Palaeontologist Natalia Rybczynski leads the research effort that discovered and studies the fossil mammal now known as Puijila darwini. Rybczynski took a team into the field in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. Most of the field-team members are profiled here.
Dr. Natalia Rybczynski is a research scientist who has been with the Canadian Museum of Nature since 2003. She specializes in vertebrate palaeobiology with a focus on evolutionary transformation, vertebrate functional morphology and also the Arctic fossil record. She led the scientific expeditions to Devon Island, Nunavut, in Canada's High Arctic, that recovered the fossil of the new genus Puijila darwini. Rybczynski co-authored (with Mary Dawson and Richard H. Tedford) the description of Puijila that appeared in Nature, which recognizes the new genus as a transitional form in the evolution of seals and their relatives. She continues to study this significant specimen. Recent research projects have included the study of prehistoric beavers, as well as the chewing mechanism of hadrosaurs (duck-billed dinosaurs).
Dr. Mary Dawson is a palaeontologist and pioneer in the study of fossil mammals found in the Arctic. She was a key collaborator on the expedition field-team because of her familiarity with the Haughton Crater deposit, having conducted work there between 1979 and 1987. Dawson co-authored (with Natalia Rybczynski and Richard H. Tedford) the description of Puijila that appeared in Nature, which recognizes the new genus as a transitional form in the evolution of seals and their relatives. She joined the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh in 1962, and is now an emeritus curator there. During expeditions to the Arctic in the 1970s and 1980s, she and her team discovered the first fossils of land animals that documented a Paleogene Period migration route between North America and Europe. These discoveries provided evidence and support for the theory of plate tectonics. Dawson has received numerous awards during her distinguished career. Among them are the prestigious Arnold Guyot Prize from the National Geographic Society, and the Romer-Simpson Medal of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Marisa Gilbert has been a vertebrate palaeobiology research assistant with the Canadian Museum of Nature since 2007. She helped coordinate and participated in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 expeditions. She continues to be involved in many aspects of the Puijila darwini project. She works with various research scientists at the museum palaeontological projects that range from the Cretaceous Period to the Pliocene Epoch. Some of her activities include field work, cladistics, fossil preparation and illustration, photography, and X-ray and SEM (scanning electron microscope) data collection.
Dr. John Gosse is a Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor of Earth Sciences at Dalhousie University. He accompanied the 2008 expedition. He went to the Haughton Crater to collect rock that was ejected during the meteorite impact in order to more accurately date the area where Puijila was found. The dating method relies on the decay of uranium and thorium in certain minerals and determines the time that the rocks were heated by the impact.
Martin Lipman is an Ottawa-based photographer with more than 20 years of professional experience. He accompanied the first three expeditions in order to photo-document the field work. It was Martin who found the braincase from the Puijila darwini fossil. Martin has a B.A.A. in Photography and Media Studies from Ryerson University and an M.A. in Journalism from Indiana University. He is a member of the academic advisory board for the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa (SPAO) and a guest instructor.
Travis Mitchell was a member of the 2008 expedition, participating as a student field assistant while completing his undergraduate degree at Carleton University in Earth Sciences and Biology. His Honours research project describes a Pliocene fossil rabbit from the Canadian High Arctic. The goal of the project is to determine whether this animal, Hypolagus, is related to a North American or Eurasian lineage, or if it is a new species.
Liz Ross was part of the 2007 expedition as a field assistant, following completion of her undergraduate degree from Carleton University in Earth Sciences and Biology. It was she who found the first bone of the new species Puijila darwini. Liz intends to share her passion for learning and adventure with children after completing Teachers College.
Joanna Northover participated in the 2009 and 2010 expeditions, participating as a student field assistant while finishing her M.Sc. in Earth Sciences at Carleton University. The focus of her master's project was the swimming behaviour of Puijila darwini. Joanna studied the forelimb skeleton and the bone density of Puijila and compared it to living relatives to determine how Puijila may have swam. During her studies, Joanna also worked part time as a Science Interpreter at the Canadian Museum of Nature. She successfully defended her M.Sc. thesis in January 2011 and went on to work as a Science Educator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta.
Thomas Cullen was a member of the 2010 expedition, participating as a field assistant. He joined the team before starting his M.Sc. at Carleton University in Earth Sciences, under the supervision of Drs. Natalia Rybczynski and Claudia Schröder-Adams. His master's thesis describes an early pinniped fossil from Oregon that is a relative of Puijila. The goals of the project: To describe the specimen, which appears to represent a female individual of Enaliarctos emlongi, and investigate the implications for the evolution of sexual dimorphism in pinnipeds.
Remembering Dr. Richard H. Tedford (Dick) (1929–2011)
Dr. Tedford was a critical resource in the publication of the 2007 discovery of Puijila darwini by the Canadian Museum of Nature's Natalia Rybczynski and co-author Dr. Mary Dawson, curator emeritus at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
From his boyhood days collecting fossils in the Mojave Desert to a storied career of over four decades at the America Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology, Dr. Richard H. Tedford (Dick) (1929–2011) was a respected and sought-after researcher, finishing his career as curator emeritus at the AMNH.
Working primarily in the US, Australia and China, Dr. Tedford was prolific in both the field and the lab, producing field-leading scholarly work with a focus on Neogene mammals and the evolution of Carnivora. He had a particular interest in Canidae, producing the 2008 book Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives & Evolutionary History with co-author Dr. Xiaoming Wang, curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Dr. Tedford also devoted great effort to establishing provenance information, using geological setting to better understand how fossils accumulate. Tedford often returned to key excavation sites to document the biostratigraphy and to better answer the questions of biochronology.
Beyond his field work, he shaped the current palaeo collections at the AMNH, in particular the Frick Collection of Cenezoic Mammals, making the material available to visiting researchers and scholars, including the Canadian Museum of Nature. He also collaborated to renovate the long-neglected mammal galleries at the AMNH, producing one of the best exhibitions on mammal evolution ever mounted. Finally, Tedford sat as Chair of Vertebrate Paleontology at the AMNH for over 13 years.