Our research is conducted primarily by Dr. Denver Fowler and Dr. Elizabeth Freedman Fowler and focuses on dinosaur paleobiology: combining fieldwork and specimen based studies with more theoretical or laboratory based analyses.
new discoveries from the field
With an active field program, we frequently discover new specimens of scientific importance. Once they have been brought back to the museum and prepared, the process of studying and describing the fossils begins. Sometimes these specimens are entire skeletons; other times just occasional bones of a rare species or unusual growth stage.
For example, "Ankylomania" is a skeleton of an armored dinosaur from the Judith River Formation of Montana. It is probably a new species, because dinosaurs of its kind have not been discovered in the Judith River Formation before.
We also have some very fragmentary remains of young Tyrannosaurus from the Hell Creek Formation. The rarity of fossils of juvenile dinosaurs means that we can learn a lot even from mere fragments.
Functional Morphology & Behavior
Our work on functional morphology and behavior looks at the shapes of dinosaur bones, how they fit together, and how much movement there is at joints. We can then make comparisons to the behavior of living animals with similar shaped bones, allowing us to make inferences about extinct forms.
Our research includes two studies comparing claw use in modern birds of prey to "raptor" dinosaurs. We suggested that the enlarged claw seen on the foot of Velociraptor (and other raptor species) was not the right shape to be used for slashing (as had been previously suggested), but rather was probably used for holding on to prey, pinning them down. This was part of what we called the "Raptor Prey Restraint" behavior model.
We have also recently studied patterns of toothmarks made by Tyrannosaurus biting into Triceratops bones. This allowed us to reconstruct the exact head movements of a T. rex as it bit into and shook its food!
Dinosaur Evolution & Diversity
The Late Cretaceous rocks of western North America preserve one of the richest dinosaur fossil records anywhere in the world. These same rocks often contain layers of ancient volcanic ash, and sometimes also fossils of ancient sea creatures like ammonites and clams. This is fortunate as volcanic ashes and marine fossils can both be used to accurately date the rocks that they are found in. This means that we can precisely track the ages of the rocks in which we find our dinosaur fossils, letting us study the evolution of Cretaceous dinosaurs in unprecedented detail.
Within this framework, our research covers two areas "stratigraphy" and description of new dinosaurs and fossils:
First, we work on how these fossil-bearing rock formations line up against each other; this is called "stratigraphy". Some of our stratigraphy research focuses on single formations like the Hell Creek or Judith River. Our other larger project investigates how many formations fit together across North America, recalculating ash dates, comparing between different methods of dating rocks, then plotting the time-ranges of the different rock formations and the dinosaurs found within.
Second, we also study new dinosaur specimens, often new species, which fit into gaps in the fossil record. We continue to target our fossil collecting in these gaps, making sure that when we collect dinosaur specimens in the field we do so with stratigraphic data so that their position in time can be accurately determined.
We try to publish in free-access journals when possible. The following publications authored or coauthored by lab members are all available to read free by clicking the link after the citation.
Free Access publications:
Fowler DW (2020) The Hell Creek Formation, Montana: A Stratigraphic Review and Revision Based on a Sequence Stratigraphic Approach. Geosciences 2020, 10(11), 435. https://doi.org/10.3390/geosciences10110435 READ FREE HERE
Fowler DW & Freedman Fowler EA (2020) Transitional evolutionary forms in chasmosaurine ceratopsid dinosaurs : evidence from the Campanian of New Mexico, PeerJ 8:e9251. DOI 10.7717/peerj.9251 (Published online June 5th 2020) READ FREE HERE
Fowler DW (2017) Revised geochronology, correlation, and dinosaur stratigraphic ranges of the Santonian-Maastrichtian (Late Cretaceous) formations of the Western Interior of North America. PLoS ONE 12(11): e0188426. READ FREE HERE
Woodruff DC, Fowler DW, & Horner JR (2017) A new multi-faceted framework for deciphering diplodocid ontogeny. Palaeontologica Electronica 20.3.43A: 1-53. READ FREE HERE
Freedman Fowler EA, Horner JR (2015) A New Brachylophosaurin Hadrosaur (Dinosauria: Ornithischia) with an Intermediate Nasal Crest from the Campanian Judith River Formation of Northcentral Montana. PLoS ONE 10(11): e0141304. READ FREE HERE
Fowler DW, Freedman EA, Scannella JB, & Kambic RE (2011). The predatory ecology of Deinonychus and the origin of flapping in birds. PLoS One 6(12): e28964. READ FREE HERE
Fowler DW, Woodward HN, Freedman EA, Larson PL, & Horner JR. Reanalysis of “Raptorex kriegsteini”: a juvenile tyrannosaurid dinosaur from Mongolia. PLoS One 6(6): e21376. READ FREE HERE
Fowler DW, Freedman EA, & Scannella JB. Predatory functional morphology in raptors: Interdigital variation in talon size is related to prey restraint and immobilisation technique. PLoS One 4(11): e7999. READ FREE HERE
- 23 DecRead more
December 23rd, 2020: New research from Badlands Dinosaur Museum describes part of a braincase from the dromaeosaurid “raptor” dinosaur Saurornitholestes. Read more on our Press
- 10 JulRead more
New research from Badlands Dinosaur Museum describes a new species of the bizarre alvarezsaurid dinosaurs, called “Trierarchuncus prairiensis” meaning “Captain Hook of the prairie”. Read
- 11 JunRead more
[Jun-11-2020] Badlands Dinosaur Museum’s Denver Fowler, Ph.D., and Dickinson State University’s Elizabeth Freedman Fowler, Ph.D., recently completed research that describes two new transitional species of