Meet the Paleontologists

A man in a Park Service uniform, wearing a red backback, crouches in front of a blue-ish, grey-ish green rock exposure. He balancing on one hand to the right of the frame.
Nicholas A. Famoso
Paleontologist and Museum Curator

Tim Gohrke

Nicholas A. Famoso, Chief of Paleontology/Museum Curator


Ph.D., Earth Sciences, University of Oregon, 2017
Dissertation: Mammalian Community Recovery from Volcanic Eruptions in the Cenozoic of North America

M.S., Geological Sciences, University of Oregon, 2013
Thesis: The Evolution of Occlusal Enamel Complexity in Middle Miocene to Recent Equids (Mammalia: Perissodactyla) of North America

B.S., Magna Cum Laude, Geology, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, 2009

Research Website:

Research Interests: I often use statistical methods to answer biological questions using data from the geologic record. I have been primarily interested in answering questions about the ecology of extinct mammals. As such, I like to think of myself as a paleoecologist and conservation paleobiologist that tends to think about big picture, process driven questions. Recently, I have been interested in understanding the processes which underlie mammalian community reconstruction after volcanic perturbations. I am especially interested in understanding the impact of large scale eruptions (supervolcanoes) on mammalian communities. As part of my dissertation, I focused on the recovery after the Picture Gorge ignimbrite in the Turtle Cove Member of the John Day Formation exposed at John Day Fossil Beds NM. I used modern data from the 1980 eruption of Mt. Saint Helens and the 1914-1916 eruption of Mt. Lassen as analogs to develop hypotheses of recovery and I plan to test these hypotheses in the fossil record of the Monument. Moving forward, I plan to continue investigating changes in the paleoecology of mammalian communities and variation in extinct species that once lived in eastern and central Oregon.

Disciplinary Expertise: Vertebrate paleontology, evolutionary biology, morphology and systematics, phylogenetic comparative methods, biostratigraphy, and paleoecology.


Liggett, G. A., T. Childs, N. A. Famoso, S. Floray, H. G. McDonald, A. L. Titus, & E. Varner. 2018. An overview of the contributions of federal land to paleontology, and a discussion of the U.S. Department of the Interior Museum Program. In Museums at the Forefront of the History of Philosophy of Geology, History Made, History in the Making. Geological Society of America Special Paper 535. p 311–334. DOI: 10.1130/2018.2535(21)

Famoso, N. A., S. S. B. Hopkins, E. B. Davis. 2018. How do diet and body mass drive reproductive strategies in mammals? Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 124(2):151-156. DOI:10.1093/biolinnean/bly038

Famoso, N.A. 2017. Statistical analysis of dental variation in the Oligocene Equid Miohippus (Mammalia, Perissodactyla) of Oregon. Journal of Paleontology. 91(5):1060-1068. DOI: 10.1017/jpa.2017.42

Famoso N. A., and E. B. Davis. 2016. On the relationship between enamel band complexity and occlusal surface area in Equids (Mammalia, Perissodactyla). PeerJ. 4:e2181 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.2181

Famoso, N. A., E. B. Davis, R. S. Feranec, S. S. B. Hopkins, & S. A. Price. 2016. Are Hypsodonty and Occlusal Enamel Complexity Evolutionarily Correlated in Ungulates? Journal of Mammalian Evolution. 23(1): 43-47. DOI: 10.1007/s10914-015-9296-7#

Famoso, N.A. & S.S.B. Hopkins. 2014. Correction to the holotype (AMNH FM 9394) of Merychippus proparvulus Osborn, 1918 (Perissodactyla, Equidae). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 34(5): 1249-1250. DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2014.853073

Famoso, N.A. & E.B. Davis. 2014. Occlusal enamel complexity in middle Miocene to Holocene Equids (Equidae: Perissodactyla) of North America. PLoS One. 9(2): e90184. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090184

Famoso N.A., R.S. Feranec, & E. B. Davis. 2013. Occlusal enamel complexity and its implications for lophodonty, hypsodonty, body mass and diet in extinct and extant ungulates. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 387: 211-216. DOI: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2013.07.006

Famoso, N.A. & D.C. Pagnac. 2011. A Comparison of the Clarendonian Equid Assemblages from the Mission Pit, South Dakota and Ashfall Fossil Beds, Nebraska. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences and Affiliated Societies. 32: 98-107.
Jennifer Cavin
Jennifer L. Cavin
Museum Technician and Fossil Preparator

Jennifer L. Cavin, Museum Technician/Fossil Preparator

Jennifer has been preparing fossil specimens since she was an undergraduate in 1997. She remembers her first day in a paleontology lab, "I walked in the door. They handed me a tool and an oreodont skull. I was hooked from that moment on!" Jennifer continued to work as a fossil preparator throughout graduate school. She spent her winters preparing fossils in the School of Mines laboratory, and she spent her summers at Badlands National Park doing field work, mostly at the Big Pig Dig Quarry.

After graduation, Jennifer worked at Augustana College in Illinois and for the Utah Geological Survey in Salt Lake City, Utah preparing and doing field work with dinosaurs. Jennifer's first love in paleontology, however, was ancient mammals. So it is not surprising that she jumped at the chance to work with mammals once again. After a brief time at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, she accepted a job at John Day Fossil Beds NM. Jennifer spends her time preparing, molding and casting the fossil specimens found within the fossil beds. She is also part of the field collecting team. Jennifer really enjoys all aspects of her job and says she has found her permanent home here in eastern Oregon.
Christopher Schierup
Christopher Schierup
Collections Manager

Christopher Schierup, Collections Manager

I am the collection manager, clerk for fossils, and also assist the senior paleontologist in the collection of fossils.

I began my career in paleontology as a hobbyist, searching for coral and brachiopods in the gravel of my parents' driveway as a child. Later my mother took me to the excavation of a mastodon near our home in Michigan. While my interest stemmed mostly from reading about dinosaurs, one of my favorite fossils was the Dunkleosteus at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

In college, I studied biology with an emphasis in evolution and ecology, as well as paleontology. I received my Bachelor's at the Flint campus of the University of Michigan and my master's degree from Northern Illinois University. While pursuing my degrees, I did field work in the Bryce Canyon area of southwestern Utah, screenwashing Cretaceous clays for microfossils such as mammal and small theropod teeth. I also spent time hunting for and excavating larger fragments of dinosaurs, mostly hadrosaurs, though parts of soft-shelled turtles and large crocodiles were also common. My thesis was an examination of tooth morphology in theropods from southern Utah by applying eigenshape analysis. Concurrent to this I volunteered at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago performing fossil preparation.

Following my studies I worked as a seasonal for John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, doing much of the same work I do now. After two seasons in Oregon I volunteered at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, in Bloomfield Hills MI, entering the old hardcopy database into its digital successor. Later I worked for Yosemite National Park, cataloging, rehousing and inventorying native american baskets, archives and other cultural objects. After three years at Yosemite I returned to the John Day Fossil Beds and took my current position. During this time I served for one month at the Golden Gate National Recreational Area examining and rehousing aquatic invertebrates preserved in fluid. While here at the fossil beds I organize and track the yearly fossil collections, as well as the monument's archives.


Last updated: October 31, 2018

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