WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Dr. Gregory Edgecombe
As a new feature, we are asking one graduate each year to write an article on his/her past and current activities since leaving Acadia. Our first article is by 1985 B.Sc. (Honours) graduate, Greg Edgecombe. Greg is too modest to point out that in 1998 he was co-author of a book on Silurian Encrinurine Trilobites from the central Canadian Arctic.
The 13 years since I finished my B.Sc. at Acadia have demonstrated that it is possible to eke out a living writing about baby trilobites and little glands at the side of centipedes' bums. Quite remarkable, really.
Three months after Acadia I headed to Edmonton to do a M.Sc. at the University of Alberta. My supervisor, Brian Chatterton, suggested that I might find a project on something called encrinurids to be a good one. At the time I suspected an encrinurid was a crinoid of some sort - it turned out to be a trilobite! Twelve years later I was still writing papers on the warty little Encrinuridae, one of the more diverse Ordovician and Silurian trilobite families. My M.Sc. involved Brian's wonderfully preserved (silicified) Silurian fossils from the Mackenzie Mountains, NWT. This began a research program on the life histories of trilobites as revealed by the silicified record of their growth stages, and the ways we can use this information to sort out evolutionary relationships. Brian and I still write a few papers every year on trilobite ontogeny, nowadays based mostly on material from Argentina. M.Sc. in hand in 1987, I headed to New York City to do a Ph.D. at Columbia University. My advisor, Niles Eldredge, set me up at the American Museum of Natural History. The AMNH is like the Temple of Zeus for cladistics, the school of systematics in which I had become active, and I look back with much affection on four years of interacting with the gurus of systematics and biogeography - "rare and curious creatures" describes my mentors as well as my animals. My Ph.D. thesis involved the relationships of one of the main groups of post-Cambrian trilobites, the Phacopida. Niles introduced me to South American trilobite diversity, something I've been working on for 10 years.
In 1991 I took up an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship, returning to the University of Alberta. I had to learn Spanish muy pronto because I was off to Argentina and Bolivia! In 1992 and 1993 I collected Ordovician and Devonian trilobites in western Argentina - the Precordillera Terrane, a piece of Laurentia that rafted on to the South American margin in the Ordovician, turned out to be so chock full of silicified fossils that we have been back to collect 5 times. I taught "Rocks for Jocks" at the U of A - keeping 200+ students fired up may explain my subsequent career choice as a museum researcher! After two years with NSERC I landed a permanent job, the one I still hold, at the Australian Museum in Sydney. My title is Senior Research Scientist, and my work these days is about 50% palaeontology and 50% neontology. The Palaeo component remains largely focused on Southern Hemisphere trilobites, as well as tracking down early (mid-Palaeozoic) records of terrestrial arthropods. I am especially keen on figuring out how myriapods (centipedes and millipedes) fit into the grand scheme of arthropod history. For a few years I worked on Burgess Shale-type Cambrian fossils from China, very handy indeed for figuring out the relationships of the myriad trilobite-allied arthropods in the early record. The neontology component of my research has two main directions -relationships of major arthropod groups (Are insects crustaceans? What exactly are sea spiders?), and the evolution of centipedes. I collaborate with molecular biologists ("If ya can't beat 'em."), using DNA sequence evidence in combination with anatomy to have a go at deep history of the arthropods. My centipede studies concentrate on the systematics and biogeography of Australian stone centipedes. While that may sound far removed from geology, believe me it isn't - the distributions of lots of the living Aussie centipede groups go back to Gondwana. I'm just back from a trip to New Zealand, where it was like nobody remembered to tell the centipedes in the Antarctic beech forests that it wasn't still the Cretaceous.
I have been fortunate to have teamed up with open-minded mentors. I owe a great debt to my first teacher in Paleontology at Acadia, Reg Moore, for encouraging critical thought and for letting some kid sit in the fossil collection and cut up his cephalopods. A possible sign of aging is that my first M.Sc. student has nearly finished his thesis (on trilobites).