Oh Baby Dinosaur, How Do You Grow?

Studying 300-million-year-old fossils makes paleontology cool; learning timeless lessons about life on Earth is what makes it essential.

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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.

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Prof. Robert Reisz is a leading authority on the initial stages of terrestrial vertebrate evolution and the organisms that eventually gave rise to living mammals, reptiles, and birds. He has studied early reptiles and their amphibian relatives globally, examining the initial stages of the invasion of land by limbed vertebrates. He has also explored other crucial events in vertebrate evolution, like the early stages of dinosaur evolution, and dinosaur embryology.

He has been at University of Toronto for 40 years, and is currently Vice-Dean Graduate, and Distinguished Professor of Paleontology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. He also holds research associate positions in 6 major natural history museums, distinguished professorships in other universities, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Prof. Reisz’s discoveries and field work have been widely featured in textbooks, scientific magazines, and have been popularized and disseminated to the lay public globally through numerous interviews on national and international media.