Kristi Curry Rogers, Paleontologist

There's a good evolutionary reason for growing quickly. Basically, you have to grow fast so you can beat out the predators and be an adult and reach sexual maturity in time to actually reproduce and send your genes on through the gene pool. -- Kristi Curry Rogers

Paleontologist Kristi Curry Rogers studies ancient fossils to determine how fast dinosaurs grew. Because the bones of modern day reptiles grow slowly, scientists assumed that dinosaurs grew slowly as well. Experts had estimated that it might have taken up to 120 years for an enormous Apatosaurus to grow to its full length of 70 to 90 feet. To Curry Rogers, this didn't make sense.

In Bozeman, Montana, she found fossilized Apatosaurus bones and set out to determine the rate at which the dinosaur had grown. Curry Rogers realized that the interior of the bones contain a record of the animal's growth. She prepared a bone slice one tenth of a millimeter thick and looked at it under a microscope. If the animal had grown slowly, patterns created by the blood vessels in the bone would have been arranged in an orderly fashion. But Curry Rogers discovered that placement of the vessels was irregular. She concluded that Apatosaurus might have reached its full size in as few as 10 to 12 years.

About Kristi Curry Rogers career

Kristi Curry Rogers, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Vertebrate Paleontologist in the Geology and Biology Departments at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. She holds a M.Sc. in Biology from Montana State University, and a Ph.D. in Anatomical Science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Curry Rogers has been interested in dinosaurs since she was six years old and vowed to be a paleontologist when she grew up. Her primary focus is on the evolutionary relationships and biology of titanosaurs. Her Ph. D. research involved naming, describing, and deciphering the anatomy and relationships of two brand new titanosaur species from Madagascar.

Curry Rogers is interested in the evolutionary history and paleobiology of dinosaurs, primarily the long-necked, herbivorous dinosaurs known as sauropods. In terms of broader paleobiological questions, she uses bone histology (the study of the microscopic aspects of bones) to explore and reconstruct patterns of the evolution of body size, growth rates, and life history strategies among dinosaurs, their living relatives, and their modern analogues. Specifically, studying fossilized bone can provide a glimpse into how quickly dinosaurs grew, how long they may have lived, and even when they reached their adult sizes. Studying tissues in living animals, like birds, crocodiles and mammals, offers Curry Rodgers insight into understanding similar features in extinct animals. In addition to teaching, she does field work around the world and studies dinosaur fossils in the lab.

 

Kristi Curry Rogers
Career Questions and Answers

How did you come to choose your present profession?
I wanted to be a paleontologist from the age of about seven. Even at that age I was fascinated with life, discovery, and collecting, and that insight into deep time that fossils provide is still what fires my interest in paleontology.

What would you recommend for students wanting to pursue a similar career?
I think that students should be diverse in what they learn about... paleontology is a unique science because it combines portions of so many other scientific fields. Of course geology and biology play a huge role in our understanding of the ancient past, but recently paleo has seen huge developments and incorporates many other, related sciences.

Paleontologists now work on biochemistry, they use physics and math to figure out how fossil animals moved, they use computers to help them discover the pattern of evolution, and many paleontologists study modern animals to discover something about how fossil organisms might have behaved. Although none of us can be an expert in all of these things, if a young student is really interested in paleontology, I would recommend learning something about all of them. You never know what might come into play in paleontology.

What do you like best about your profession?
One of my favorite things about being a paleontologist is doing fieldwork. I love getting outside and camping as much as possible. My fieldwork in the past few years has taken me to far away places like Madagascar and Zimbabwe, and that's a great part of work, too. I've been able to visit lots of different places as a paleontologist. Conducting museum research in Russia or Romania, and doing field work in places like Madagascar has allowed me to see more of the world than I ever imagined I'd be able to.

I also really enjoy the combination of research and teaching that my job as a professor at Macalester College allows me to pursue.  My school year includes teaching talented and engaged undergraduate biology and geology majors all about the evolutionary history of life on earth while also pursuing my own research questions and collaborating with those same undergrads to teach them how to go about doing research on their own.  I got my start as an undergraduate, and I love it that I get to help others find their path to a future career in paleobiology.

What web sites and references would you recommend for viewers interested in your work that was featured in The Shape of Life series?
I'd suggest the following websites:

Smithsonian - National Museum of Natural History: Dinosaurs
Natural History Museum: Dinosaurs
Prehistoric Journey: Denver Museum of Nature & Science

I'd recommend reading about sauropods in a popular article that my colleague Mike D'Emic and I wrote for Scientific American “Triumph of the Titans”. May, 2012.

Scientific American Book of Dinosaurs 2000. (Edited by Greg Paul). There is an article called "Dinosaur Growth" that I wrote and is specifically about histological research.

Other, more technical references include:
Kristi Curry Rogers. “Growth Patterns in Brooding Dinosaurs Reveals the Timing of Sexual Maturity in Non-avian Dinosaurs and Genesis of the Avian Condition.” (with G.M. Erickson, D.J. Varricchio, M.A. Norell, and X. Xu), Biology Letters (2007).

Kristi Curry Rogers. "Titanosauria: A Phylogenetic Overview" in The Sauropods : Evolution and Paleobiology. Ed. Rogers, K.C. and Wilson, J.A. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2005. 50-103.

Kristi Curry Rogers. 2005 “Deep into Dinosaur Bones.”, Trends in Ecology & Evolution 20.6 298-299.
Erickson, G., K. Curry Rogers, and S. Yerby. 2001. Dinosaurian growth patterns and rapid avian growth rates. Nature 412, 429 - 433.