Research

I am a broadly-trained paleobiologist who reconstructs the evolution of vertebrate ecology through major Earth transitions in the context of changing environment and biota. My work combines aspects of biology, geology, anatomy, and physiology to better understand how dramatic environmental perturbations influenced the evolutionary history of organisms.

Dinosaur dental evolution

My current research at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County explores how the teeth of dinosaurs changed through time and the processes driving those shifts. In particular, the evolution of flowering plants (angiosperms) had a profound effect on the evolution of other land-dwelling animals, but the coordinated changes in dinosaur tooth complexity (and, by extension, diet) remain largely untested.

The Late Jurassic represents an opportune time slice to understand dinosaur dental patterns before the diversification of flowering plants. There are a wide range of dinosaurs with well preserved skulls and teeth from across the world. Preliminary results suggest unique trends in these dinosaurs and may represent an approach to herbivory not observed in living animals.

MWC%202_edited.png
MWC%25202_edited_edited_edited.png
MWC%202_9_1000%20triangles_edited.png
OPCR_graph.jpg
Varanus rudicollis_edited_orientedvt-uct
Varanus rudicollis_Edited.png
Lizard dental morphology
Sauromalus ater.png

Living reptiles display a remarkable range of diets which is matched by a variety of tooth shapes. My research on dentigerous reptiles seeks to establish links between ecology and dental morphology. In particular, I investigate a broad suite of dentitions from all major branches of crocodylians and squamates to explore the relationships between diet, ontogeny, and phenotypic tooth complexity.

 

Already my work demonstrated a clear pattern, with carnivores having simple teeth and herbivores having much more complex dentitions. This relationship follows the patterns previously found in mammal teeth, despite dramatically different morphologies, suggesting that dental complexity may aid in the reconstruction of diet in extinct taxa.

Living reptiles display a remarkable range of diets which is matched by a variety of tooth shapes. My research on dentigerous reptiles seeks to establish links between ecology and dental morphology. In particular, I investigate a broad suite of dentitions from all major branches of crocodylians and squamates to explore the relationships between diet, ontogeny, and phenotypic tooth complexity.

 

Already my work demonstrated a clear pattern, with carnivores having simple teeth and herbivores having much more complex dentitions. This relationship follows the patterns previously found in mammal teeth, despite dramatically different morphologies, suggesting that dental complexity may aid in the reconstruction of diet in extinct taxa.

DSC08754.JPG
DSC08835.JPG
Crocodylomorph ecology

Extinct crocodylomorphs have a remarkably complete fossil record from the past 230 million years, including the survival and recovery from two mass extinctions. This record allows for the investigation of the relationship between survivorship and ecological role through major Earth system perturbations. My research uses a combination of dental complexity and skull shape to reconstruct the ecology of these extinct organisms and examine how they changed in response to mass extinctions.

DSC07830_edited.jpg