Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Irony raises it froggy head: Late-Jurassic frog fossils from Dinosaur National Monument

An article on the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation frog, Rhadinosteus parvus, from Rainbow Park, Dinosaur National Monument, that was described in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology in 1998*. Pretty cool little fossils! You can also read more about Jurassic frogs (even Rhadinosteus) in the book Jurassic West (pages 135-137).

From the Vernal Express:

"Two slabs of late-Jurassic frog fossils have returned to Dinosaur National Monument after more than a decade at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Penn.

These two rock slabs contain the fossilized skeletons of several small frogs, each about the size of a modern-day tree frog. Well-preserved frog skeletons such as these seldom occur in the fossil record because frogs are small, their skeletons are delicate, and they have cartilage in the skeleton, which does not fossilize well.

Although monument paleontologists have found many individual frog fossil bones, these entire skeletons tell a more complete story.

Amy Henrici, a paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, was studying the slabs. She determined that they are a previously unknown genus of frog.

The frogs share characteristics with a group of living frogs that burrow in mud, but lack the specific adaptations for burrowing. The fossilized frogs on the slab died when they were metamorphosing from a larval stage and consequently do not show all of their adult skeletal features. Therefore, it is possible that the fossilized specimens died before burrowing adaptation in their skeleton developed......"

Read the entire story here.

Now, I can't help but wonder, hmm....who could it have been that found and prepared those cute little frog fossils? not the same person whose job Dinosaur National Monument is trying to do away with. Surly not. Not the same person the paper reported in its previous edition was being eliminated because they don't need him and his job. And, geee....I wonder who arranged the loan to the Carnegie in the first place, and will curate this fossil and make sure that it is put in the collections and properly cared for??? Hmmmmm.... that would not happen to be the other person who fills the other job Dinosaur National Monument is planning on doing away with (the curator). And then there is this quote:

"Although monument paleontologists have found many individual frog fossil bones..."

Now there is an "s" at the end of the word "paleontologist" which, usually, implies that there is more than one paleontologist at the park. This is funny, since Ms. Risser said the park only had one of those. What did they call those other people in an earlier article....

"Both jobs, a geologist and a curator, have supported the monument's paleontology program for the past seven years. But the most essential part of the program, a full-time paleontologist with a doctorate degree in paleontology, remains intact." [Link]

Oh, thats right, a geologist and a curator. So, is the geologist a paleontologist, a preparator, or a geologist? Because the paper says paleontologist, the other article says geologist.....this is all very confusing. If they are not cutting any paleontology positions at Dinosaur National Park is that the reason we are calling him a geologist, just to make it easier? Or is he actually a geologist? Or is he both? I think his title is just making it easier for the park to say they are not cutting any paleontology positions, when, in reality, he is a paleontologist. Plain and simple.

Or is the park saying that the only paleontologist is the one with the Ph.D., because, come one, we all know you can't be a paleontologist unless you have a Ph.D. The current park paleontologist did not have a Ph.D. for the entire time he has worked at the park (nearly 20 years without a Ph.D while working there, from what I have been told, but then again, I could be wrong, I am sometimes)...what did they call him then? Not that it is his fault. Maybe the park paleontologist has the parks figurative gun to his head and just has to go along with what they say to ensure they do not cut his job as well. I am not trying to be overly hard on him, please do not get me wrong. It was his job on the cutting block last time too. [edit: it was not his job per se, just that they were not going to replace him when he retired....details]. I am sure (just assuming here) he did not write the plan to cut these jobs. Its not his fault.

Interestingly enough, the same issue of the paper happens to have a very good editorial...

"Dear Editor,

Reading the headline, “Monument paleo program remains intact despite cuts,” I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or get mad. I’m leaning toward the latter, and I hope other people who care about Dinosaur National Monument will feel the same, and say so.

The article describes the elimination of two positions from Dinosaur’s paleontology program. Since the entire paleontology staff was three positions, it’s hard to grasp how the program can be considered “intact” after a two-thirds reduction. The superintendent assures us, however, that the full-time Ph.D. paleontologist position is “the most essential part of the program” and that the jobs being cut have merely “supported” it “for the past seven years.” That makes it seem these two jobs are just recent, unimportant additions whose loss is no big deal....

As the quarry exhibit neared completion in the late 1980s, these positions evolved to encompass broader responsibilities. Their incumbents – who do have paleontology degrees just not Ph.D.s, and now more than 20 years’ experience themselves – have been key to expansion of the paleo program outside the quarry (and the program’s ongoing viability even while the quarry is closed).

They have already worked extensively with outside organizations to obtain grants, tools, and interns to help carry out fossil excavation, preparation, and related studies. They have updated and digitized museum records, not just on fossils but on all the monument’s collections. They have recruited, trained, and supervised a dedicated volunteer corps – whose thousands of hours of free service have arguably made Dinosaur’s paleo program extremely cost-effective....

As the headline did, the statement that paleontology “has lost its appeal with the closure of the [quarry] visitor center” left me incredulous. Park management is not to blame for closing a structurally unsound building, but the unavoidable effect is that many prospective visitors – for whom paleontology has not lost its “appeal” – just one of its best exhibits in the whole world – have abandoned Dinosaur. This is what is most alarming about the timing of the present job cuts. Several years ago, a proposal to eliminate two paleontology positions quietly faded away after public protest. Reviving that idea again now sounds suspiciously like, “Maybe we can get away with it this time, while nobody’s looking.”

Linda West

Read her entire letter here.

* Henrici, Amy C. 1998. A new pipoid anuran from the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation at Dinosaur National Monument, Utah. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 18(2):321–332.

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