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
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 grew up in both Quebec and Louisiana, which naturally leads to long discourses about the virtues of Stanley Cup parades and crawfish boils. His research spans the systematics, macroecology, taphonomy, and functional morphology of not just marine mammals, but other marine tetrapods, too. Recently, he has been interested in how digital tools can expand fieldwork, outreach and natural history collections all at the same time. Nick is also an Affiliate Curator at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, and on the Editorial Board at PLOS ONE, PeerJ, and the Latin American Journal of Aquatic Mammals. To find out more about his research publications, see his Google Scholar Page; to see his contact information, check out his Smithsonian staff webpage. (Photo by J. A. Goldbogen)
Neil P. Kelley, Ph.D., NMNH Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellow
Neil is a NMNH Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellowship, 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 is 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 is using 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. He is also conducting fieldwork in Mesozoic rocks of California and Nevada; see a post about recent fieldwork at the amazing site known as Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. Neil also has not one but two tattoos that are featured in Carl Zimmer's Science Ink. (Photo: N. P. Kelley).
Maya Yamato, Ph.D., NMNH Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellow
Maya is a NMNH Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellow co-advised by Kristofer Helgen in Vertebrate Zoology and NDP 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 D. Hurlbert, NMNH Photography).
Technical Staff and Collections Management:
Holly Little, 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).
David J. Bohaska, Museum Specialist in Vertebrate Paleontology