About Paleobotany Project

The first question that most folks ask when they find a fossil leaf is "what is it?" The barriers to answering this question include a mountain of complex terminology and the lack of readily available references describing fossil plants. To make it easier for beginners to wade through the terminology and compare their fossils to fossils that have been published in scientific literature, we created an on-line, illustrated flow chart for fossil plant characteristics that allows simple choices to be selected at each step. The flow chart leads to a detailed illustration of the best example of each fossil morphotype (analogous to a species) in our database. This tool also allows comparison between groups of fossil leaves and similar modern leaves. Once users become comfortable with the terminology, faster and more complex search techniques are available.

The initial vision for this project was to provide integration of public and private fossil collections into a comprehensive digital library of the fossil plant species of the Green River Formation. Our hope was that this library would make it easier for the BLM to manage their fossil resources and assist amateur collectors in identifying their own fossils and recognize when they found something that was rare or important to the scientific community. When collectors found a better example of a given species or discovered a new species, they could submit a high resolution digital image of the specimen for identification. These new finds were posted on the site and the amateur was given credit for finding the specimen. This way, the general public could participate in building a digital record of the flora without giving up their fossil.

Today, the DMNS Paleobotany Project acts as a repository of images (and accepted nomenclature) of Late Cretaceous through Eocene fossil plants from the Western Interior of North America. Features have been added that provide a method for researchers to share their unpublished images of fossil plants with other researchers. This allows the community to pose questions about the geographical and temporal ranges of extinct species. Qualified researchers may access this area of the database after obtaining a user account and password from the DMNS team.

Funding sources: Paloebotany site background

The Green River Paleobotany Project is an ongoing effort of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and is directed by Dr. Kirk Johnson. Funding for this project came from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS), and the Evolving Earth Foundation of Seattle (EEF), and the National Science Foundation (EAR-0345910).

Acknowledgments: Paleobotany site background

A large number of people have contributed to this project. They include Bill Bateman, Richard Barclay, Michael Graham, Beth Ellis, Steve Wagner, Steve Manchester, Rick, Tad and Samantha Dillhoff, Conrad Labandeira, and Bruce Handley. The Leaf Architecture Working Group (LAWG), Leo Hickey, Scott Wing, Amanda Ash, Peter Wilf, Kirk Johnson, Doug Daly, John Mitchell, and Beth Ellis provided an ongoing guidance on leaf terminology. Significant fossil donations were received from Howard and Darlene Emry, Mel and Norma Reeves, Bill Hawes, Rob Gaston, Jim Barkley, Nona Powell, Michael Graham and many members of the Western Interior Paleontological Society (WIPS). Software was developed by Eric Boen, Mike Theos and Paul Von Huben.

Green River specimens in this database are primarily from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science but also include some from the Florida Museum of Natural History, The Museum of Western Colorado, and the Blacks Hills Institute of Geological Research. BLM land access was managed by Laurie Bryant, Blaine Phillips and Jean Sinclear for Utah and Harley Armstrong for Colorado. Steve Sroka of the Vernal Fieldhouse and Karen Krieger from Utah State Parks supported the 2002 excavation. Allison Sundine, Paul Brown, and Chuck Mayes designed the "Great Wall of Leaves" in Vernal.