Interview with Ph.D. Albert Prieto-Márquez

Author: Mateusz Tałanda

24 XI 2013

Ph.D. Albert Prieto-Márquez
Ph.D. Albert Prieto-Márquez
(born 1975)
Paleontologist from Spain. In his reseaarches he focus on duck-billed dinosaurs. He described 6 new species of Hadrosauridae, and recently he published a new reconstruction for Tsintaosaurus’ skull.

How did your adventure with paleontology started?

It started in 6th grade. I had 11 years. I saw a book in a class featuring images from Rudolph Zallinger’s The Age of the Reptiles. It was for me an enter to the other world – all animals and plants were different. It was like love from the first sight. All happened in one day. I was in love.

How you became a paleontologist?

After that I decided to know more. By the age of 12, I wanted to became a paleontologist. I then decided to do bachelor’s degree in geology at the University of Barcelona. The strike of luck came much later, in 1998, when I had the fortune of meeting Dr. Jack Horner. He provided me with the opportunity to study a Master’s in Earth Sciences under his supervision, in Montana, USA, and it was there that I began working on hadrosaurid dinosaurs.

What happened later?

After Montana I went to John Hapkins and I worked with David Weishampel. I studied human anatomy and a titanosaur from Romania. It was a time of new discoveries, new countries, new scientists and new cultures. I opened my mind in new levels and it still happens now.

Why you work on duck-billed dinosaurs?

There was a beautiful skeleton of Brachylophosaurus and many separate bones research variation. I learn a lot of about anatomy and other stuff. I become interested in these animals. A lot of questions came to my mind: how they became so succesful and abundant? I wanted to check other specimens from different countries. Occasion appeared to travel around the world. These animals in very short time spread to the whole world!

What was the most difficult part of your work?

To understand well intraspecific variation of species which I work on, I had to travel to numerous museum collections to have a good understanding of how anatomy changes within genera and species. In general, the postcrania of these animals offers much less diagnostic information than the skull. The fact that in some areas of the world, such as in western Europe, hadrosaurids are represented for the most part by postcranial bones, complicates this matter.


Ph.D. Albert Prieto-Márquez with skulls of Saurolophus in Paleontological Institute of Moscow.

What was the most surpising thing in your job?

When you are a child, you read papers of many famous paleontologists. Then having the chance to meet them in person, and even getting to collaborate with them. Realizing their strengths and weaknesses, and how it all differs from the previous idealized view. The same applies for the science of paleontology and evolutionary biology itself. It is a journey of discovery of, not only science, but also human nature.

What is your favorite dinosaur?

I still rather like theropods the most, especially the big ones. Allosaurs are quite exciting.

What is your most important contribution to paleontology?

The most significant seems to me the phylogeny of all hadrosaurids. It took me almost 5 years to collect all the data and analyze it. At the time of its publication (2010), it was the most extensive character data ever garnered for hadrosaurids and the resulting phylogenetic analysis featured the first tree including all known taxa known at the time for Hadrosauridae.

How your family and friends react on your work?

They found it as a curiosity. They didn’t think that it is possible to live from it, but they considered it as interesting. My parents support me and didn’t ask me how I will earn for living. When I received an invitation to US, they couldn’t believe, that somebody wanted to give money for this. My mom was afraid of our separation but after a year she get used to it and now she is happy. My friends are happy that I fulfil my obsession. Especially because everybody had a hobby but only I made it to be my life.

What would you like to tell young paleontological amateurs?

It is a very long way but if they take it seriously they should go. It is difficult to find a job but if they will be patient and hard-working then they will manage. Speaking practically, try to develop maths and physics because paleontology today is very multidisciplinary. I work with engineers and other specialists in teams to understand how dinosaurs moved and so on… You have to know many different methods.

What are you working on now?

I work on biogeography of Cretaceous dinosaurs from Europe – not only duckbilled. How they evolved and spread? I continoue many smaller projects on duckbilled dinosaurs from Europe and North America. I am describing now new genus from California which is intermediate between Saurolophus and Prosaurolophus. I have accepted paper about Canardia (already published – ed. note) – a new genus of Lambeosaurinae from Southern France. It belongs to basal ones.