Yale Peabody Museum Summer Internship

Functional Limb Morphology of Earliest Paleocene Mammals from the Bug Creek Anthills, Northeastern Montana

Advisors: Professor Eric Sargis (YPM Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology), Professor Stephen Chester, Brooklyn College (YPM VP curatorial affiliate) and Spencer Irvine (YPM VP graduate student)


Length: 6-8 weeks in the summer


Project Description:

Undergraduates are invited to participate in paleontological research during the summer of 2020 to work with a curator, curatorial affiliate, and graduate student from the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (YPM). This project focuses on the functional limb morphology of fossil mammals from the earliest Paleocene following the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction event. Though the K-Pg mass extinction is best known for the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs, evidence from the fossil record suggests that this event was also extremely important for mammals because it set the stage for the adaptive radiation that occurred shortly after dinosaurs went extinct. Multituberculates, a mammalian group that survived the mass extinction event but later went extinct, and archaic ungulates (“condylarths”) are both found in the fossil record in the earliest Paleocene and quickly become some of the most abundant and diverse groups of mammals present during this time period. Condylarths have traditionally been considered ancestors of extant hoofed mammals, and their evolutionary relationships are still debated.


Past expeditions to the Hell Creek area of northeastern Montana have recovered hundreds of fossils from the Bug Creek Anthills locality. These collections, however, have remained largely unstudied. The undergraduate researcher will help analyze the limb bone fossils in these collections. The morphology of fossil limb bones reflects how these mammals were adapted to their environments and allows a reconstruction of their locomotor behavior. The functional morphology of these fossils will thus be critical for understanding niche partitioning in Paleocene communities, the recovery of taxa after the mass extinction event, and taxonomic boundaries among multituberculates and condylarths.


The undergraduate researcher will be involved in multiple aspects of this project. They will learn to identify multituberculate and condylarth taxa to address questions such as 1) how many mammalian species were present at Bug Creek Anthills in the earliest Paleocene, 2) what is the relative abundance of multituberculate and condylarth species and individuals within this fauna, and 3) how much locomotor and body size diversity exists among these species? The researcher will learn how to postprocess microCT scans of these fossils, generate three-dimensional renderings of specimens, and measure functionally informative features of limb morphology from the 3-D models. The researcher will also learn how to statistically analyze the completed dataset. Hence, the researcher will have the opportunity to learn postprocessing techniques and methods of morphometric data collection and analysis. This project could lead to an expanded senior thesis project, a professional presentation at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, and/or a peer-reviewed publication in a paleontological journal.


Stipend: $2250-3000