(December 13, 2012) ― This month, paleontologists from across North America will meet at ETSU’s Natural History Museum to study the extensive collection of alligator remains from the Gray Fossil Site and attempt to answer key questions about how this group changed and diversified over time.
Visiting researchers will be working with ETSU’s Dr. Blaine Schubert, Director of the Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology and its Natural History Museum and Associate Professor of Geosciences, and Dr. Jim Mead, Professor and Chair of Geosciences and Museum Curator. Visiting researchers include Dr. Christopher Brochu of the University of Iowa, Dr. Alex Hastings of Georgia Southern, and past ETSU graduate student Mr. Jeremy Stout, who focused on alligators for his master’s thesis.
"We are all excited about the opportunity to finally get our heads together and make detailed comparisons between the Gray site gator, other extinct forms, and modern species,” said Dr. Schubert of the research meeting. “One thing we have already learned is that alligators have experienced significant change over time and were more diverse in the past than previously thought."
Dr. Hastings visited East Tennessee earlier in 2012 and presented a lecture, “Fossil Crocodilians of the Neotropics: Tapping into an Unknown Diversity,” which included information about his role in the discovery of Titanoboa, a gigantic snake that lived 60-58 million years ago and is the subject of both a traveling exhibition and a documentary film produced by the Smithsonian Institute.
During his visit, Dr. Christopher Brochu will present a lecture, “Myth of the Living Fossil: Perspectives on the Deep History of Crocodylia.” The lecture will be held at ETSU & General Shale Brick Natural History Museum on Saturday, December 15th at 6:00 p.m. This special after-hours event is free and open to the public.
Christopher Brochu is a vertebrate paleontologist and systematist who studies the evolutionary history of crocodylians – crocodiles, alligators, and gharials and their close extinct relatives – based on anatomical, fossil, and molecular evidence. He obtained his BS at the University of Iowa in 1989 and his MA (1992) and PhD (1997) at the University of Texas. He spent three years at the Field Museum in Chicago, where he worked on the largest, most complete skeleton of Tyrannosaurus ever found (“Sue”). He has been on the faculty at the University of Iowa since 2001.
Crocodylians - alligators, crocodiles, gharials, and their closest extinct relatives - are often perceived as "living fossils" unchanged since the Age of the Dinosaurs. In fact, Crocodylia first appeared toward the end of this Age and its subsequent history reveals unexpected complexity. Crocodylian diversity waxed and waned as climate changed and several groups evolved adaptations very different from those seen today. They crossed large ocean barriers multiple times and they were the largest predators faced by our African ancestors. Construction of a comprehensive history for the group will allow us to explore the interrelationships of evolution, climate, and environment on a global scale.
For more information, visit www.etsu.edu/naturalhistorymuseum or call (866) 202-6223.