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Re: Fieldwork or bust? (Was: Stenopelix valdensis)

<writing en route to NM>

ah the delights of wireless.

my original point was not to dismiss the value of
typical collection based studies; rather to draw
attention to the fact that many non-fieldwork people
cannot fully appreciate what can be drawn from
extensive field experience, and the resulting gaps in
knowledge that result from their inexperience. 

Some very good points have been made, especially as
usual by Andy <Farke>. so I will not go over his
ground here. Tom <Holtz> also makes valid points that
we feed of each others work: of course we do, and
every contribution to the literature is appreciated.

on my original statement, I will elaborate on points
not covered by other people. since it has become a

museum collections are, by their nature, unnaturally
biased. 'Cherry picked' if you like. For every
specimen in a museum, there are probably a hundred out
there either in collections made by other people
(amateurs/private/local collectors: pick your own term
here), or simply as specimens not collected and left
in the field. this is not the fault of museums: they
can only curate so many specimens, and of course,
fragmentary or undiagnostic specimens are not always
possible or worthwhile collecting. 

However, this biased, and limited, nature of
repository collections has drawbacks for people who do
not pursue an active field programme. A full
apreciation of potential natural morphologic variation
can often not be ascertained by trawling through
museum collections alone. uncollected fragmentary
material can give you a good idea as to what might be
typical and what is truly unusual in a given bone. 

Seeing large numbers of field specimens allows you to
realise just how complete the fossil record sometimes
is. Phylogenetic studies often predict long ghost
ranges, or show species as contemporaneous: produced
through cladogenesis, and the lack of fossils showing
these occurrences are attributed to a poor fossil
record. The fossil record is better than you think,
but yo can only really appreicate individual/taxon
abundance by going out and collecting bone.

Gross histology is a field observation not fully
apreciated. In the early cretaceous deposits where I
work in the UK, typically bones are found in many
sections/pieces, or sometimes abraded by the sea. the
bone itself is very tough, so we see very good cross
sections of bones, and ground off edges of bones
allowing us to see the histology in a way that would
mean unthinkable damage to good msueum specimens, this
also allows us to see <say> a serially sectioned femur
much more often than you might in a museum. this might
not sound so useful, but it allows you to see the
histology, and very very often. These observations
help you to understand things like ontogeny and
functional morph much better: sure you can understand
these things without field observations, but in the
field you see so many more specimens it can give you a
better idea of what might be going on. 

Responding to the modern vs ancient fieldwork
questions: obviously, the more fieldwork you do the
better. Sometimes it will not be possible to be
working in a fossiliferous deposit, but natural
systems mimic ancient systems in many ways, although
it is important to note the differences in potential

sleep needed. Long drive tomorrow.


