Trace This: Lisa Buckley, Palaeontologist for #Dinovember

Dr. Lisa Buckley is a palaeontologist and Curator & Collections Manager with the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre based in Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia, Canada. Lisa searches the Canadian countryside for the tracks and traces of dinosaurs, birds, and other vertebrates from the Cretaceous Period,

Dr Lisa Buckley (C)

Dr Lisa Buckley (C)

focussing on Cretaceous-aged bird tracks and trackways. She’s written about this search for footprints for Real Scientists; dinosaur prints that are now on a cliff face in British Columbia. Lisa also manages the most comprehensive archive in British Columbia of vertebrate fossils from British Columbia, and is an advocate for responsible fossil stewardship in the province. We’re so excited to have Lisa host Week 1 of our #Dinovember coverage! Here’s Lisa’s story.


I have always been drawn to nature, the outdoors, and fascinated by the lives of animals. My interest in palaeontology was because of my great-aunt Molly Gresley-Jones. She grew up during the Depression and never had a chance to pursue her interests in natural history, but she stayed an avid reader on the subject. One of my first memories is sitting on her lap while she showed me the pictures of these fascinating extinct animals and Molly telling me “We know what they look like because of people called paleontologists.” I remember thinking “I want to do that!” and it stuck with me! I obtained my B.Sc. Geology & Geophysics and Zoology in a double major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and my M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Biological Sciences (Systematics and Evolution) at the University of Alberta. I worked full-time as Curator and Collections Manager at the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre while completing my graduate degrees.


What keeps me in northeast BC is the research potential for vertebrate tracks and traces of western Canada. Thanks to the uplift of the Rocky Mountains, we have terrestrial rocks exposed that represent almost all of the time periods during the Lower and most of the Upper Cretaceous. Every terrestrial rock formation exposed has yielded vertebrate tracks. This is why we know anything about the presence of dinosaurs in western Canada during the Early Cretaceous: the skeletal record is pretty sparse for those time periods!


My work specifically focuses on the information we can get from bird tracks and traces: how they move, how they behave, and what we can understand about the diversity of birds from their tracks alone. I spend a great deal of time in the field observing birds interacting with their natural habitats, and then collecting their footprints. Our modern shorebirds, wading birds, and game birds are an excellent modern analog to the bird trackmakers of the Early and Late Cretaceous. The more we understand what information we can get from modern bird tracks, the better we can interpret fossil bird tracks.


Lisa hunting for dinosaur tracks

Lisa hunting for dinosaur tracks

Bird skeletons, with the exception of the awesome specimens from China, do not fossilize well: like modern birds, Cretaceous bird skeletons are fragile. Palaeontology requires some kind of fossil survive so we know the critter was actually present. That’s where bird tracks come in. In many areas around the world, bird tracks are the ONLY record of the presence of birds during the Cretaceous Period. We need to know as much as possible about bird tracks to understand bird diversity in the Cretaceous.


I am part of a karate dojo, where I have been training since 2009 and assisting with kids’ classes. Dermestid (flesh-eating) beetle colonies! I have a wildlife salvage permit for the PRPRC, and use the beetles to build our modern osteology collection.


Hobbies that I do: – gardening – archery (recurved bow) – brewing mead – making cheese – cooking – writing short stories (horror) – can knit, but it’s been awhile


Ideal Day Off? I’m a night owl, so sleeping late will start off the ideal day. The morning would start with a leisurely cup (or three!) of Earl Grey or Lapsang tea, and if the weather is nice, a long hike to look at birds. If the weather is cold and wet, relaxing at home and experimenting with a new recipe! It’s been awhile since I’ve read for fun, but now that the doctorate is complete I’m starting to pick that up again. Of course, no day is complete without playing with my 15 year old cat, Maia!


Please welcome Lisa to Real Scientists!

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: