As part of the 2016 Cordilleran meeting of the Geological Society of America, Joey Hernandez submitted this blog post as a capstone reflection on his AP Biology research project, centered around the ancient rabbit Paleolagus.
As I sit today in my college-level chemistry class, I begin to think of the ways in which high school satiated my curiosity of the natural world. Moreover, it is incredible to think of the many opportunities I was afforded in high school. For one, as time progresses, I begin to recollect that there was one unique assignment that gave me the most trouble, the one that I placed hours upon hours on, yet somehow I miraculously enjoyed completing, as it encapsulated my mastery and knowledge of all the disciplines of academia and demonstrated my genuine passion in the field of paleontology. And that would be my senior research paper, where I was given the opportunity to work with a digital fossil of Palaeolagus haydeni and complete a research paper. As a first-generation, low-income student, the resources available in my school and at home were indeed very limited, so going to a museum or given the opportunity to go to a field and excavate fossils was very unlikely. And that is why I’m advocating for the advancement of this available free software, in order to carry these types of investigations that otherwise wouldn’t be accessible to students or educators who are geographically or economically restricted.
More specifically, Ms. Lepore introduced me to two software programs called Mesh Lab and TPSdig and also provided me the 3-D fossil of Palaeolagus. Surprisingly, it comprised most of the tools I needed to complete my investigation. At first glance, I was intimidated on taking such a laborious research, but once I figured out how the software worked, I progressively became interested to the extent of asking my peers about their own research and requesting to show me their own fossils. In my research, I attempted to differentiate any morphological differences from the skull of a modern rabbit. Specifically, I analyzed the morphometrics of both skulls, which helped me categorize each skull shape to the specific functions of the rabbit. Research then confirmed and validated the results obtained. Moreover, the analysis of the rabbit’s skull allowed me to assess the mechanical movement of its jaw and teeth, and thus figure out the specific type of food it masticated. Above all, I was able to figure out the certain its adaptations through comparative analysis, relative to the modern skull. Each result obtained, proved successful, as I was not only able to deduce its certain adaptations, but have an accurate understanding of how the skull evolved into what is known today as the “modern rabbit”.
In the foreseeable future, I plan to work with Hyaenodon fossil and visit an excavation site to collect this fossil. Since I’ve already worked with a 3-D fossil, I strongly believe that my experience would remain incomplete if I did not get the opportunity to generate my very own fossil. As such, Ms. Lepore and I are heavily considering visiting The Webb School for further guidance and assistance. I am enthusiastically looking forward to make this dream become reality. For I know that whatever you set you mind to, perseverance and determination will do many wonders. Thank you, Ms. Lepore for your endless support, my peers for their unconditional motivation and lastly, my parents for taking time out of their busy schedule to assist me with means of transportation. Retrospectively, I realize the amount I have accomplished in the field of paleontology, though minimal to others, will inspire other future generations and will leave me reassured that the future of tomorrow will elevate this specific branch of science to the recognition it deserves!