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Spencer G. Lucas, Ph. D.

Curator of Paleontology



Spencer G. Lucas received a B. A. from the University of New Mexico (1976) and a M. S. (1979) and Ph. D. (1984) from Yale University. As a paleontologist and stratigrapher, he specializes in the study of late Paleozoic, Mesozoic and early Cenozoic vertebrate fossils and continental deposits, particularly in the American Southwest. Lucas has extensive field experience in the western United States as well as in northern Mexico, Costa Rica, Kazakhstan, Nicaragua, Soviet Georgia and the People's Republic of China. He has published more than 1000 scientific articles, co-edited 14 books and authored three books.


Lucas’s scientific career began with research on Paleocene-Eocene mammals, particularly from the San Juan Basin, New Mexico. Field research by Lucas and his collaborators in the San Juan Basin during the last 35 years resulted in the collection of thousands of Late Cretaceous, Paleocene and Eocene vertebrate fossils and led to major revisions of the lithostratigraphy and correlation of the Upper Cretaceous-Eocene strata in this region. Diverse research by Lucas on Paleocene-Eocene mammals resulted in major contributions to the taxonomy, evolution and biostratigraphy of several groups, including condylarths, pantodonts, uintatheres, pyrotheres, taeniodonts, tillodonts, entelodonts, brontotheres and rhinocerotoids.


Beginning in the 1980s, Lucas worked extensively on nonmarine Triassic stratigraphy and biostratigraphy, especially in the western United States. In the 1990s, this became the basis for developing a global Triassic timescale based on tetrapod evolution that provides a framework for ordering and correlating tetrapod evolution during the Triassic. Lucas has also developed a similar tetrapod-based timescale for the Permian Period, and made diverse contributions to Jurassic, Cretaceous and Cenozoic vertebrate biostratigraphy and biochronology.


Lucas also worked on diverse aspects of Triassic biostratigraphy, magnetostratigraphy and correlation in North America, Europe, Asia and South America. He has been a Voting Member of the Subcommission on Triassic Stratigraphy (International Commission on Stratigraphy) since 1992. He has been a corresponding member of both the Permian and the Carboniferous Subcommissions for about a decade.


Beginning in 1985, Lucas took an active role in the New Mexico Geological Society (to which he was elected an Honorary Member in 1994). He served as managing editor of the New Mexico Geological Society Guidebooks from 1987 through 1991, has co-organized 11 field conferences of the society and contributed extensively to its guidebooks and other publications.


Lucas also worked extensively to develop a fossil collection at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. The Museum now boasts a collection of more than 70,000 catalogued fossils, including world class collections of nonmarine Triassic, Cretaceous, Paleocene and Eocene vertebrates, as well as the largest and most significant Permian footprint collection.


As an exhibit curator, Lucas has been responsible for most of the scientific content of the three Mesozoic exhibit halls at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science: “Dawn of the Dinosaurs: Triassic New Mexico,” “Jurassic: Age of Super Giants,” and “Cretaceous: New Mexico’s Seacoast.”


In 1991, Lucas launched the new journal “Bulletin of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science” to publish research on natural history, especially related to New Mexico. As of 2015, 67 separate bulletins have been published in this series, mostly on paleontology, with contributions from hundreds of scientist worldwide.


Lucas’s research on fossils has included original contributions to many groups, including palynomorphs, charophytes, late Paleozoic-Mesozoic megafloras, conodonts, fusulinids, brachiopods, mollusks (especially Triassic and Cretaceous ammonites), fishes and many different kinds of amphibians, reptiles and mammals. His recent research objectives have focused on Upper Paleozoic stratigraphy and biostratigraphy, particularly the placement and correlation of the Carboniferous-Permian boundary. 


Selected Publications

Joyce, W.G., Lucas, S.G., Scheyer, T.M., Heckert, A.B., and Hunt, A.P. 2009, A thin-shelled reptile from the Late Triassic of North America and the origin of the turtle shell: Proc. R. Soc. B. vol. 276 pp. 507–513. PDF (590K)

Lucas, S.G. 2009, Global Jurassic tetrapod biochronology; in Volumina Jurassica, vol. 6 pp. 99–108. PDF (396K)

Renesto, S.C., Spielmann, J.A., and Lucas, S.G. 2009, The oldest record of drepanosaurids (Reptilia, Diapsida) from the Late Triassic (Adamanian PlaceriasQuarry, Arizona, USA) and the stratigraphic range of the Drepanosauridae: N. Jb. Geol. Paläont. Abh. vol.252 pp. 315–325. PDF (1.8M)

Heckert, A.B., Lucas, S.G., Rinehart, L.F. and Hunt, A.P. 2008, A new genus and species of sphenodontian from the Ghost Ranch Coelophysis Quarry (Upper Triassic: Apachean), Rock Point Formation, New Mexico, USA: Palaeontology, vol.51/4, pp. 827–845. PDF (1.6M)

Minter, N.J., Lucas, S.G., Lerner, A.J and Braddy, S. J. 2008, Augerinoichnus helicoidalis, a new helical trace fossil from the nonmarine Permian of New Mexico: Journal of Paleontology, vol.82, pp.1201–1206. PDF (4.7M)

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