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About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2016 Awardees 2016 (Dawson Grant) Nicholas A. Famoso


I have had a fascination with extinct life starting from an early age. As a child in southern Oregon, I spent a great deal of time exploring the outdoors and was particularly interested in paleontology. My initial interest in dinosaurs quickly changed to extinct mammals due in part to my experiences at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. I grew especially fond of horses, likely because I grew up around them, and was intrigued by how they have evolved over the last 55 million year. When I told my mother, a science teacher, about my interest in science, she encouraged me. In fact, she took me to my first SVP in 1993 when I was only six years old. As a result, I meet many scientists when I was young, and the exposure helped to encourage me to pursue a career in the sciences. One of the most memorable of those scientists who took the time to talk to me was Dr. Mary R. Dawson. Dr. Dawson took me on a tour of the fossil collections of the Carnegie Museum when I was six and left a lasting impression.

I entered the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 2005 where I pursued a degree in Geology, ultimately working on a senior research project with Dr. Darrin Pagnac. I gained a great deal of experience in the paleontology prep lab and collections, and eventual interned at Ashfall Fossil Beds in Nebraska. Once I completed my B.S. in 2009, I began working for the Highway Salvage Paleontology Program at the University of Nebraska State Museum. I continued to learn about fossil preparation, curation, and field work as Shane Tucker and I traveled and prepared specimens from road-cuts from all over Nebraska. In 2011, I left the plains for my home state to pursue a M.S. at the University of Oregon (UO) working with Dr. Edward Davis. For my M.S., I investigated the processes that were driving the patterns of occlusal enamel bands in fossil horses using a 2-D method that I developed. My experience at the UO was so rewarding that I decided to pursue a PhD with Dr. Davis and Dr. Samantha Hopkins after I completed my M.S. in 2013.

While working at Ashfall Fossil Beds, I became very interested in the role that volcanic eruptions play in shaping the ecosystems that are in the path of erupted material and more specifically the mammalian communities. At the UO, I have been working in the Turtle Cove Member of the John Day Formation to understand the processes governing mammalian community recovery after volcanic events, and most specifically, the super-volcanic Picture Gorge Ignimbrite. Before I could answer questions in the fossil record, I first established a set of predictions of which processes controlled the reassembly of mammalian communities associated with the eruptions of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Mt. Lassen in 1915. Once these predictions were established, I traveled to museum collections and verified the identification and stratigraphic position for each fossil specimen in my dataset. I then use these fossil occurrence data to look at turnover and changes in community ecology to better understand the impacts of these large and rare events on mammalian communities. Once I defend my dissertation, my plan is to pursue a postdoctoral position to expand my research and/or teaching tool sets. I am very excited to be a part of expanding our knowledge of mammalian paleoecology and look forward to seeing where the data takes us. I am honored to have been awarded the Mary R. Dawson Predoctoral Fellowship Grant not only because of the prestige of this award, but because the namesake of this grant was so influential on my development as a scientist.