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Department of Paleobiology

  • Dan C. Chaney
  • Research Assistant, Fossil Plants
  • Phone:   202-633-1315
  • Fax:   202-786-2832
  • E-mail Address:   chaneyd
  • Mailing Address:
    Smithsonian Institution
    PO Box 37012, MRC 121
    Washington, DC 20013-7012
  • Shipping Address:
    Smithsonian Institution
    National Museum of Natural History
    10th & Constitution NW
    Washington, DC 20560-0121


M.S. University of California, Riverside, 1988
B.S. University of California, Riverside, 1978

Research Interests and Responsibilities

Museum Specialist, with an emphasis on research, provide assistance to the permanent and visiting scientists.  I work primarily with William DiMichele aiding him in is research goals of understanding the history and evolution of plant community structure through time.  Our “laboratory� is the Upper Paleozoic (Pennsylvanian and Permian 320- 250 mybp) depositional basins in the northern hemisphere.  This is a time when the earth from a warm period into a glacial event and back to a warmer interval.  North America was moving north ward across the equatorial belt.  The interest is to understand how changing latitude and global climate affected or how the plant communities responded to these changes.

Publications support: The documentation of the data – the fossils themselves – requires that they be photographed for several reasons, the most important of which is for publications not only for other researches but for inclusion in books for students and the public at large. Presently the vast majority of this work is done with digital photography.  Where micro-structures are present and important to the understanding of the nature of the plants images of these features are obtained using a scanning electron microscope.  Graphics to illustrate scientific facts and interpretations play a very important roll in presenting data in a variety of different ways the goal being to clarify complex data sets or in the case of illustrations clarify photographs – which may not show the important features clearly.

Collection Management and Conservation: A collection that has no associated data – such at where, when, who, and why it was collected makes the collection almost useless to the research scientist.  So the data about each specimen is put in a searchable database. The museum specialist is also intimately involved with unpacking specimens when they come in from the field.  This is where the fist rough identifications are made and numbers which tie the specimens to field notes and the associated data are attached to the specimens. This is also when the specimens are evaluated for special conservation needs.  When exhibits are in the planning and construction state there is great reliance on the museum technician to prepare specimens for inclusion in an exhibit
Field Work – Obviously none of the above could be possible with out bringing new specimens into the collections.  This is important because scientific thoughts and approaches evolve and new material must be collected by means and with new data to answer these questions.  Field work is by far and way the most interesting part of my responsibilities.

Research Links

Pella Lycopod Tree 
A block of rock weighing in at 16.5 tons which contained part of the crown of a Lycopod tree was obtained by the National Museum of Natural History in 2005.  It is my responsibility to reduce the weight of this block to less than 4 tons so that it can be move from out side into an exhibit hall.

Professional Societies

  • Botanical Society of America
  • Geological Society of America
  • International Organization of Palaeobotany
  • Society for Sedimentary Geology
  • Paleontological Society
  • Society of Vertebrate Paleontology


  • Remey and Remy Paleobotanical Paper of the Year 2005 award, Botanical Society of America.

Professional Service

  • Session Chairman Annual Meetings, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology 1984-1991
  • Morris F. Skinner Award Nominating Committee, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. 1988-1990
  • Auction Committee and Auctioneer, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meetings 1987-Present
  • Auction Committee and Auctioneer, Paleobotanical Section, Biological Society of America. 1998-present
  • Membership Committee, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections. 1988-1989.
  • Paleobiology: Editorial assistant 2001 – 2002

Field Work

  • Pleistocene coral reefs, Barbados
  • Miocene vertebrates, Siwaliks,  Pakistan
  • Cenozoic Mammals western USA (California, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming).
  • Cenozoic plants Ecuador, South America.
  • Early Cenozoic Mammals, northern China.
  • Cretaceous and Early Cenozoic animals and plants James Ross Basin, Antarctic Peninsula.
  • Early Permian vertebrates USA (New Mexico and Texas).
  • Late Carboniferous and Early Permian plants USA (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming).
  • Early Permian plants Mengkarang Formation; Sumatra, Indonesia

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