Department of Paleobiology
The mission of the Department of Paleobiology is the discovery, description, and interpretation of the past history of life on Earth and its context within the surrounding environment. Research efforts of the Department are driven by important evolutionary and ecological questions that require the charting of the patterns and processes of past life. These endeavors are accomplished by active field work, examination of collections, archiving of resulting data, publication of research results, and sponsoring a variety of education and outreach activities.
The Department of Paleobiology is a center for interdisciplinary research on the history of the Earth and its biota, and their interactions through time. Research programs in paleontology encompass the systematics of specific fossil animal and plant groups and their associations, the evolutionary processes underlying phylogenetic patterns, paleoecology, the responses of ecosystems to abiotic and biotic change, and the relationships of ecological patterns to evolving lineages. Studies of environmental history emphasize the responses of shallow-water depositional systems to changing climates and rates of subsidence, reef dynamics, and the history of ocean basins.
The Department of Paleobiology has responsibility for the day-to-day curation of the National Collection of Fossils and Sediments. The Collection represents a microcosm of the Museum’s biological departments and has a historic origin. Some of the specimens were collected even before the Powell and Hayden Surveys of the late 1800’s.
The Collection counts more than 42 million fossils including over 290,000 type specimens, and 50,000 sediment samples with representative material collected within and outside the United States and spans geologic time from the Precambrian to the Recent. To facilitate access, accountability, and curation, the Collection is divided into four sub-collections: invertebrates, vertebrates, plant fossils, and sediment samples. There is a general organizational scheme used for most of the sub-collections. Published specimens are grouped by geologic age and taxon (e.g., Mesozoic Gastropoda Type, Paleozoic Anthozoa Type). Identified but unpublished specimens are stored either as a unit (e.g., Brachiopoda Biological Collection) or by geologic age and taxon (e.g., Mesozoic Gastropoda Biologic). Stratigraphic collections are organized by geologic age then locality. Although they contain a variety of taxa, some unique collections (e.g. Burgess Shale Types, Burgess Shale Biologics) are kept together as sub-collections. The collections also include outstanding archival documentation relating to collections and specimens such as illustrations, paintings, field notebooks, annotated maps, correspondence, photographs, specimen ledgers, and card files.
Each year, thousands of specimens are loaned to students and researchers around the world for scientific investigation as well as for exhibit. Specimens are added through staff collecting, donations from private individuals and educational/public institutions, and transfers from other government agencies.
The collections include outstanding invertebrate paleontology collections, including the Trilobite Type Collection; Hazen Trilobite Collection; Cenozoic Marine Mollusk Type Collection; Burgess Shale Collection, Dominican Amber Collection, and Kohls Green River Collection totaling over 175,000 specimens and representing the largest or almost largest collection of these fossils in the world. The Echinodermata includes the Springer Collection, donated by Frank Springer in 1911, which is the largest repository of fossil crinoids in the world consisting of nearly 4,500 primary types, including 1,678 holotypes, mostly from Paleozoic sequences in North America and Europe as well as more than 100,000 secondary types derived from all parts of the world; the Glass Mountain Collection (Brachiopoda); the Kohls Green River Insect Collection and the Kishenehn Collection. The Foraminifera Collection which is among the largest repository in the world of foraminiferal type specimens including over 16,000 primary types (holotypes and paratypes) and over 200,000 secondary types representing about 75% of all the type specimens of the American smaller foraminifera and 90% of the larger American Mesozoic and Cenozoic foraminifera and including the Cushman Collection of Foraminifera, willed to the Smithsonian by Dr. Joseph A Cushman, of approximately 150,000 mounted slides, 25,000 type slides and figured specimens; Solnhofen Collection; and the Micropaleontological Reference Center Collection housing more than 10,000 microfossil samples of foraminifera in specimen containers, as well as calcareous nannofossils, radiolarians and diatoms on slides. The department also maintains collections of plant–insect interactions ranging from the Early Carboniferous to the middle Eocene. Contact: Dan Levin
