By Dr Manabu Sakamoto, palaeontologist, University of Reading
Think of a palaeontologist. What comes to mind? You might be thinking of Sam Neill in the film ‘Jurassic Park’, Ross from the sitcom ‘Friends’, or some white-gloved employee of the Natural History Museum.
Now think of them ‘doing’ palaeontology. You will probably imagine them digging up fossilized bones, extracting ancient DNA from amber, or piecing together a skeleton like some kind of Jurassic jigsaw.
What about doing maths, or poring over a spreadsheet? Probably not. Yet some of the most exciting dinosaur discoveries in our field come not from fieldwork, but from detailed analysis and reanalysis of the data.
Why is that? Well, understanding how and why biodiversity waxes and wanes through Earth history over hundreds of millions of years is a fundamental goal of paleontology and evolutionary biology alike.