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Discovery Newsletter

Volume 13Discovery NewsletterIssue 2Discovery NewsletterNovember 2001

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Montana a Constant in World of Paleontology


DINOS by Evelyn Boswell

Dinosaurs once lived on every continent, but China, North Africa and South America are the new hot spots for scientists who study them, the president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) said in Bozeman while attending the group's 61st annual meeting.

"Some places (like western Asia) are hot spots that you wouldn't want to go to these days," added Richard Stucky, SVP president and vice president of programs at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Montana, in the meantime, continues to be a constant in the world of paleontology, said Patrick Leiggi, chairman of the committee that hosted the annual gathering of the world's largest group of scientists that studies dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. The meeting was held Oct. 3-6 at Montana State University-Bozeman.

Major Montana projects that involve MSU paleontologists include reconstruction of the Hell Creek Formation around the Fort Peck Reservoir and two sites near Choteau.

Stucky said the National Science Foundation funds many expeditions, but paleontologists have no centralized organization telling them where to go. They pursue their own interests, so end up going all over the world. Among other places, they've made discoveries in Jamaica, New Jersey and Japan. They've explored Eastern Europe, Madagascar and Australia, as well as Montana, Texas and South America from Chile to Argentina to Bolivia.

"It's pretty much up to the individual where they want to study," Stucky said.

Paleontologists who presented information at the conference have studied everything from tree sloths and dung beetles to horses and crocodiles. Besides discovering new specimens of dinosaurs and mammals, the current trend in paleontology is biodiversity studies, Stucky said. Paleontologists are also turning more to computers and CT scans.

Scientists who study biodiversity are especially interested in understanding extinctions that took place about 10,000 years ago, Stucky said. In his specialty (mammals and primates that lived in North America after the dinosaurs went extinct), CT scans have gotten down to one micron. That means Stucky is now able to recognize and map blood vessels in the embryo of a mouse brain.

What's really improved in the past 10 years of paleontology are the scientific illustrations, Stucky added. Many artists come to the SVP's annual meetings to hear the latest ideas about what dinosaurs looked like or how they moved.

"An area that's always critically important is human evolution," he continued. "... The discoveries that are made in human evolution are some of the most profound and provocative in many ways."

Evelyn Boswell is the technical writer for the Office of Research, Creativity and Technology Transfer

Annette Trinity-Stevens, MSU Research Editor.

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