February 3, 2011

The Quest for the Holy Holotype

While working on a detailed phylogenetic revision of a group of trilobites, I ran into a particularly problematic taxon known only from one small, severely broken specimen. Due to various taxonomic issues with which I won’t bore the readers of this blog, this particular problematica required further study. After a bit of detective work I managed to piece together that the trilobite had been collected in the far off land of Ottawa, Ontario. I quickly organized a trip and headed off into the great white Canadian north with my collaborator in this study, Gerry Kloc from the University of Rochester. Admittedly, late October is a less than ideal time to do field work on the Canadian Shield, but we were filled with an excited optimism that helped to fight back the biting cold. Plus the coats and gloves helped, too. 

Unfortunately, Ottawa had changed a great deal in the 100 plus years that had passed since the holotype had been collected and the original collection site was presently covered over by a brand new housing complex. After a few days of collecting in contemporary beds along the Ottawa River, a brief search through the stratigraphic collections at the Geological Survey of Canada, and an uneventful trip to a local rock quarry, we only ended up collecting a few paltry scraps that could potentially belong to the same species.

Determined to get something positive out of this trip, we left Canada and headed to a quarry in Watertown, New York with abundant undescribed material. Our collecting was quite fruitful... until the owner of the quarry informed us that we needed to leave immediately because people were hunting on the property.


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The Biodiversity Institute is home to about 60 graduate students and 30 research scientists and curators. They participate in field expeditions to all seven continents and represent areas such as entomology, ornithology, paleontology, parasitology and herpetology. As the authors of this blog, they share their experiences and adventures in collections-based biological research all over the world.

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