Walking into his office, greeted by a "Camp Jurassic Park" sticker on the door, a matching mug on his desk, and an assortment of plastic dinosaur heads scattered around the space, it was unsurprising to learn that paleobiologist Dr. Edward Davis became interested in his field at age 16 after repeatedly watching the "Jurassic Park" movie at the dollar theatre.
Crossing his arms over his short sleeved button-down shirt he leaned back in his chair and said, "I watched that movie and realized I was either going to be a visual effects artist, or a paleontologist." After his acceptance to a graduate program at the University of California Berkeley, he started working in a lab that focused on mammal evolution and changing ecology. It was there that he realized there was a lot more applicable research that could be done with mammal evolution and ecology than dinosaur evolution.
Currently, Davis is an assistant professor at the University of Oregon and the Paleontological Collection Manager at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Candidly waving his hands as he spoke and looking across the room as if thinking out loud, he said, "a lot of people think paleontology is just dinosaurs and extinct species, but there is an important part that focuses on the fossil records of species still alive today." He described how his current research looking at mammal evolution through fossils helps conservation biologists predict where animals might migrate as climate change alters habitats.
Paleobiology, as Davis describes it, is essentially using geological data to answer biological questions. Specifically, the field is focused on improving the understanding of evolution and ecosystems in a way that will help us make better informed decisions about conservation biology.
By looking at fossil records to understand how a certain species moved and comparing to the same living species, scientists are beginning to understand the kind of environments certain animals can endure.
His biggest concern is, "The unconstrained experiment in climate change that we're engaged in as a species," and how it will affect wild ecosystems. "I despair a little bit because there are no times in the fossil record where climate has changed as rapidly as we expect it to change," he said with a touch of melancholy. Two decades is how long he believes we have left to get climate change under control before it is irreversible. His current research is trying to understand how species change their geographic ranges when faced with environmental change.
Letting out a robust laugh, he declared his favorite "Jurassic Park" movie was the original because they took care with dinosaur characterization by mostly showing the current best knowledge of the creatures. Davis admitted disappointment in the most recent "Jurassic World" because it failed to incorporate new knowledge of dinosaurs, such as their colorful feathers.
"I think it would be much more frightening to be menaced by a feathered velociraptor that was able to use wing assisted incline running to run up vertical walls," Davis said. "You would not be safe standing on top of a three-story building looking down with a winged velociraptor because it could use its wings!"