A very important work component for the Dinosaur Institute staff is to expand the fossil collections of Mesozoic vertebrates. In order to achieve this, our staff undertake annual research expeditions to the dinosaur-rich badlands of the American West, as well as expeditions to remote parts of South America and Asia. These important and exciting expeditions are detailed below.
Fieldwork in the United States focuses on federal lands (Bureau of Land Management) located in the Four Corners region of the American southwest. After years of collecting in Montana and Wyoming, expeditions that produced "Thomas" the T. rex and many other specimens in the new Dinosaur Hall; fieldwork now concentrates in the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation of San Juan County, Utah with new discoveries that include a diversity of sauropod, theropod, and ornithischian fossils. The Late Jurassic is an important time period as it documents some of the earliest known birds and plays an important role in biogeographic studies. The highlight of this work is the continuing collection of the diplodocid "Gnatalie" – its preparation is taking place in the Dino Lab. These expeditions offer training to volunteers of the Dinosaur Institute and a host of students from many different American and foreign universities.
New expeditions surveying the Late Cretaceous sediments of New Mexico began in 2012. The deposits of the Ojo Alamo, Kirtland and Fruitland formations outcrop in this region. Fossils from these deposits are less studied, and yet important because little is known about the ecosystems that existed during that time period, in what is now the North American southwest.
Annual trips to the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona also help augment the Triassic collection of the Dinosaur Institute as well as provide access to rich fossil areas for ongoing student mentoring.
Dinosaur Institute donors Paul and Heather Haaga, Gretchen Augustyn and family, Andrew Getty, Tom Thornbury and Janice and Charles Holland were instrumental in making these expeditions possible.
Watch a video of expedition leader Dr. Luis Chiappe.
Our South American expeditions – in collaboration with the Carmen Funes Museum (Plaza Huincul, Argentina) – have largely focused on the extraordinary sauropod nesting site of Auca Mahuevo and a series of adjacent localities (northeastern Neuquén Province, Patagonia, Argentina). Thousands of eggs have been identified, mapped, and collected from these Late Cretaceous localities. Many eggs contain the remains of bones and skin of embryos, which have allowed identification of them as those of titanosaur sauropods. A number of specific studies about the anatomy and development of the embryos, the characteristics of the eggs and nests, and a diversity of inferences about the reproductive behavior of sauropods have resulted from the fossils collected during these expeditions.
Other expeditions to Patagonia have surveyed the Late Cretaceous exposures of the Sierra del Portezuelo, west of Plaza Huincul (Neuquén Province), where a diversity of theropod, ornithopod, and titanosaur sauropod remains have been collected. The Auca Mahuevo expeditions have provided training to a large number of students, both from Argentina and elsewhere, and have been instrumental in the creation of many educational programs including the Tiniest Giants exhibition. These expeditions were made possible by grants and support from a variety of sources including the National Geographic Society, the Infoquest Foundation, and the Fundación Antorchas.