Dr. Mike Rischbieter’s recently published article on plant fossils spanned 25 years of work, thousands of miles, and one fantastic find. It was painstakingly researched, professionally fulfilling, and deeply personal.
“This paper is truly the conclusion of a 25-year journey that began in Brazil getting really lucky on a fossil excursion with my dad,” Rischbieter said. “He was so helpful in translating some critical scientific papers in Portuguese for me really early in the process and was also a great cheerleader to keep me going. He passed away in 2006, so did not get to see me at the finish line, but I dedicated this paper to him in memoriam.”
The article, “A new flora from the Rio Bonito Formation (late Asselian) and its implications for the biostratigraphy of the southern Parana Basin, Brazil,” was just published this fall in the Journal of South American Earth Sciences.
In 1997, Rischbieter took a sabbatical trip to his father Adolpho’s native Brazil to search for plant fossils in the country’s southern region. Consulting with Brazilian paleobotanists from the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, he planned to explore the area where his relatives currently live.
Rischbieter’s uncle drove him and his father to the discovery.
“My uncle drove his little Fiat up into the mountains near Florianapolis and I got really lucky and found this incredible outcrop of rocks that was loaded with plant fossils!” he said.
So many and of such importance that Brazil declared the Probst Outcrop a national historic site to preserve it for future study. Rischbieter discovered whole plant remains and, with the help of two PC students – Billy Joe Mullinax (now at the Medical University of South Carolina) and Anna MacGregor (now at the Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Spartanburg), extracted pollen and spores and discovered unique flora.
“Totally unique and totally unexpected!” Rischbieter said.
Hundreds of friends and colleagues worldwide congratulated Rischbieter as he prepares for other fossil researchers to respond to his findings. In the meantime, Rischbieter continues to teach PC students, coach the college’s bass fishing team, and prepare for the next step in his research plans.
“This phase of the research on this particular group of fossils is now complete,” he said. “I am actually working now with one of my Brazilian co-authors to help us identify a collection of pollen and spores from a location in Wyoming. This is also really exciting research.”
Research, Rischbieter added, makes him a much better professor at PC.
“It totally keeps me current in my field and completely excited about the material I teach in my courses,” he said. “In fact, one of the courses I am teaching this semester, ‘Seminar in Biological Primary Literature,’ is all about teaching our biology majors how to recognize and read the primary, peer-reviewed literature.
“They were the first group of students to see this paper! I think students want to know that you are actively doing research in your area and keeping current in the field so that they are getting the newest information themselves.”
Rischbieter also acknowledged the inspiration of his biology department colleague and spouse, Diane Rischbieter.
“Diane should also claim a great deal of credit in the process, as she was the one who told me to get these fossils out of my garage,” he said. “They’ve been sitting there from 1997 until 2005, which was the start of getting them organized, classified, and in a position to be scientifically studied.”