New paleobotanist puts down roots at fossil beds

Regan Dunn looks forward to years of research and resource protection as a paleobotanist at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Contributed photo

DAYVILLE - Regan Dunn recently has been hired as the first staff paleobotanist at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

She is a native Coloradoan who practically grew up on fossil leaf sites in the Denver Basin, but it took her 25 years to find them. She graduated from Colorado State University in 1995 with a bachelor's degree of science in biological sciences with a concentration in cellular and molecular biology, and a minor in anthropology.

After working in various molecular biology labs, Dunn became tired of a life indoors at the lab bench, and she set out for a life of seasonal employment as a river guide and ski instructor. By 1998, seasonal employment had become uninteresting for Dunn, and she enlisted to work on a drill rig contracted by a team of stratigraphers, paleontologists and hydrogeologists from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. After describing hundreds of feet of core and working at several fossil leaf sites in the Denver Basin, Dunn's career choice was made.

She is now in the process of completing graduate school at the University of Wyoming where she has been studying Paleocene floras (both leaf fossils and palynomorphs) from the Hanna Basin, Wyo. Concurrent to working on her degree in Wyoming, she continues working on most unusual fossil floras from the early Paleocene in the Denver Basin, including co-authoring a major new paper on the Castle Rock Rainforest. Her research interests include correlating fossil plant assemblages, leaf fossils and palynomorphs, with other age-models including mammalian and pollen biostratigraphy and radioisotopically dated rocks.

"The paleobotanist position at John Day Fossil Beds is an ideal fit for me, and I greatly look forward to many fruitful years of research and resource protection with the John Day paleontology team," she said.

Ted Fremd, the park's senior paleontologist, commented that she was very highly recommended by some of the world's leading paleobotanists, making his selection of candidates from around North America easier.

"A lot of people think that most paleobotanists are either nuts or very seedy characters," he said, tongue in cheek. He added that for folks interested in the fossil plants, which have not received as much research attention as the animals, "'Yew' won't have to 'pine' as she will 'spruce' up the plant collections 'fir' a change."

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