Who knew worms could be so interesting?
Meagan Gilbert, a former Eastend resident who is now a grad student at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), delivered a fascinating presentation at the T.rex Discovery Centre on Friday, Nov. 8.
Her lecture, entitled “The Mighty T.rex and Worms,” used examples of trace fossils – such as those created by worms – to provide some insight in the planet’s (and more specifically Southwest Saskatchewan’s) environment millions of years ago.
Trace fossils, or “tracks”, are geological records of biological activity. They are impressions of sorts left by organisms (like worms) that may include discoveries such as tracks, burrows, borings, footprints and feeding marks. Trace fossils can also include the remains of other organic material produced by an organism such as coprolites (fossilized droppings).
“Studying the burrowing and tracking that (these organisms) leave behind tells us a lot about the environment millions of years ago,” said Meagan. “Invertebrates – like worms, clams or crabs – live within the sediment and are very specific to the kinds of environment they can live in. They can only live in certain conditions – based on factors such as temperature, how much salt is in the water, or how much energy is in the environment. These factors highly govern where these invertebrates can live and so we can use trace fossils and trackways to determine what the environment must have been like.”
Meagan is currently studying paleontology and geology at the U of S, and is also teaching some undergraduate lab classes.
Ultimately, her goal is to pursue her doctorate and work in a university setting.
“I’m a paleontologist and geologist,” she said. “That’s a little uncommon, but biology, paleontology and geology are all related fields. What’s unusual about what I do is that I combine everything – vertebrates, invertebrates, trace fossils, trackways, pollen – and combine them all with geology to tell a single story.”
Meagan’s own story of scientific endeavour is a bit unusual.
She grew up on a farm in the Eastend area and was fascinated by dinosaurs and prehistoric eras.
Meagan was just a young girl when the remains of a T.rex – which would later become known as Scotty – was discovered by local teacher Robert Gebhardt.
“We were on one of the first tours out to the quarry where the T.rex was resting,” recalled Meagan’s mom Leanne. “And our kids (Meagan and her brother Lee) were totally excited about the whole experience. It’s had a huge impact on her life and was a huge influence on her career choice.”
Interestingly, Meagan’s grandmother Vonnie Wilton – long before she realized her grandchildren had such a staunch interest in dinosaurs – was one of the leading advocates for building the T.rex Centre in Eastend.
“I was always drawn to (paleontology) regardless of whether the T.rex Centre was built or not,” said Meagan.” I was interested in the science even before the discovery. But if it hadn’t been for the discovery, I’m not sure I would have necessarily followed the career path that I ultimately did.”
Meagan actually worked as a tour guide at the T.rex Centre for several years before attending university.
“I really enjoyed working at the T.rex Centre and I love what I’m doing now,” said Meagan. “It’s very interesting to put all the puzzle pieces together. All these sub-disciplines of geology and palaeontology – pollen, invertebrates, vertebrates, sedimentology and animal trackways – they are all pieces that help tell a story. It’s kind of like being a scientific historian – you are a story teller but also a scientist at the same time.” Meagan is scheduled to return to the T.rex Centre for another presentation sometime next spring.