Outstanding collections include the Hagerman Horse Collection; Teleoceras Collection; Marsh Dinosaur Collection; and Fossil Marine Mammal Collection. Vertebrate collections of fish, amphibians, and reptiles are arranged taxonomically; mammals are organized first by stage and then taxonomy. The first significant dinosaur fossils added to the museum’s collections was the type specimen of the sauropod Dystrophaeus viaemalae, collected by J. S. Newberry and donated in 1859, and the Lower Jurassic dinosaur footprints from the Connecticut Valley, donated in 1861. The collections currently include over 1,500 catalogued specimens of dinosaurs, 30 of which are on display. The Marsh Collection, the largest single dinosaur collection at the Smithsonian, includes some of the most important dinosaurs known to science including exhibit specimens of Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, Camptosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Triceratops, and Edmontosaurus. Contacts: Michael Brett-Surman and David Bohaska
The paleobotany type collection, considered among the best collections of its kind in the world, is arranged by publication date and author whereas the rest of the paleobotany collections are organized by stratigraphy, collector, or age. The fossil plant collections are complemented by two collections of modern cleared and stained leaf samples of flowering plants, preserved on more than 20,000 glass slides, the best of their kind for comparison with fossil material. Contact: Jon Wingerath
The Sediment Collection includes a reference collection of over 50,000 sediment samples as well as representative material collected during historic cruises such as the Albatross and Coastal Survey Studies conducted in the late 1800’s. In addition, cores collected from coral reefs to study their Holocene history include cores from Galeta Reef, Panama, Nonsuch Bay, Antigua, Stocking Island, Bahamas, and Holandes Cay, Panama. Also included are surface samples from Cobbler’s reef, Barbados, and stromatolite samples from both north Belize and Shark Bay, Australia. Contact: Kathy Hollis
Laboratories of the Department include the Paleontology Preparation Lab, Sedimentology Lab, Acid Room, and several specialized preparation areas for invertebrates and fossil plants. These laboratories are well equipped for paleontological, sedimentological, and marine geological research. The Department maintains a darkroom, facilities for preparation of thin sections, petrographic equipment, X-ray apparatus, and several facilities for bulk maceration of matrix-bound fossil specimens ranging from arthropod cuticles to vertebrate bones.
Active, on-going field research sites include the Western Interior of North America, and involves collections of paleobotanical, vertebrate, and invertebrate and taphonomic fossils from the late Paleozoic to Neogene deposits. Departmental staff also have major field programs in Africa, including southern Africa, where Permian to Triassic strata are examined for biotic turnover, eastern Africa, particularly the Pliocene to Recent record of hominids and co-occurring mammals in Kenya and the adjacent region, and China, where there is investigation of late Permian to Late Triassic biotas for the effects of the end-Permian extinction and examination of the diversity of insects, plants and their associations before and after the angiosperm ecologic expansion. Additional study sites include southern South America where Paleogene whales and floras are studied. The Department also is actively involved in research of coral reefs at Carrie Bow Cay in Belize, as well as sites across the major oceans where sediment cores are examined for microfossil and physical material to detect major environmental and biological events during the past 100 million years.
The Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology is a monographic series dedicated to the publication of extensive systematic studies of fossil organisms. The Atoll Research Bulletin covers research on the biology, ecology, and environmental settings of present-day and fossil coral reefs. The Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems Newsletter informs colleagues of research, colloquia, and other events pertaining to the Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems consortium at the NMNH. The Fossil Record is the quarterly Department newsletter and includes narrative updates of departmental activities and research.
Education and Outreach
The Department of Paleobiology organizes and participates in a variety of public outreach programs, both formally and informally. The most popular educational program is the Paleobiology Training Program, which consists of classes plus field trips covering an introduction to geology and paleontology and an overview of current departmental research. The FossiLab is a glass enclosed laboratory in the paleontology exhibits space where trained volunteers prepare fossils for scientific study, display, or storage, and speak with the public about their work. Through a variety of cooperative arrangements staff members act both formally and informally as advisors to graduate students and occasionally teach courses at universities both locally and nationally. Specimens are made available to students for thesis work through loans to their academic advisors and students and researchers are welcome to visit the collections and facilities to conduct their investigations on-site.
