The idea of studying dinosaurs stirs up a bit of excited childlike wonder in all of us. But paleontologist Robert Reisz, Vice-Dean Graduate and Distinguished Professor of Paleontology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, knows that the field isn’t just wonder and curiosity driven. Learning about the past history of life and our ancestry is critical to understanding today and predicting the future.
“Paleontologists are actually scientists, a very small community of scientists that look at the history of life on Earth,” says Reisz. “What we are looking at is the biosphere. The biosphere is where organisms, like us, interact with the planet. And that area is a very dynamic region of the Earth.”
Taking information from geology, physics, chemistry, math, and biology, his research seeks to reconstruct and to decipher the mysteries of past life.
Today we know them as birds, reptiles and mammals, but living 300 million years ago, the fossil record reveals all kinds of amazing animals like dinosaurs, flying reptiles, aquatic reptiles, and our distant ancestors. Reisz studies their evolution, biology, diversification, how they interacted with the Earth and their environment, and their eventual extinction.
What Reisz is most excited about is the ability to study the development of dinosaurs. They hatched from the oldest eggs ever laid on land, and grew into massive adults, many of which measured 10 m long or more.
Reisz is amongst the scientists traveling to excavation sites in Southwest China and South Africa to help recover fossils from nesting sites, which are home to eggs and embryonic bones of dinosaurs at various stages of development. Studying these fossils gives a sense of how dinosaurs developed inside the egg, and later grew into adults.
Curious to learn more about evolution? Catch Sally Otto’s Orange Chair Interview on observing evolution within just hours using yeast.