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PANAMA CANAL PALEONTOLOGY PROJECT MARKS MILESTONE WITH CANAL AUTHORITY

April 30, 2013

PANAMA CANAL PALEONTOLOGY PROJECT MARKS MILESTONE WITH CANAL AUTHORITY

Miniature camels and horses, rhinoceros and a giant beardog are among fossils unearthed in the first five years of the Panama Canal expansion

Miniature camels and horses, rhinoceros and a giant beardog are among fossils unearthed in the first five years of the Panama Canal expansion. Launched with a $1 million grant from the Panama Canal Authority, the excavations have shed light on the fauna and climate of the area 20 million years ago.

STRI staff scientist Carlos Jaramillo, whose lab has coordinated much of the fieldwork, Florida Museum of Natural History professor Bruce MacFadden, who leads a parallel project and Elena Lombardo, STRI’s External Affairs Advisor, shared the project’s accomplishments at a press conference hosted by the ACP this Friday.

Highlights include ten new species described based on fossil findings and more than 6,000 collected samples. So far, the research has resulted in 50 scientific articles and an international symposium at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America in 2012. Some 100 scientists and students from around the United States and Latin America have conducted research.

“Getting undergraduate students, graduate students and postdocs involved is as important as the research outputs of the project,” MacFadden says, the principal investigator on a $3.8 million National Science Foundation grant to study the excavation through at least 2015.

“The most important part (of this project) was being able to have access to outcroppings in the area of the canal,” says Aldo Rincón, a Ph.D. student in geology at the University of Florida who has already published many of his findings.

Rincón said that without the canal expansion, similar accomplishments would not have been possible in the deep jungles of Panama. “We would have had to do paleontology and geology along creeks and rivers, places where outcroppings are very rare and the possibilities of finding vertebrate fossils are even more reduced,” he says.

The NSF grant falls under its Partnerships for International Research and Education and was awarded, in this case, for the project, “Ancient biodiversity and global change in the New World tropics: A once-in-a-century opportunity along the Panama Canal.”

Photo captions
STRI staff scientist Carlos Jaramillo speaks to the press on Friday, April 26 at a conference to commemorate the Panama Canal Authority’s five-year, $1-million sponsorship of salvage paleontology in the canal expansion site. Photo by Sean Mattson.

Catalina Pimiento, a Ph.D. student working with MacFadden, says her research on ancient shark teeth, which forms part of her doctoral thesis, would not have been possible without the project. Much work remains. “Not only is it necessary to find and identify them, now it is important to understand them and tell their story,” she says. “In the case of the sharks, we are going to compare the fossilize fauna found in Panama with other fauna from around the world to understand global ecological patterns.” Photos by Jorge Alemán.

Research results include:
• Ten new species described based on fossil finds
• More than 6,000 samples collected and georeferenced
• New estimates for the timing of the tectonic and volcanic events that contributed to the formation of the land-bridge
• 50 scientific publications
• An international symposium at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America, 2012


Additional links:
Panama Canal Sharks
STRI finds fossils in the Panama Canal
Panama Canal Project - PIRE

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