About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2004 (Patterson Memorial Grant) Daniel Hembree
Raised in Phoenix, Arizona and New Orleans, Louisiana, my interest in geology and paleontology was fostered by my father with summer trips to the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, Meteor Crater, and Monument Valley as well as fossil collecting in various road cuts and quarries. After a short stint in the Army, I began my college career as an English major at the University of New Orleans. Once I had taken physical and historical geology I realized that my hobby could become a career and I quickly switched majors. I pursued my BS in geology with Dr. Kraig Derstler who involved me in a number of side projects including summer dinosaur excavations in the Lance Creek Formation of Wyoming, dinosaur preparation work in the laboratory, as well as a senior thesis concerning the morphologic and taphonomic study of a specimen of Confuciusornis sanctus. With the completion of my undergraduate degree I began my Master's degree at the University of Kansas with Dr. Larry Martin. With the excellent Paleozoic continental strata exposed in eastern Kansas, my interest shifted to older, smaller vertebrates. My thesis research involved a sedimentological, paleoenvironmental, and paleoecological study of a pond deposit and associated aestivation burrows of the elongate, lysorophid amphibian, Brachydectes elongates from the Lower Permian Speiser Shale.
My experience with vertebrate burrows and paleosols during my Master's research sparked my interest in continental ichnology, particularly the fossorial behavior of ancient and modern tetrapods. The arrival of Dr. Stephen Hasiotis at the end of my Master's degree convinced me to continue at the University of Kansas with my PhD. For the past two years I have been studying continental trace fossils to determine if variations in morphology are related to changes in paleoenvironment and paleoclimate, and if these morphological variations can provide quantitative paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic data, including mean annual temperature, mean annual precipitation, and sedimentation rates. Accomplishing this objective requires extensive field work as well as experiments performed with modern burrowing animals. My field studies have been focused on the Eocene-Oligocene White River Formation in northeastern Colorado. These continental deposits consist of fluvial sandstone and conglomerate, floodplain mudstone and paleosols, and eolian siltstone and contain the fossils of numerous burrowing vertebrates including amphisbaenians, boids, tortoises, rodents, and mustelids. The field investigation has included the collection and description of ichnofossils, body fossils, sedimentological and paleopedological data, as well as the construction of 15-20 stratigraphic sections for paleoenvironmental reconstructions. The ichnofossils will then be compared to invertebrate and vertebrate traces created in the laboratory at the University of Kansas. The extant animals currently under study are ecologically and morphologically similar to those of the White River Formation, and include beetles, rodents, salamanders, amphisbaenians, sand boas, and skinks.
I am extremely grateful and honored for receiving the Bryan Patterson Award from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. I would like to thank all of my advisors over the years, including Kraig Derstler, Larry Martin, Stephen Hasiotis, Robert Goldstein, Roger Kaesler, Bruce Lieberman, and Linda Trueb. I would also like to thank my fellow graduate students and friends who have helped me throughout my graduate career, in particular Alycia Rode and the KU ichnology research group, Debra Jennings, Brian Platt, Jon Smith, and Emily Tremain, and of course my family who have always provided encouragement and support.
Photo courtesy of Daniel Hembree.