Ok, to start I would like to present something that I see as a fundamental aspect of the profession of being a paleontologist - the opportunity to delve into many aspects of science, in a word, being a polymath. I am no polymath, and I don't think that most people that would claim to be should be doing so, but it is unavoidable and irresistible to learn and practice the various disciplines of science when one is a paleontologist.
Although most of us would say that isn't so, perhaps after years of focus describing the same group(s) of fossil animals, there are many fields of science one has to be familiar with to gain any competency in that. Among the skills needed, one must be a an anatomist, geologist, evolutionary biologist, and often practice many other skills such as spelunking, camping (and its various skills of its own), illustration (long gone are the days in which most professionals have illustrators that work for them full time), microscopy, and statistics.
But paleontology isn't restrained to those disciplines either. I recall telling my father many years ago, when he asked, "Are you sure you want to be a paleontologist?", that I commented that in a way, because paleontology is simply the record of the history of life, that it is justifiable to use all means and methods at better understanding that history. If something deemed it necessary for one to understand physiology or chemistry or contact mechanics to figure out how something an ancient organism was like, one could and should. Obviously we cannot all do everything, and for efficiency's sake, we need to collaborate with other specialists when those needs arise. But if there are topics outside the mainstream of classic paleontological methods, such as finding fossils, comparative anatomy, and systematics, the opportunity to subspecialize is there.
Most museum curators do not, and probaly should not, distract themselves from the business of "normal" paleontology, but there are many, many more positions for paleontologists in other fields in academia in which this sort of uniqueness may prove an advantage.
So why would I post this on a blog about Aquatic Amniotes? Well, if there is one "group" of vertebrates that is optimal for exploring paleobiological methods and questions, it is the aquatic amniotes. They are NOT a phylogenetic grouping, but a grouping unified by common physiological, mechanical, and anatomical problems of being in an aqueous environment. Though they appear to often find solutions to these problems that appear convergent, often they are not. In these cases, they provide an excellent opportunity to explore functional morphology, adaptation, and evolutionary developmental biology.
I hope to follow this post up with some fun examples of how a variety of scientific disciplines can be utilized to understand aquatic amniote evolution. I'll try to bring in some work by others on such fields as geochemistry, modeling, materials science, and pathology to illustrate how diverse the fields being used to study aquatic amniotes are. I hope that at least some of the students that may read this will find it encourages them to broaden their horizons, explore other methods and topics, to make them better paleontologists for the future.
6 hours ago