--- Michael Mortimer <mickey_mortimer111@msn.com>

> Ha!  Excellent question.  I think that because
> paleontology originated as a 
> subdiscipline of geology, a lot of the older and/or
> more traditional workers 
> emphasize the geological aspects, such as fieldwork
> or stratigraphy.  But 
> there's a lot more to paleontology than geology. 
> Jonas brings up the 
> anatomical and ecolgical sides.  I would ask an
> equivalent question for 
> phylogenetics.  How important is it to read the
> primary literature on 
> phylogenetic theory and to keep up with the
> phylogenetic work on other 
> organisms?  Or to have extensive hands-on experience
> with PAUP or MacClade?
> Mickey Mortimer
> >From: Jonas Weselake-George <paleo@ncf.ca>
> >Reply-To: paleo@ncf.ca
> >To: dinosaur@usc.edu
> >Subject: Re: Fieldwork or bust?  (Was: Stenopelix
> valdensis)
> >Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2006 14:15:44 -0400
> >
> >A very interesting discussion!
> >
> >Out of curiosity I would like to submit a variation
> on the question:
> >"How important is it to do field work with living
> systems as well?"
> >
> >How important is it to maintain an interest in the
> biology of living
> >organisms? Is it important to have first hand
> contact?
> >
> >What about other (very different) organisms and
> ecosystem interactions?
> >Nutrient cycles? Is it important to experience
> areas of similar climatic
> >characteristics?
> >
> >-Jonas Weselake-George
> >
> >----- Original Message ----- From: "frank bliss"
> <frank@blissnet.com>
> >To: <dinosaur@usc.edu>
> >Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 11:12 AM
> >Subject: RE: Fieldwork or bust? (Was: Stenopelix
> valdensis)
> >
> >
> >>" , so I will never be
> >>so frustrated again after spend 45 minutes
> uncovering a total piece of
> >>crap
> >>chunk of bone"
> >>
> >>Thank you Andy for adding another piece of
> ammunition  (backing)to my
> >>argument that there are crap pieces of dino bone
> out there.
> >>
> >>:-))
> >>
> >>Field work is a religion to some (me) that gives
> reason and solace during
> >>those long winter months that you have to pick
> through buckets of ant hill
> >>and screen sievings from the summers work.  One
> justifies the other and
> >>those who work without both are truly
> disadvantaged.
> >>
> >>There is NO way to understand the biostratigraphy
> without being there
> >>getting your fingernails dirty and walking the
> hills.  My favorite example
> >>is the person eating wild game at the home of the
> person who did the hunt.
> >>There is no way that the guest can appreciate all
> the information gleaned
> >>from the hunt.
> >>
> >>Frank (Rooster) Bliss
> >>MS Biostratigraphy
> >>Weston, Wyoming
> >>
> >>-----Original Message-----
> >>From: owner-DINOSAUR@usc.edu
> [mailto:owner-DINOSAUR@usc.edu] On Behalf Of
> >>Andrew A. Farke
> >>Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 7:49 AM
> >>To: 'DML'
> >>Subject: RE: Fieldwork or bust? (Was: Stenopelix
> valdensis)
> >>
> >>To add my two cents. . .
> >>
> >>I think it largely depends on what you want to say
> or what you want to be.
> >>If you want to say anything about biostratigraphy,
> paleoenvironments,
> >>paleoecology, or taphonomy, you sure as heck had
> better be in the field. I
> >>would argue that there is no way you can get a
> complete understanding for
> >>any of these topics without field experience.
> >>
> >>If one's interests are in systematics,
> phylogenetics, or funky morph, a
> >>field emphasis probably isn't as necessary. In
> fact, you could probably
> >>spend your whole career without ever setting foot
> in the field, and be
> >>perfectly adequate in these regards. But, it might
> be a little hazardous
> >>to
> >>say anything definitive on the topics in the above
> paragraph.
> >>
> >>So, to answer Mike's specific question on what
> special insights are gained
> >>from the field and not from the museum or
> literature? I would argue that
> >>biostrat, paleoecology and taphonomy can only be
> studied in a very limited
> >>way without reference to the actual rocks. Taking
> a stratigraphy paper on
> >>faith can be a very dangerous game (unless you
> really know and trust the
> >>stratigrapher!). Same goes for taphonomy. . .one
> worker's debris flow is
> >>another worker's overbank deposit, and one
> worker's sauropod track is
> >>another worker's load cast. And so forth. . .there
> are very few things
> >>that
> >>aren't worth a second look!
> >>
> >>Personally, perhaps the best argument for
> fieldwork is that it produces a
> >>well-rounded paleontologist. At least that has
> been a big benefit for me.
> >>.
> >>I have learned so much from my field experiences.
> It is no huge secret
> >>that
> >>I have a bias towards functional morphology, and
> towards ceratopsians.
> >>This
> >>aside, my time out west (in Utah, SD, and Wyoming,
> primarily) and in
> >>Madagascar have been some of the best learning
> experiences of my life.
> >>Because Madagascar has been the most recent and
> longest duration of my
> >>projects, I'll say just a few words related to
> that. The best thing about
> >>fieldwork is that it has helped me - indeed,
> forced me - to improve my
> >>comparative anatomy skills. There aren't a whole
> lot of ceratopsian skulls
> >>on that island, so I've learned (mostly by trial
> and error, with some
> >>instruction from patient co-workers) frog, turtle,
> fish, abelisaur,
> >>titanosaur, and croc bones. I will never forget
> what a titanosaur frontal
> >>looks like, thanks to Kristi Curry-Rogers. And, I
> will always remember
> >>that
> >>the inside of a titanosaur vertebra bears an
> astonishing resemblance to a
> >>frog skull, fish bone, theropod braincase, or croc
> scute, so I will never
> >>be
> >>so frustrated again after spend 45 minutes
> uncovering a total piece of
> >>crap
> >>chunk of bone (thank you, Mike Getty, for
> delicately pointing this out to
> >>me). On the geology side of things, Ray Rogers
> taught me so very much
> >>about
> >>the stratigraphy of the Mahajanga Basin, and he
> also taught me to be
> >>critical of stratigraphy (and trying to place
> fossils within it!), unless
> >>I've seen the section myself. Also, my field
> experiences have helped me
> >>understand just how prevalent collecting bias can
> be, for very logical
> >>reasons of time and resources. Aside from this,
> there is the camaraderie
> >>and
> >>fun that goes with a well-organized field camp
> (even if Krause is in
> >>charge!). You don't have to go to an exotic locale
> to 
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