Student’s research leads to ‘growing’ awareness

Sara Scanes

Photo Courtesy of Lisa Cooper

Credit: DKS Editors

Doctoral student Lisa Cooper’s research about dinosaurs wound up in a National Geographic article in August, among other publications.

Cooper led a study offering evidence that size played an important role in the survival of herbivorous dinosaurs.

The study focused on the duck-billed hadrosaur, or Hypacrosaurus, a plant-eating dinosaur that did not possess many defenses against its predators, such as sharp teeth or thick skin. Instead, the hadrosaur relied on its ability to grow at a much more rapid rate than its hunters.

This allowed the hadrosaur to reproduce earlier and reach adult size faster than carnivorous dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus, Cooper said.

To compare growth rates, Cooper and her team examined growth rings within fossil limbs. Similar to the rings in the trunk of a tree, each ring in the bone represents a year of life. Wider rings illustrated more growth in that year.

“Being able to reconstruct the growth rate of dinosaurs based on their growth rings preserved during fossilization is a common practice among paleontologists,” Cooper said.

Cooper said she began her research at Montana State University.

Currently, Cooper is doing dissertation research at Kent State. Her research focuses on the evolution of whales, dolphins and porpoises, using fossils excavated from India and genetic data from dolphin embryos.

“I just love getting taken aback when I realize something new about any fossil creature,” Cooper said. “I love the thrill of figuring out something new about these really strange creatures.”

For this study, she is collaborating with paleontologist Hans Thewissen from NEOUCOM; geologist Mark Clementz from the University of Wyoming; Sunil Bajpai from the Indian Institute of Technology, India and B.N. Tiwari from the Wadia Institute of Himalyan Geology, India.

“(Dr. Thewissen) is a leading expert in whale evolution, and his lab is the only one in the world that both collects fossils in India and also looks at gene expression in dolphins as they mature,” said Cooper, who came to Kent specifically to study with Thewissen. “It has been a great opportunity to work in his lab.”

Contact news correspondent Sara Scanes at [email protected].