Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, Nevada
National Park Service (NPS) units serve as natural laboratories, museum collections, and archives for paleontology researchers across the globe. Where does a paleontology research project even start? A huge part of the scientific process is compiling what we already know, which is a lot more challenging and time-consuming than one would think. It remains a noble cause, as harnessing the power of information becomes a lot more accessible when it’s all in one place. This was the goal of a recent effort of paleontologists Jim Mead, Justin Tweet, Vince Santucci, Jeffrey Rasic, and Sharon Holte in publishing “Proboscideans from US National Park Service Lands” in a 2020 issue of the journal Eastern Paleontologist.
This new paper, available at: https://www.eaglehill.us/epalonline/access-pages/006-Mead-accesspage.shtml, compiles the current and previously unpublished records of proboscideans from 63 National Park Service Units servicewide to formally recognize this collection of resources and support researchers. Locating and synthesizing information about America’s elephants can feel much like chasing around butterflies with a very small net. Paleontologists and other naturalists have been collecting and describing North American proboscideans long before NPS units were established. Consequently, information was spread across scientific papers, conference presentations, unpublished musings, well-hidden fossil localities, museum collections, handwritten field notes, and documents stored away in boxes. The result is a comprehensive finder’s guide to the diverse and fascinating fossil record of proboscideans throughout the NPS.
Proboscideans once thrived in the diverse habitats of North America during the Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene epochs. There are three main lineages of American proboscideans: Gomphotheriidae (Gomphotheres), Mammutidae (Mastodonts), and Elephantidae (Mammoths). These three distinct families have noticeable differences in their tooth structure, skeletal morphologies, and tusk shape and length. These charismatic animals left behind a fossil record of footprints, dung, bones, tusks, and teeth and live on to tell their stories through research, preservation, and public engagement. The paper authors encourage researchers to contact the manager of the park unit whose fossils are of interest, although the excavated specimens may be cataloged off-site. There is boundless potential for proboscidean research opportunities on NPS-administered lands. Generation after generation, researchers, students, NPS staff, and citizen scientists add to what we know about the lumbering giants of our not-so-distant past—we can’t wait to see what we learn next.
- John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
- Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Alaska—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
- Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, Nevada—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
- White Sands National Monument, New Mexico—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
- Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, Alaska—[Geodiversity Atlas] [Park Home]
- NPS—Fossils Through Geologic Time
- NPS—Fossils and Paleontology