Printed on: January 31, 2012

BYU-I professor names discovery after daughter

By Rachel Eaton
reaton@postregister.com

A biology professor has found a one-of-a-kind way to give tribute to his deceased daughter.

Ten years ago, Dave Stricklan was taking a short break from teaching at Brigham Young University-Idaho when he discovered a previously unknown fish species.

The fish fossil Stricklan found is named Bourbonnella jocelynae in memory of his daughter Jocelyn. The fossil resides with the University of Kansas.

In March 1999, 16-year-old Jocelyn Stricklan of Clark County died in a one-car accident. The high school sophomore was riding home from a dance sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The accident was caused by a structural failure of the vehicle, according to an Idaho State Police news release.

A couple of years after the accident, Stricklan discovered the fossil. After an unusually long process of 10 years, the fossil was finally accepted by the scientific community. It is described by Dr. Kathryn Mickle in the September 2011 issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

"It's forever then named for Jocelyn," Stricklan said. "I wish it was a butterfly for her, but you have to do what you can do."

Stricklan discovered the 3-centimeter, possibly 325 million-year-old fish fossil in the clay pits of the Manning Canyon Shale Formation near Lehi, Utah. The sediments he found the fossil in were well known for plant fossils, but not fish.

"It's the oldest species of its group from North America," Stricklan said. "Previously, these species have only been found in marine water. It may be that the sea connected to other places ..."

As the continents have shifted over time, Stricklan's discovery provides experts more evidence about the geography of the continents millions of years ago.

"They (experts) thought that this area was more inland," Stricklan said. "It looks like now for sure it was on the coast. It shared a marine connection with Europe."

Stricklan said several fish, an amphibian and a shrimp have been uncovered from the Manning Canyon Shale Formation sediments since his fish fossil discovery.

In 1984, Stricklan also discovered the oldest winged-insect in western North America, named Brodioptera stricklani, in the same sediments.

"From a fellow scientist and department chair, I can say it's always exciting to see scientific discoveries made and progress made in all fields of science," said Sidney Palmer, BYU-Idaho biology department chairman. "Like all discoveries of fossils and species, it helps us understand the past history of life on the earth and the past organisms that live on it."

The fossil holds great sentimental value to Stricklan and his wife, Juli.

"It's a way of saying to the world that Jocelyn was here, and she made a difference," Juli Stricklan said.

Features writer Rachel Eaton can be reached at 542-6762. Comment on this story at Post Talk at www.postregister.com/posttalk.