Research: Introducing Paleobotany Graduate Student MacKenzie Smith

Greetings FOSSIL friends,

My name is MacKenzie Smith. I have just started my paleobotany PhD program here at the University of Florida and I am one of your new social media team members!

I was OreGrown (born and raised in Oregon) and have been collecting fossils since I was 6. Prior to my undergrad, I helped designate the Metasequoia as the state fossil, became a member and volunteered with the North America Research Group and helped refine state collecting statutes. During my undergrad at Oregon State University I majored in zoology, minored in geology and described a new species of fossil fern, Osmundacaulis whittlesii, from the Cretaceous Haida Formation (ca. 100 Ma) of British Columbia. Additionally, I was the learning assistant for OSU’s paleobiology class my junior and senior years which included helping preserve and document the mammoth, bison and other Pleistocene bones found under Reser Stadium. Upon graduation, I volunteered at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry as a vertebrate fossil preparator and interpreter and worked at OSU by managing the fossil brachiopod collection of the late Dr. Art Boucot.

MacKenzie Smith near Newport, Oregon with Anadara devincta (clam) fossils of the mid-Miocene Astoria Formation

Currently at UF I am working with my advisor, Stephen Manchester, on describing what we think is a new species of butternut from the mid-Miocene of Washington. Butternuts are related to walnuts and today live in eastern Asia and northeastern North America but have a paleontological distribution that included Europe and western North America. My thesis will be on an undescribed locality of the Eocene aged Clarno Formation of central Oregon. This formation is known for its exceptional preservation of fruits, seeds and mammals in various members. It is also one of the main formations preserved within the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument though the locality I am focusing on is on private property. The scope of my project will be to 1. Provide a date for this locality, 2. Identify the plants and fish preserved there, and 3. Put this locality in a regional and temporal context. It should be a lot of fun!

In terms of FOSSIL, I am in charge of the Saturday (#SocietySaturday & #ScienceSaturday) and Monday (#MammalMonday & #MuseumMonday) posts. I am also running two forums on one on paleobotany and the other on Pacific Northwest paleontology. Make sure to check them out! I will also be spearheading a project on revamping our YouTube channel by starting a series on how to collect fossils aimed primarily for people interested in fossils, but who have never collected. We hope that this series will show people where to go, what to look for and how to collect both legally and in a way that is useful for researchers. Additionally, we hope to provide links to paleontological resources in each state including museums, societies, parks and managed sites. So far we do not have a schedule but we hope to release our pilot video before the end of October.

I’m so happy to be down here at the University of Florida and working on FOSSIL’s social media team! If you have any questions or suggestions please feel free to email me at [email protected]. See you finding fossils in the field!

MacKenzie Smith

To learn more:

Read an interview with MacKenzie here.

Smith, M. A., Rothwell, G. W., & Stockey, R. A. (2015). Mesozoic diversity of Osmundaceae: Osmundacaulis whittlesii sp. nov. in the Early Cretaceous of Western Canada. International Journal of Plant Sciences, 176(3), 245-258.

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