The Department of Paleobiology maintains 7 libraries. For some, oversight is jointly shared with the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (Kellogg, Vertebrate Paleontology, Cooper). For others (Todd, Paleobotany, Coral, Brachiopod) the responsibility for care and maintenance rests solely with Paleobiology staff. The libraries contain books of general interest to geology and paleontology, as well as volumes specific to the taxonomic focus. The Department houses a complete set of the Deep Sea Drilling Project-Ocean Drilling Program publications in the Micropaleontological Reference Center.
The Vertebrate Paleontology library collection holds over 1,800 volumes focusing on physical geography, stratigraphy and systematic paleontology and paleozoology of chordates and vertebrates of the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, Tertiary, and Quaternary periods. The Cooper Reading Room contains about 250 volumes on general geology, invertebrate paleobiology, historical geology, paleontology and other subjects.
The Remington Kellogg Library of Marine Mammalogy contains about 1,800 books and bound journals on all aspects of fossil and living marine mammals, including paleontology, morphology and phylogeny.
Programs and Partnerships
Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems Program (http://www.mnh.si.edu/ete/)
The Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems Program (ETE) is an interdisciplinary program whose mission is to document and interpret the history of terrestrial ecosystems from 420 million years ago to the present and to synergize interactions between paleoecologists and ecologists. ETE brings together scientists from around the world to study the patterns and causal process of animal and plant community assembly and disassembly over geological time and up to the present day. Information from the fossil and geological record provides a unique perspective on ecological change through comparisons of past ecosystems with those of today and helps us to understand how ecosystems could change in the future. Contacts: Anna K. Behrensmeyer and S. Kathleen Lyons
Paleobiology Training Program (http://paleobiology.si.edu/join/ptp/paleoPTP.html)
The Paleobiology Training Program (PTP) is designed to give interested members of the public a 12-lecture introduction to geology, evolution, fossils, and the history of life. The course also includes two field trips. Graduates of the PTP can continue to volunteer for the Department, gaining more specialized knowledge relating to research, collections management, specimen conservation or other departmental activities. A fee of $200 per participant is charged to cover the cost of the course. Each participant receives a certificate of completion. Classes are offered from 2-4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoons, and held in the Department of Paleobiology at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Class size is limited to 25 students. Contact: Thomas Jorstad
BEHRENSMEYER, Anna K., Senior Research Paleobiologist and Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology. B.A. (1967) Washington University; M.A. (1968), Ph.D. (1973) Harvard University. Research specialties: Paleoecology of terrestrial environments, especially in the later Cenozoic of Africa and Pakistan, continental sedimentation, investigation of taphonomic processes affecting the fossil record, human paleoecology, evolution of terrestrial ecosystems.
CARRANO, Mathew T., Research Paleobiologist and Curator of Dinosauria. B.S. (1991) Brown University; M.S. (1995), Ph.D. (1998) University of Chicago. Research specialties: Large-scale evolutionary patterns within Dinosauria; systematics of basal Theropoda; vertebrate paleoecology of Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems; the dinosaur fossil record.
DIMICHELE, William A., Research Paleobiologist and Curator of Paleobotany. B.A. (1974) Drexel University; M.S. (1976), Ph.D. (1979) University of Illinois. Research specialties: Paleoecology, morphology, and systematics of late Paleozoic plants, particularly the structure of late Paleozoic ecosystems and the relationship between long-term ecological and evolutionary patterns.
ERWIN, Douglas, Senior Scientist and Curator of Paleozoic Invertebrates. A.B. (1980) Colgate University; Ph.D. (1985) University of California, Santa Barbara. Research specialties: Macroevolution and evolutionary innovations, particularly the Cambrian metazoan radiation and post-extinction biotic recoveries; the Permian mass extinction; evolutionary history and systematics of Cambrian-Triassic gastropods.
