Who are we? What do we do?
Our research group focuses on the evolution and paleobiology of marine vertebrates. In some cases, such as with marine tetrapods, these groups have undergone dramatic evolutionary transformations from terrestrial ancestries, with attendant modifications to multiple anatomical, behavioral and ecological systems. These transitions provide a series of evolutionary comparisons that form the basis for understanding how these lineages have diversified in the world's oceans, over geologic time.
Our research group and collaborators include many different stripes of paleobiologists, biomechanists, and geochemists. We are always interested in new perspectives and skill sets! Our work takes us around the world to different museums, research centers, field stations, and, most importantly, field localities. Recent paleontological fieldwork, for example, has included sites near Vancouver Island, British Columbia; the Caribbean coast of Panama; the Atacama Desert of Chile; and the Maryland coast of the Chesapeake Bay. We have received funding for this research from the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Smithsonian Institution.
Nicholas D. Pyenson, Ph.D., Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals
Please see the Paleontological Society's Distinguished Lecturer page for a biography
Nick is curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia; he received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He completed his B.S. from Emory University, and his A.A. from Oxford College of Emory University. Nick's research interests also include the macroecology, taphonomy, and functional morphology of marine tetrapods. Nick grew up in both Quebec and Louisiana, which naturally leads to long discourses about the virtues of Stanley Cup parades and crawfish boils. To find out more about Nick's research publications, see his Google Scholar Page; to see his contact information, check out his Smithsonian staff webpage. (Photo by J. A. Goldbogen)
Maya Yamato, Ph.D., NMNH Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellow
Maya just started her tenure as NMNH Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellow, co-advised by Kristofer Helgen in Vertebrate Zoology and Nick in Paleobiology. Maya has a B.A. from Princeton University and finished her Ph.D. recently from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Joint Program, where she focused her research on the auditory systems of baleen whales. For her dissertation work, she became proficient at CT scanning whale heads and their ears, along with dissections in the lab or (rotting) on the beach. (She is fearless when it comes to whale guts gore). For her postdoctoral research, she is interested in expanding her species sampling to better model how sound propagates through whale heads -- because we still don't really know how baleen whales hear. When she's not dissecting the latest roadkill or beach pickup in VZ, she keeps us Paleo folk up-to-date on what's happening in the West Wing of the museum. (Photo by C. W. Potter).
Neil P. Kelley, Ph.D., NMNH Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellow (starting 2014)
Neil will begin his NMNH Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellowship in early 2014, advised by NDP and co-advised by Matt Carrano in Paleobiology. Neil comes to us by way of the University of California, Davis, where he received his Ph.D. in Ryosuke Motani's laboratory, and a B.A. from Oberlin College. Neil will be working on a broad-scale project looking at the macroevolution of marine tetrapods. Marine tetrapods have repeatedly adapted to marine life since the Triassic (e.g., ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, whales, seals) and these secondarily marine groups have long been used as textbook examples of macroevolutionary phenomenon such as convergent evolution and adaptive radiation. As a Buck postdoc, he will use the exceptional collections of recent and fossil marine tetrapods at NMNH to explore the tempo and mode of major anatomical transformations that enabled marine tetrapods to repeatedly invade the oceans over the past 250 million years. Neil also has not one but two tattoos that are featured in Carl Zimmer's Science Ink. (Photo: N. P. Kelley).
Holly Little, Paleobiology Digitization and Preservation Specialist
Holly originally hails from North Carolina. She graduated from Duke University in 2010. Through her Visual Studies and Medieval and Renaissance Studies majors she was first exposed to the cutting edge approaches in visualizing historical data. Wanting to explore these concepts further, she enrolled in the University of Michigan School of Information Master's program, studying preservation of information, digitization, and bits of coding, web development, and information access. She came to the Smithsonian by way of the the School of Information's Alternative Spring Break program, and has continued working in the Pyenson Lab (along with the "laser cowboys") through another internship until her recent hire as a digitization and preservation specialist in the Department of Paleobiology at the museum. While working in the lab, she finished her Master's degree at Michigan and expanded her palate by trying the great local seafood in the port town of Caldera, in Chile. (Photo: H. Little).
Katrina Jones, Ph.D. student, Johns Hopkins University
Katrina is fascinated by the driving forces of morphological evolution, focusing mostly on pinnipeds. Originally from England, she now resides in Baltimore, Maryland, where she working towards her Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in the Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution under the advisory of Ken Rose. Her master’s research, undertaken at Cambridge, England, examined factors influencing cranial morphology of extant pinnipeds using geometric morphometrics. She hopes to use the fossil record to help understand the evolution of morphological diversity of this group. Doctoral research often brings her to the NMNH, where she is a research student, to look both at fossil pinnipeds and other mammal groups. Despite her transatlantic relocation, Katrina always makes time during research for a nice cup of English tea.
David J. Bohaska, Museum Specialist
Born in Isabela, Puerto Rico, Jorge first got interested in fossils at the age of eight, and ever since, he wanted to be a paleontologist. Jorge has developed an expertise in the evolution and diversification of sirenians (otherwise known as the group that includes seacows, manatees and dugongs) after collecting fossils of these marine mammals on his 20th birthday. In the summer of 2007, after finishing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, he completed a Ph.D. with Daryl Domning in the Department of Anatomy at Howard University in 2012. He was a NMNH pre-doctoral fellow during his time as a research student in the Department of Paleobiology, where he pursued his interests in other groups of marine mammals as well other extinct vertebrates from the Caribbean region. Jorge relaxes to the blues, enjoys cooking and a strong cup of coffee. Find out more about Jorge's latest on his website or on his blog. (Photo by T. Pineda)
Carolina Simon Gutstein, Ph.D. (Currently: Paleosuchus Ltda and UREDES Research Coordinator, Universidad de Chile).
Carolina completed her Ph.D. at the Universidad de Chile, Santiago in 2012. Her dissertation research looked at the morphological and acoustic differences between river and marine dolphins, especially those in South America. She is broadly interested in the functional morphology and phylogeny of toothed whales (Odontoceti), and the paleoenvironments of Neogene coastal systems, including the Bahia Inglesa Formation in the Atacama Region of Chile. Carolina graduated from Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, in 2003, and she has a Master's degree in geosciences and paleontology from Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, both in Brazil. In addition to having a knack for giving people great nicknames, she is also committed to promoting paleontology in Chile through the Asociación Paleontológica de Chile, which she recently founded. Follow her updates at her website. (Photo by C. Loch Silva)
Fri is from Hamburg, Germany. She studied marine biology at American University in Washington, D.C., from 2007-2011. She worked in the Pyenson Lab during the spring of 2011, focusing on the jaw morphology and variation of some of the earliest fossil pinnipeds in the Emlong collections in Paleobiology at NMNH (which she presented in a poster at a recent meeting). This fall, she will start a M.Sc. program in Biological Oceanography at the University of Kiel, in Germany. Fri also plays professional soccer in her hometown for Hamburger SV. She has a soft spot for IMAX movies about animals, too. (Photo by NDP)
(NMNH research collaborators or associates denoted by an asterisk).
Jeremy Goldbogen (Cascadia Research Collective)
James F. Parham* (California State University, Fullerton & Cooper Center)
Megan McKenna (National Park Service)
David R. Lindberg (University of California, Berkeley)
Edward B. Davis (University of Oregon)
Mathew Wedel (Western University of Health Sciences)
Mark D. Uhen* (George Mason University)
Simon Sponberg (University of Washington)