Alfred Romer

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Alfred Romer
ForMemRS
Alfred Sherwood Romer.jpg
Alfred Romer in 1965
Born Alfred Sherwood Romer[1]
December 28, 1894
White Plains, New York
Died November 5, 1973 (age 78)
Nationality United States
Alma mater
Awards
Scientific career
Fields Paleontology
Institutions Museum of Comparative Zoology
Thesis The Locomotor Apparatus of Certain Primitive and Mammal-like Reptiles (1922)
Doctoral advisor William King Gregory

Alfred Sherwood Romer (December 28, 1894 – November 5, 1973) was an American paleontologist and biologist and a specialist in vertebrate evolution.

Biography[edit]

Alfred Romer was born in White Plains, New York, the son of Harry Houston Romer and his wife, Evalyn Sherwood. He was educated at White Plains High School.[2]

He studied at Amherst College achieving a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in biology and Columbia University pursuing with a M.Sc in Biology and graduating with a doctorate in zoology in 1921. Romer joined the department of geology and paleontology at the University of Chicago as an associate professor in 1923. He was an active researcher and teacher. His collecting program added important Paleozoic specimens to the Walker Museum of Paleontology. In 1934 he was appointed professor of biology at Harvard University. In 1946, he also became director of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ). In 1954 Romer was awarded the Mary Clark Thompson Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.[3] He was awarded the Academy's Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal in 1956.[4]

Evolutionary research[edit]

Romer was very keen in investigating vertebrate evolution. Comparing facts from paleontology, comparative anatomy, and embryology, he taught the basic structural and functional changes that happened during the evolution of fishes to primitive terrestrial vertebrates and from these to all other tetrapods. He always emphasized the evolutionary significance of the relationship between the form and function of animals and the environment.

Through his textbook Vertebrate Paleontology Romer laid the foundation for the traditional classification of vertebrates. He drew together the (then) widely scattered taxonomy of the different vertebrate groups and combined them in a simplified scheme, emphasizing orderliness and overview. Based on his research of early amphibians, he reorganised the labyrinthodontians.[5] Romer's classification was followed by many subsequent authors, notably Robert L. Carroll, and is still in use.

Kronosaurus queenslandicus skeleton[edit]

K. queenslandicus at Harvard University which may have been reconstructed with too many vertebrae

Prior to Romer's tenure as MCZ director, the Museum sent an expedition to Australia in 1931–1932 to gather specimens and study live animals. Yet then-graduate student William E. Schevill, the team's fossil enthusiast, remained in Australia beyond the venture and, in the winter of 1932, was told by the rancher R.W.H. Thomas of rocks with something "odd" poking out of them on his property near Hughenden.[6][7][8][9] The rocks were limestone nodules containing the most complete skeleton of a Kronosaurus ever discovered.[6][10][11] After dynamiting the nodules out of the ground (and into smaller pieces weighing approximately four tons[12][13]), William Schevill had the fossils shipped back to Harvard for examination and preparation. The skull—which matched the holotype jaw fragment of K. queenslandicus—was prepared right away, but time and budget constraints put off restoration of the nearly complete skeleton - most of the bones of which remained unexcavated within the limestone blocks - for 20 years.[10] This interim ended when they came to the attention of Godfrey Lowell Cabot - Boston industrialist, philanthropist, and founder of the Cabot Corporation - "who was then in his nineties had been interested in sea serpents since childhood."[14]

K. queenslandicus scale diagram, showing the size of the restored Harvard skeleton along with a more accurate estimate

Having formerly question Dr. Romer about the existence and reports of sea serpents and it thus occurred to Romer to tell Mr. Cabot about the skeleton in the museum closet. Godfrey Cabot thus asked asked how much a restoration would cost and "Romer, pulling a figure out of the musty air, replied, 'Oh, about $10,000.'" Romer may not have been serious but the philanthropist clearly was because the check for said sum came shortly thereafter.[15][16] Two years - and more than $10,000 - later, following the careful labor of the museum preparators, the restored and mounted skeleton was displayed at Harvard in 1959.[6][10] However, Dr. Romer and MCZ preparator Arnold Lewis confirmed that same year in the institution’s journal Breviora that "erosion had destroyed a fair fraction of this once complete and articulated skeleton...so that approximately a third of the specimen as exhibited is plaster restoration."[17] Furthermore, the original (real) bones are also layered in plaster; a fact that, while keeping the fossils safe, makes it difficult for paleontologists to study it - an issue which factors into the controversial question of the true size of the Kronosaurus queenslandicus.[18]

Size issues[edit]

Body-length estimates, largely based on the 1959 Harvard reconstruction, had previously put the total length of Kronosaurus at 12.8 metres (42 ft).[19] However, more recent studies, comparing fossil specimens of Kronosaurus to other pliosaurs suggests that the Harvard reconstruction may have included too many vertebrae, exaggerating the previous estimate, with the true length probably only 9 to 10.5 metres (30 to 34 ft).[20][21]

Namesakes[edit]

A genus of early captorhinids is named Romeria after Romer, as is Romeriida (the name for a clade that contains the diapsids and their closest relatives). In July 2007 a species of non-dinosaurian dinosauromorph was named Dromomeron romeri, "the first part meaning 'running femur,' the latter in honor of paleontologist Alfred Sherwood Romer, a key figure in evolution research". The finding of these fossils was hailed as a breakthrough proving dinosaurs and other dinosauromorphs "lived together for as long as 15 million to 20 million years."[22][23] The early Pennsylvanian (Late Carboniferous) Romeriscus was also named after Romer. It was initially described as the oldest known amniote,[24] but this is because limnoscelids were, at that time, considered amniotes by some authors. A subsequent study showed that the fossil lacks diagnostic characters and can only be assigned to Tetrapoda.[25]

