Encouraging progress and exciting research at NAPC

by Matthew Speights (@matthew-speights)
Tom Bantel lectures for the Two to Tango session.

My experience at NAPC this June went far beyond what I would have expected. I went into the conference most interested in talks on vertebrate paleontology and amateur-professional collaboration. These did not disappoint, with some impressive talks on subjects such as Miocene shark extinction, the influence of hunting and environmental change on mammoth reproductive patterns, a whole seminar on dinosaur-bird evolution, and of course the FOSSIL Project seminar. It was truly encouraging to see the progress FOSSIL has made over the years (via the data on the increasing numbers and types of users), as well as to hear from fellow amateur paleontologists on the contributions we can make.

An aspect of the conference I was not anticipating, however, was the diversity of talks on palaeoenvironmental reconstructions. Particularly fascinating were studies that used fossil and subfossil material such as corals and shellfish to compare historical environments to modern ones, or used aquarium experiments to predict the future effects of climate change and ocean acidification.
The field trip to the La Brea Tar Pits Museum likewise exceeded my expectations. I had envisioned a typical museum, and instead got off the bus to the pungent aroma of petroleum, passed a lake with meter-sized bubbles of methane erupting, and saw the active excavation of fossils from sticky tar. The wealth of fossil material there was astounding; during our tour of the collections, I passed one area with column after column of bins stacked eight high, all with nothing but saber-toothed cat skulls.

Rows of Smilodon saber-toothed cat skulls in the La Brea Tar Pits Museum collections.

Current excavations at the La Brea Tar Pits.

Mastodon in the La Brea Tar Pits Museum.
A local lizard (genus Sceloporus) on Box Spring Mountain near Riverside.

And if that were not enough, I joined others paleontologists to enjoy California’s extant animals, hiking the chaparral-covered mountains, visiting UC Riverside’s botanical gardens, exploring Pacific tide pools, and visiting the Los Angeles zoo.

It was a fantastic trip, and I left encouraged about the state of amateur paleontology and with a greater appreciation for life on our planet, both extinct and extant. I would like to thank the FOSSIL Project for making all this financially possible, and look forward to what the future will bring for us.