did have a record of every fossil animal that ever lived in at a particular time and place… could we stop collecting then? I would still say “no”.

There are so many scientific questions that we can’t answer with just one measly specimen at our disposal: How did individuals of a species change throughout development? How did males differ from females? What was the population structure like? What was the average lifespan? What was the species range? How long did the species last? How did the species change over time?

These are arguably among the more important questions we can ask of the fossil record, and they all require that we have a comprehensive understanding of fossil variation… variation that can only be revealed by studying many individuals.

So I’m apt to keep retreading the same ground over and over again, even if the spoils are familiar. I’m doing just this in Alberta, spending some time developing what is just one of many Centrosaurus bonebeds in the province (albeit, the biggest). No fossil is redundant so long as we keep asking new questions.

Canadian Museum of Nature fossil technician Alan McDonald with the skull of Centrosaurus apertus in Alberta.

Posted by Jordan Mallon, Canadian Museum of Nature
Posted: 7/17/2017 3:53:01 PM by mallonjordanadmin | with 0 comments
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