Romer was the first to recognise the gap in the fossil record between the tetrapods of the Devonian and the later Carboniferous period, a gap that has borne the name Romer's gap since 1995.[26]

Books[edit]

  • Romer, A.S. 1933. Vertebrate Paleontology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. (2nd ed. 1945; 3rd ed. 1966)
  • Romer, A.S. 1933. Man and the Vertebrates. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. (2nd ed. 1937; 3rd ed. 1941; 4th ed., retitled The Vertebrate Story, 1949)
  • Romer, A.S. 1949. The Vertebrate Body. W.B. Saunders, Philadelphia. (2nd ed. 1955; 3rd ed. 1962; 4th ed. 1970)
  • Romer, A.S. 1949. The Vertebrate Story. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. (4th ed. of Man and the Vertebrates)
  • Romer, A.S. 1956. Osteology of the Reptiles. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Romer, A.S. 1968. Notes and Comments on Vertebrate Paleontology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Romer, A.S. & T.S. Parsons. 1977. The Vertebrate Body. 5th ed. Saunders, Philadelphia. (6th ed. 1985)

Sources[edit]

  1. ^ Westoll, T. S.; Parrington, F. R. (1975). "Alfred Sherwood Romer 28 December 1894 -- 5 November 1973". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 21: 496–516. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1975.0016. 
  2. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X. 
  3. ^ "Mary Clark Thompson Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on December 29, 2010. Retrieved 15 February 2011. 
  4. ^ "Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on August 1, 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2011. 
  5. ^ "Romer, Alfred Sherwood." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Retrieved May 25, 2011 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2830905302.html
  6. ^ a b c Mather, Patricia, with Agnew, N.H. et al. The History of the Queensland Museum, 1862-1986 Retrieved from archive.org
  7. ^ News-Press from Fort Myers, Florida on January 26, 1989 · Page 9 - https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/215995144/
  8. ^ About the Exhibits by Elizabeth Hall and Max Hall (Museum of Comparative Zoology "Agazziz Museum" Havard University. Third Edition, Copywrite 1964, 1975, 1985, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
  9. ^ Bailey, Joyce R. W. H. Thomas : a man of distinction. Joyce Bailey, [Kangaloon, N.S.W, 2005. - https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/19722517?q&versionId=23188287+220283007
  10. ^ a b c Meyers, Troy. Kronosaurus Chronicles. Australian Age of Dinosaurs, Issue 3, 2005. Retrieved from australianageofdinosaurs.com[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ Zoology Museum to Exhibit Largest Sea-Reptile Fossil - https://www.thecrimson.com/article/1956/4/25/zoology-museum-to-exhibit-largest-sea-reptile/
  12. ^ Rolfe, WD Ian. "William Edward Schevill: palaeontologist, librarian, cetacean biologist." Archives of natural history 39.1 (2012): 162-164. - https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/pdfplus/10.3366/anh.2012.0069
  13. ^ 1930s: The One That Got Away - https://australianmuseum.net.au/blogpost/museullaneous/1930s-the-one-that-got-away
  14. ^ About the Exhibits by Elizabeth Hall and Max Hall (Museum of Comparative Zoology "Agazziz Museum" Havard University. Third Edition, Copywrite 1964, 1975, 1985, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
  15. ^ About the Exhibits by Elizabeth Hall and Max Hall (Museum of Comparative Zoology "Agazziz Museum" Havard University. Third Edition, Copywrite 1964, 1975, 1985, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
  16. ^ The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History (Hardcover) – October 26, 2004
  17. ^ Romer, A. S. and A. D. Lewis. 1959. A mounted skeleton of the giant plesiosaur Kronosaurus. Breviora 112:1-15.
  18. ^ The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History (Hardcover) – October 26, 2004
  19. ^ Romer AS, Lewis AD. 1959. A mounted skeleton of the giant plesiosaur Kronosaurus. Breviora 112: 1-15.
  20. ^ Kear BP. 2003. Cretaceous marine reptiles of Australia: a review of taxonomy and distribution. Cretaceous Research 24: 277–303.
  21. ^ McHenry, Colin R. "Devourer of Gods: The Palaeoecology of the Cretaceous Pliosaur Kronosaurus Queenslandicus." The University of Newcastle Australia, Apr. 2009. Web.
  22. ^ Andrew Herrmann (2007-07-20). "Grad student finds 'pre-dinosaur'". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 2008-10-13. 
  23. ^ Irmis, R. B.; Nesbitt, S. J.; Padian, K.; Smith, N. D.; Turner, A. H.; Woody, D.; Downs, A. (2007). "A Late Triassic Dinosauromorph Assemblage from New Mexico and the Rise of Dinosaurs". Science. 317 (5836): 358–361. doi:10.1126/science.1143325. PMID 17641198. 
  24. ^ Baird D, Carroll R (1967). "Romeriscus, the oldest known reptile". Science. 157 (3784): 56–59. doi:10.1126/science.157.3784.56. JSTOR 1721645. 
  25. ^ Reisz R, Laurin M (1992). "A reassessment of the Pennsylvanian tetrapod Romeriscus". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 12 (4): 524–527. doi:10.1080/02724634.1992.10011478. 
  26. ^ Ward, P.; Labandeira, C.; Laurin, M.; Berner, R. A. (2006). "Confirmation of Romer's Gap as a low oxygen interval constraining the timing of initial arthropod and vertebrate terrestrialization". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 103 (45): 16818–22. doi:10.1073/pnas.0607824103. PMC 1636538Freely accessible. PMID 17065318. 

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