Over the past two years, I’ve been working to describe two incredible, ancient (~100 million year old) freshwater fish fossils collected from the southern expanses of the Sahara Desert in Niger. Now, thanks in no small part to the travel funding provided by the Expanding Horizons and Wagoner Foreign Study Scholarships, I have the opportunity of a lifetime to join an unbelievably talented expedition team and visit the sites where they were discovered. I’ll be spending the next 3 months with a team of 25 paleontologists, geologists, and evolutionary biologists of all career stages from across the world–the United States, Canada, France, Spain, Belgium, and numerous skilled scientists from Niger–helping to uncover the rich biodiversity that once existed in what is now the Sahara Desert. While the promise of additional articulated fish fossils is what has drawn me into this trip, I’ll be working to uncover fossils from a wide range of taxa including scarab beetles, crocodilians, clams, and of course, a great diversity of dinosaurs.
The short term goal of the expedition is to collaborate with local experts to excavate and describe the vibrant lost world of the ancient Sahara in a country that contains more fossils than have been found in all other African nations combined. In the longer term, the expedition team has planned the construction of two new, world class, zero-energy, natural history museums, one in Agadez and one in the capital city of Niamey where these discoveries can be showcased. These new facilities would allow locals to engage with the stunning biological heritage of the country and science more broadly while also providing increased economic opportunities through renewed regional and national tourism. I’m overcome with excitement at the prospect of being one small part of this grand endeavor and will be using this blog over the following months to share that excitement with all of you. I hope you all come along for the ride!
All of Robert's research blogs can be found here: https://robertaslaroche.com/blog/.