Club Corner: Dinosaur Research Institute -Discovering the Past With Funds for Future Scholars

By Guy McLaughlin

Following the retreat of the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago the meltwater gouged deep, steep-sloped river courses and threaded the Canadian west with coulees, ravines and gullies. Over the millennia their eroding slopes have unveiled a treasure of marine fossils and dinosaur bones revealing the life that flourished in a humid lush climate many millions of years ago. Alberta has an exceptional variety of dinosaur remains and a special responsibility in the study and preservation of this unique resource. Significant funding is required to prospect, excavate, prepare and study this resource before the fossils are exposed to weathering and destruction. Young scientists embarking on this fascinating profession need financial support for their research.

DRI has contributed multi-year funding to excavation of the important Albertosaurus bonebed at Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park where 22 individual Albertosaurus have been identified.

The Dinosaur Research Institute (DRI) was established in 1996 by several keen amateur and professional paleontologists as a non-profit society. Its purpose is to raise and provide financial support for dinosaur research by graduate students and scientists. The Institute funds high-quality scientific dinosaur research on western Canadian dinosaurs; including exploration and recovery, preparation, presentation, and any related research. The DRI will also fund international dinosaur fieldwork provided the project relates to dinosaurs found in western Canada.

The 13-member Board is made up of world renowned scientists Dr. Jason Anderson, Dr. Philip Currie, Dr. David Eberth, Dr. David Evans, Dr. Eva Koppelhus, Dr. Michael Ryan, Dr. Darla Zelenitsky and Darren Tanke in addition to several amateur paleo enthusiasts.

Since 2004 the DRI has supported 121 projects in Canada and around the world and provided $420,000 CAD in financial assistance. In addition the DRI has provided financial assistance of $190,000 CAD for fieldwork and fossil preparation.

Dinosaur Research Institute president Al Rasmuson coaches Christian Kiss in jacketing skills.

DRI Gala Dinner, Nov. 3, 2018

The DRI raises funds in several ways from direct appeals to corporations and individuals to the sale of dinosaur-themed products. The Institute holds special annual events in Calgary to showcase the work and successes of the students and scientists it supports. The Institute will host its 14th annual Fundraising Gala on November 3, 2018 which features palaeontologists speaking on recent dinosaur initiatives in western Canada, as well as posters, displays and presentations by University of Alberta and University of Calgary paleo students.

These dinners are enthusiastically supported by Calgary’s dinosaur community and have raised almost $200,000 CAD over the years.

Dinotour, Aug. 3-6, 2018

This year the DRI is conducting its 5th Dinotour – a four-day guided exploration of southern Alberta’s dinosaur quarries. This once-in-a-lifetime journey is guided by six of the scientists on the DRI Board and provides a unique opportunity to explore and learn about Alberta’s palaeontological treasures. For more information, email [email protected]

Examples of recently funded fieldwork include:

Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project

The vertebrate resources of the Milk River region of extreme southern Alberta have received little attention in the past yet the area contains some of the oldest dinosaur-bearing sediments in Alberta (Milk River, Foremost and Oldman formations). Since 2008 the DRI has provided funding to the Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project, a multi-year paleontological survey of the area with the goal of compiling a detailed biostratigraphic framework of the region. Project leaders also plan to document the dinosaur fauna of the lower half of the Belly River Group and the Milk River formation and compare dinosaur faunas and their associated environments through time. The fieldwork has been a collaborative project between Dr. David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum, Dr. Michael Ryan of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and colleagues at Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum.

Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project fieldwork; Wendiceratops pinhornensis quarry on the Pinhorn Grazing Reserve of southern Alberta.

Morrin Bridge Fieldwork, Albert

For two years the DRI has been funding University of Alberta fieldwork on the Red Deer River with 2017 having been a most successful season. Fieldwork led by University of Alberta postgraduate students focused on extensive sampling of two microsites containing an abundance of the rare theropod dinosaur Troodon. Nearly 500 kg of sediment were collected for bulk sampling, and surface collection recovered dozens of Troodon teeth, embryonic material from hadrosaur dinosaurs, dozens of frog bones, and the first recorded eggshell. A partial skeleton of a Thescelosaurus (a small herbivorous dinosaur) was recovered along with more material from a champsosaur discovered in 2016, and a well preserved hadrosaur trackway which will contribute to understanding of both the depositional settings in the formation and the behavior of the animals that lived here. Together, the sites produced 24 accessioned specimens comprising hundreds of individual fossils.

University of Toronto post-graduate students head to McPheeters bonebed for a day’s work.


While the DRI concentrates on funding projects related to western Canadian dinosaurs not all funding is awarded to work in this region. Occasionally the Institute will support overseas initiatives such as a 2015 Mongolia fieldwork trip to gather raw data on the anatomy of Mongolian oviraptorids, to understand variation in the skeleton of oviraptorosaurs (the group to which Albertan caenagnathids belong). Fieldwork and museum visits allowed University of Alberta PhD candidate Gregory Funston to observe 21 oviraptorosaur skeletons first-hand, each of which provided excellent anatomical data. Much of this data was incorporated into a phylogeny that was recently published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, as part of the attached article “A new caenagnathid (Dinosauria: Oviraptorosauria) from the Horseshoe Canyon Formation of Alberta, Canada, and a reevaluation of the relationships of Caenagnathidae” (Funston and Currie 2016). In addition to describing a new species of Albertan caenagnathid, the paper also discusses sexual display structures in oviraptorosaurs and their bearing on phylogenetic testing.

The 2015 trip also provided data for a review of Mongolian oviraptorosaurs, entitled “Oviraptorosaur anatomy, diversity, and ecology in the Nemegt Basin”.

This study examines the ecological relationships of oviraptorosaurs and helps to explain why caenagnathids are present across Asia and North America, but oviraptorids are not.

Danek Bonebed, Edmonton Alberta

The DRI has been supporting fieldwork south of Edmonton at the Danek Bonebed, a recent find that since 2006 has been offering up hundreds of specimens. Most of the bones at Danek are from Edmontosaurus regalis, a classic hadrosaur with a long snout tipped with a shovel-shaped beak and one of the most abundant dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous.

The Edmontosaurus are offering palaeontologists new details about the well-known hadrosaur. The occurrence of Edmontosaurus in central Alberta links these dinosaurs with contemporary members of the same species found in southern Alberta and even older specimens found in the northwestern part of the province. Plotting out these finds will help palaeontologists better understand what sort of habitat Edmontosaurus preferred and how populations of the dinosaur spread through North America.

Researchers also found some skull bones from an Albertosaurus that died close in time to the hadrosaurs. These bones represent the northernmost occurrence of Albertosaurus yet found and add to the picture that as the herbivorous dinosaurs of Cretaceous Alberta came and went, Albertosaurus remained a top predator for a longer span of time than any individual prey species.

To learn more about the Danek Bonebed, check out the special issue of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.

Graduate Student Support

DRI Student Project

Rene Vandervelde Travel Grant for the SVP Annual Meeting

Scholarship Supporting Neoceratopsian Research

Travel Grant for the CSVP Annual Meeting

Grant details and application forms available at

Contact information:


Email: [email protected]

Mail: Dinosaur Research Institute; P.O. Box 6353 Stn. “D”, Calgary, AB. Canada, T2P 2C9

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