domingo, 24 de julio de 2011

Richard H. Tedford

Hoy me llego la noticia que el Dr. Richard H. Tedford murió a los 82 años, lo cual es una verdadera perdida y que numerosos colegas alrededor del mundo sentimos. Conocí al Dr. Tedford durante mis visitas al AMNH, dado que era la persona que mas sabia de cánidos y otros carnívoros fósiles. Siempre fue amable y me brindo toda la información que podía sobre los temas en los que trabajaba. Fue un paleontólogo destacado en el campo de los mamíferos fósiles, abarcando diversos grupos, continentes y temáticas (véase más abajo). Particularmente, quiero destacar su el gran trabajo que hizo con los carnívoros, y en esto no solo me refiero al volumen de su obra sino principalmente a la calidad de la misma (véase Bull. AMNH 2005: 243, para una reseña de sus trabajos). Con solo mencionar que fue uno de los primeros en utilizar métodos cladísticos con los carnívoros por allá por los 70', o las monografías de los cánidos fósiles de América del Norte alcanzaría, sin embargo su producción cuenta con un cuantioso listado de trabajos que han influenciado y servido de base para el trabajo de varias generaciones de especialistas de carnívoros (y paleontólogos de mamíferos).

Más abajo les adjunto una semblanza escrita por el Dr. Michael Woodburne.

Francisco J. Prevosti. 

Summary of Richard Tedford's career by Michael Woodborne

Dr. Tedford received his Ph.D. in Paleontology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1959.  He was Professor of Geology at the University of California, Riverside, from 1959 - 1966, when he became Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. During his tenure at the American Museum he twice served as Chairman of his department.  He also served as President of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in 1979-80. 

Dick got into the "business" of Vertebrate Paleontology when collecting fossils in the Mojave Desert in the late 1940's as a high school kid from Encino, guided by D. Foster Hewett who was working on the geology of the Mojave Desert as a professor at Cal Tech. 

Upon coming to UC Riverside, Dr. Tedford was immediately influential in starting Bob Reynolds, George Jefferson and Dave Whistler on careers in VP, and with their help made a seminal impact on the fossil mammal history of the Mojave Desert region and the El Paso Mountains directly north of the Mojave Desert in southern California, work that continues at present due to the efforts of these 1960s Riverside students and others at UCR.

Also prior to coming to the American Museum, Dick was a major force in inaugurating the exploration for, and discovery of, the first pre-Pleistocene mammalian faunal record in Australia, work which continued to the present day.  Without the pioneering efforts of Dick and colleagues in 1953, the evolutionary history of Australian mammals would be essentially unknown even now.

During his tenure at the Museum Tedford was a principal player in making the newly acquired Childs Frick Collection of Fossil Mammals available to the professional researchers from whom it had been largely restricted up until 1966.  In the process, Dick not only oversaw the construction of the modern "Frick Wing" in which the collection is housed, but encouraged the Frick curators to publish the critically important stratigraphic frameworks in which the collections had been made, thus maximizing their scientific significance.  As a result, the collection is now a major research focus for innumerable students of mammalian evolution, and Dick's first-hand knowledge of it is portrayed in his seminal publications on North American Mammalian Chronology and Evolution.

The evolutionary record of fossil horses has long played a significant role in helping organize fossil mammal chronologies, and in 1980 Tedford was instrumental in organizing a conference at the American Museum to further our understanding of that evolution.  In this case the emphasis was upon a group of three-toed horses known as hipparions that has an important record in the Old World as well as the New, so an international group of colleagues was brought together by Dick in order to facilitate a week-long discussion of principles that bear on the study of, as well as examples of, hipparion evolution.

Another major achievement while at the American Museum was his work in developing a detailed record of mammalian evolution in China.  Beginning in the early 1980s, Tedford laid plans to place the late Neogene (past 15 m.y.) faunal succession in China in a dated stratigraphic framework. In order to achieve this, Dick began one of the early fruitful multinational collaborations with the Chinese Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.  This resulted in joint field work in the late 1980s and early 1990s and produced the first demonstration of the Chinese succession of mammal faunas.  Along with the newly-achieved age determinations, the characteristic faunal assemblages established thereby are the foundation of the present-day mammal stage-age chronology of northeastern Asia.

During his long tenure at the American Museum, Tedford played a fundamental role in pursuing, and aiding countless colleagues, students, and visiting scholars, in developing a detailed record of mammalian evolution and paleoenvironments of the Great Plains region.  This endeavor was based on field research he conducted in order to further develop the results of the Frick collecting programs of the mid 20th century, and placed key mammal assemblages in a detailed stratigraphic framework.  This greatly enhanced the vitality of these important collections.

In addition, his work on the Frick mammals showed Dick that the best means for identifying new episodes in mammalian evolution could be based on times when new immigrants appeared in the sequences.  These new mammals came from Asia, but it also was clear that many of the intervening steps in their progression from there to here were yet unknown.  Dick thus became fascinated by the extreme Northern Asia-North America biome which even now provides only glimpses of its past history. One glimpse was provided by mammals that were preserved in sediments kicked up by the impact of an asteroid in Ellesmere Island.  Others were less spectacular, but still intriguing and needed (and still need) further attention.
Both as immigrants, and as indigenous mammals, Dick was very interested in the evolutionary history of the Order Carnivora, including the return of terrestrial carnivores (walruses, sea lions and seals) to the marine environment. Inspired by Dick, many of his students and colleagues contributed numerous monographs on the evolution of these important groups. 

It is clear from the above that Richard Hall Tedford was a major influence in establishing scientific research programs that will have a lasting impact on our understanding of the evolution of fossil mammals in Australia, Europe, Asia, as well as North America. The exceptionally high quality of the American Museum collections to support such studies has been blessed with the interest and motivation supplied by Dick and the students, colleagues, and scholars with whom he has worked and supported.

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