Host Voice:
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The Burgess Shale Fossil find, near Field, British Columbia, in Yoho National Park has been said to be of the greatest significance.
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Wherein lies this significance? 31 secs

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Dr. Simon Conway Morris, author of "The Crucible of Creation; the Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals," and professor of evolutionary biology at Cambridge University, England, states that the significance lies in the fact that the deposit provides an exceptional understanding of a particular aspect of the history of life.
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This is of the Cambrian Radiation, the explosive diversification of animal marine life 500,000,000 years ago, the likes and scale of which does not seem to have happened again in earth's history.
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Alternatively, Harvard paleontologist Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, in his bestselling book on the Burgess Shale, "Wonderful Life" states that the find's significance lies most in its pointing to the need to conceive of new evolutionary processes.
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Is evolution, in essence, an unpredictable, unlimited experiment, or does it have constraints and even a certain inevitability?
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It might just be a question of emphasis.
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Dr. Tom Clark
CBC Ideas
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"Gould, of course, has his good points..."
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"Now I wouldn't say he's wrong..."
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" but I think he was probably wrong in emphasis, but that's the kind of man we want: a man who perhaps does overstep the mark somewhere or other."
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Dr. Tom Clark, geology professor emeritus at McGill University's Redpath Museum.
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New finds in Greenland and China in the 80's only made Dr. Gould more insistent in his argument for unlimited change, or contingency, as THE force in evolution. 136 secs

Dr. Stephen Jay Gould
CBC Ideas
5 secs
"so, if anything, the roster of Burgess Shale peculiar creatures is going to go up, not down."
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As a consequence of the new finds, new tools of research, and Gould's insistences, the Cambrian era is today among the most intensely studied intervals in the history of life.
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How do then animals rise and fall? The history of extinction events, a definite contingency factor, provides an answer.
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Dr. Douglas Erwin
Track 2
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"Mass extinctions are episodes in which large numbers of taxa, in many different groups, become extinct in a relatively short period of time."
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Dr. Erwin is curator at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
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"It's certainly possible that many episodes of heightened extinction during the Cambrian may have eliminated a lot of the organisms of the Burgess Shale at that time. " 191 secs

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Life does re-adapt to major changes, or punctuations such as these, and re-radiates, so contingency IS thus a factor, but another factor, called convergence, suggests something else.
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Dr. Douglas Erwin
Track 4
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"the discovery a few years ago that there was a Jurassic mammal that for all intents and purposes was similar to a modern beaver is an indicator that there are some ways of making a living in which unrelated organisms will find similar suites of adaptation."
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"it's certainly possible to have convergences at a variety of different levels and that doesn't actually negate Steve Gould's point about contingency; these things maybe happened at different levels, at different times."
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Host Voice:
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New sciences, drawing from complementary fields of paleontology and biology, including gene sequencing, are helping to fill in the picture, showing: 255 secs

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1/ Animals have a great variety of design but share similarities at the genetic level.

2/ Early ranges of animal design were no greater than today's.

3/ Unfettered contingency and slow gradual evolution both give way to complexities and constraints imposed by ecology, competition, chemistry and other factors.

4/ The debates are NOT over and new finds will be made. Understanding bodes well for the future;

Dr. Derek Briggs of Yale University's Peabody Museum.

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Dr. Derek Briggs
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"so we have two lines of evidence now, we have the molecular clock on one hand, and we have the record of fossil appearances on the other and those two types of evidence are gradually converging on each other."
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These significant fossil finds are at risk from theft and vandalism, and two mutually linked organizations, Parks Canada and the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation, provide a large range of protective measures, trained educators and guides to meet the need.
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Parks Canada conservation officer John Niddrie 310 secs

John Niddrie
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"Some of the protection measures in place are # 1; controlled access, the public can only visit the site with a licensed guide, and for any scientific research, special permits are required."
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Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation spokesperson Randle Robertson.
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Randle Roberston
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"It's a very good working relationship..."
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"we work with parks to make everyone aware that it is a world heritage site."
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Host Voice
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August 2009 is the 100th anniversary of the Burgess Shale finds, and Parks Canada has many activities planned in commemoration. These will include art exhibits, public presentations by the world's leading scientists, in Banff, campground theatre productions, interpretive hikes to the fossil beds all summer, and much much more.

Contact Parks Canada for more information on any of these opportunities.

Contributors were Dr. Tom Clark and Dr. Stephen Jay Gould courtesy of CBC Ideas, Dr. Douglas Erwin, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Derek Briggs, courtesy of the Peabody Museum at Yale University, John Niddrie of Parks Canada and Randle Robertson of the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation.

The Burgess Shale Story is sponsored by Parks Canada and the Friends of Banff Park Radio.
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