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From the Academy to the Arctic

To catch a glimpse of creatures that lived 375 million years ago, you will probably have to travel to a museum or research institution like the Academy of Natural Sciences. If you’re Dr. Ted Daeschler, the Academy’s vice president for systematics and the library, your search will take you all the way to the Arctic.

Almost 20 years ago, Daeschler, a vertebrate paleontologist, began studying Devonian age fossils in the Catskill Formation of northern Pennsylvania. In 1999, he and his research partner, Dr. Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago, began seeking other sites that would broaden their knowledge of the era. That’s when they learned about a group of 380- to 370-million-yearold rocks in the Nunavut Territory of Arctic Canada.

"The rocks attracted us because they came from a time period with evolutionary events that interested us," Daeschler explains. "The rocks also were deposited in environments such as streams, deltas, and lagoons that could preserve the animals that we sought. And the layers of rocks are clearly visible at the surface, which improves our ability to search carefully for fossils in as much rock as possible."

Daeschler, Shubin, and the team have taken seven successful trips to the region, several of which focused on the monumental discovery of Tiktaalik roseae, a 375-million-year-old fossil lobe-finned fish with many features only seen in tetrapods (limbed animals). Tiktaalik roseae is the best example of the evolutionary transition between finned and limbed animals.

In July 2011, the team traveled back to Nunavut for a three-week expedition.

"Ideally, our trip would lead us to more fossils that help us understand additional steps in the transition from finned to limbed animals," Daeschler says. "Our main goal was to study the rocks and fossils in a window of time that we had not yet sampled fully.

"We must use our time in the field efficiently, so we studied geological maps and publications, topographic maps, and aerial photographs. As we entered the field, we did an aerial survey, and then we put down our camp near the most promising areas."

Covering 35 square miles on foot and logging 13 fossil sites, the team collected geological information and fossils, many from armored and lobe-finned fish. Visit ansp.org/nunavut to read Daeschler's blog about his findings and the team's daily routine.


Read the full article here


an article written by Mary Alice Hartsock

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University



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