Oldest known fossil grasses named in honor of Dr. J.R. Thomasson

Immense research on grass and grassland evolution has earned Dr. Joseph R. Thomasson yet another claim to fame.

The oldest known fossil grasses, found in dinosaur dung, now bear the name of the Fort Hays State University professor of biological sciences.

A team of Swedish and Indian researchers recently found fossil grasses in fossilized dinosaur dung (or coprolites) and published their remarkable and exciting discovery in the Nov. 18 issue of "Science" magazine. Because of Thomasson's significant contributions to current knowledge about grass evolution, they decided to name one of the new fossil grasses "Thomassonites sinuatum."

A recent report shows that the dinosaurs fed on at least five different grasses and is the first known evidence of dinosaurs grazing on grasses. The fossil grasses also provide some of the first-known evidence that explains the very specialized grazing teeth of an early evolving type of groundhog-sized mammal called Gondwanatheres. Prior to the discovery of the Cretaceous fossil grasses, the puzzling teeth of Gondwanatheres had been difficult to explain.

Beginning in March, Thomasson's grasses will be part of an exhibit in Chicago's Field Museum. The exhibit will help explain which plants and animals occupied Central North America and Kansas tens of millions of years ago.

"Having these fossils on public display at the museum will help to generate national and worldwide attention for research studies conducted at FHSU, the Department of Biological Sciences and at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History," said Thomasson.

For nearly 30 years, Thomasson and his students have been studying fossil grasses and have published the results in one book and more than 20 articles in professional journals such as "National Geographic Research," the "American Journal of Botany" and most recently in the "Journal of Paleontology." Theses studies are recognized nationally and internationally as providing much of our present knowledge of the evolution of grasses and grasslands of central North America.

Besides teaching at FHSU, Thomasson serves as curator of botany and paleobotany at the FHSU's Sternberg Museum of Natural History where he continues his studies of fossil grasses.

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