Fossil Soft Shell Turtle

Fossil Soft-shelled Turtle, Hell Creek Formation. Replica on display at the T.rex Discovery Centre.

Keeping up with the advancements in science is proving more challenging as the years pass, thanks in large part to the digital age we are in. Sometimes we just luck out in discovering research that is akin to our direction. For example, Dr. Don Brinkman of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, the premier turtle researcher in North America, and I began a study of the diversity and trends in turtle remains from 65-million-year-old deposits from southwest Saskatchewan. We still have to follow up on this, but one of the recent Journal of Experimental Zoology issues, now available online, is dedicated in part to research on the evolution of turtles.

There are many papers that dissect some of the major issues in understanding the development of turtle characters, like shell growth – strung out from general diversity trends amongst species today, to development from embryo to adult, to molecular data showing natural ‘clocks’ of evolution.  A couple of articles in this series is pertinent to my research and interests.  Walter Joyce (University of Fribourg) provided “The Origin of Turtles: A Paleontological Perspective” describing how the discovery of fossil turtles supported or altered evolutionary megatrends in the 19th and early 20th century.  This tickles my history interests.  But one of the articles that will certainly require a couple of reads is Dr. Kenneth Angielczyk (Field Museum of Natural History) and others, asking “Do Turtles Follow the Rule? Latitudinal Gradients in Species Richness, Body Size, and Geographic Range Area of the World’s Turtles”.  This is of interest because if we can infer relatedness of fossil and modern turtles, we can surmise reasonable environmental adaptations between fossil and modern groups.

Fortunately, the current Saskatchewan fossil turtle project will not only describe some of the diversity of turtles just prior the mega-extinction event 65 million years ago, but also the assistance of Dr. Emily Bamforth who works with me at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum’s T. rex Discovery Centre, whose doctoral thesis included reconstructing paleo-environmental trends with, in part, the known record of fossil turtles.  Collectively, between appreciating serendipitous events of cultivating interesting research papers, and with the knowledge and experience of others, we will contribute a clearly defined piece of the environmental puzzle of so many millions of years ago.