James Campbell publishes in PLOS ONE

Monday, January 11, 2016

Excavating a chasmosaurine skull

Excavating a chasmosaurine skull


James Campbell (M.Sc. 2014) has recently published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE on the subject of his M.Sc. thesis. This paper concerns two species of dinosaurs found in Upper Cretaceous age rock from Western Canada, specifically the Dinosaur Park Formation. His co-authors on this paper are his M.Sc. Supervisor Dr. Michael Ryan and Co-Supervisor Dr. Claudia Schröder-Adams, as well as Dr. Robert Holmes of the University of Alberta. 

This study examines two species of horned dinosaurs, Chasmosaurus belli and Chasmosaurus russelli. Both belonged to the same family as the more well-known Triceratops. The authors consider whether these two species are indeed distinct, or if they are in fact one species. They did this by analyzing the shapes of particular skull bones.

The authors conclude that these are in fact two separate species, because one of the skull bones is a different shape. They also determined that both species lived at the same time, and not at different times, as previous studies suggested. 

This study also considers another another ceratopsian specimen from the Dinosaur Park Formation that was classified as Kosmoceratops. Kosmoceratops lived at the same time as Chasmosaurus, predominantly in Utah. The authors re-examined this specimen to determine if it is in fact Kosmoceratops, or rather a misidentified Chasmosaurus.

They concluded that there was not enough evidence that this dinosaur was Kosmoceratops. They therefore reclassified this specimen as a Chasmosaurus. At this time, Kosmoceratops is not known from Canadian deposits. 


How did James become a paleontologist? 

Chasmosaurus russelli holotype quarry

Chasmosaurus russelli holotype quarry


I asked James how he developed an interest in earth sciences as a child. His parents worked at the Canadian Museum of Nature and Canadian Wildlife Service. They exposed him to the natural world at an early age. Ever since, he has been an avid collector of bones, fossils, rocks and minerals. In first grade, the subject of his show-and-tell was an articulated deer skeleton that he had helped collect the previous summer. 

This early interest led to an undergraduate degree in Vertebrate Paleontology at Carleton. From there, he progressed to a Master's project, which included fieldwork in the Milk River region of southern Alberta. This dig was supervised by Adjunct Professor Dr. Michael Ryan of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Dr. David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum. This region of Alberta has yielded several skulls of Chasmosaurus and Vagaceratops in the past, including the first-described (holotype) specimen of Chasmosaurus russelli. The 2012 fieldwork season included the successful re-location of the quarry that yielded the C. russelli holotype specimen in 1936. This quarry was found to be at the top of the Dinosaur Park Formation, and not at the bottom of the formation, as originally thought. He also helped to excavate part of a chasmosaurine skull at another locality in the Milk River area, which may also be Chasmosaurus.

James is now a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary. His Supervisor is Dr. Jason Anderson. His project is entitled, “Marine Vertebrate Community Changeover in the Cretaceous (Campanian–Maastrichtian) Western Interior Seaway of North America”.