HUBER, Brian T., Chair of Paleobiology, Research Paleobiologist, Curator of Foraminifera. B.S. (1981) University of Akron; M.S. (1984), Ph.D. (1988) Ohio State University. Research specialties: Cretaceous climate and oceanography; biostratigraphy and paleobiogeography of Cretaceous and Paleogene foraminifera; evolution and extinction dynamics of Cretaceous and Paleogene planktonic foraminifera; Cretaceous strontium and light stable isotope stratigraphy.
HUNT, Eugene (Gene), Curator of Ostracoda. B.S. (1995) Duke University; M.S. (1999), Ph.D. (2003) University of Chicago. Research specialties: Deep-sea Ostracoda; macroevolution; quantitative approaches in paleontology.
LABANDEIRA, Conrad, Senior Research Scientist and Curator of Fossil Arthropods. B.A. (1980) California State University, Fresno; M.S. (1986) University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; Ph.D. (1990) University of Chicago. Research specialties: Interactions between plants and insects in the fossil record; terrestrial fossil arthropods, particularly insects; evolution of insect mouthparts; fossil insect diversity; the evolutionary development of insects.
PYENSON, Nicholas, Research Geologist and Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals. B.S. (2002) Emory University; Ph.D. (2008) University of California, Berkeley. Research specialties: Marine mammals; marine tetrapods.
SUES, Hans-Dieter, Senior Research Geologist and Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology. Cand. geol. (1975), Johannes Gutenberg-Universität; M.S. (1977), University of Alberta; M.A. (1978), Ph.D. (1984), Harvard University. Research specialties: Phylogeny and evolutionary morphology of late Paleozoic and Mesozoic non-mammalian synapsids and reptiles (especially non-avian archosaurs); patterns and causes of early Mesozoic biotic changes.
WAGNER, Peter, Curator of Paleozoic Mollusca. B.S. (1986) University of Michigan; B.S. (1989), M.S. (1990) Michigan State University; Ph.D. (1995) University of Chicago. Research specialties: Systematics of Paleozoic molluscs; phylogenetic methodology; rates and trends of morphological evolution; abundance distributions.
WING, Scott L., Research Paleobiologist and Curator of Paleobotany. B.A. (1976), Ph.D. (1981) Yale University. Research specialties: Paleoecology; Cenozoic and Mesozoic paleoclimate; angiosperm history and systematics; fossil plants of the Rocky Mountain region; plant taphonomy.
AFFILIATED RESEARCH STAFF
BAMBACH, Richard, Research Associate. B.A. (1957) Johns Hopkins University; M.A. (1964) Yale University; Ph.D. (1969) Yale University. Research specialties: Community paleoecology, diversity, and diversity change through time; Paleozoic bivalva mollusks; paleogeography and paleobiogeography; interpretation of depositional environments; macroevolution.
BUZAS, Martin A., Curator of Foraminifera Emeritus. B.A. (1958) University of Connecticut; M.S. (1960) Brown University; Ph.D. (1963) Yale University. Research specialties: Foraminifera; quantitative ecology-paleoecology; biogeography; evolution.
EMRY, Robert J., Curator Emeritus. B.A. (1966) Colorado State University; Ph. D. (1970) Columbia University. Research specialties: Tertiary Mammalia of North America and Central Asia; mammalian evolution and dispersal; biostratigraphy; stratigraphy of Tertiary continental deposits of western North America.
FRENCH, Bevan M., Research Associate. A.B. (1958) Dartmouth College; M.S. (1960) California Institute of Technology; Ph.D. (1964) Johns Hopkins University. Research specialties: Geology of terrestrial meteorite craters: formation, identification, and geological and biological effects; identification of unique impact-produced shock-wave effects in minerals and rocks; impact debris in the terrestrial sedimentary record and at major extinction boundaries.
GREENWALT, Dale, Research Associate. B.A. (1971) University of Minnesota; M.A. (1976) Bemidji State University; Ph.D. (1981) Iowa State University. Research specialities: Paleogene insect faunas of North America, particularly those of the Kishenehn and Green River Formations; organic geochemistry.
JACKSON, Jeremy, Senior Adjunct Scientist. B.A (1965) George Washington University; M.A. (1968) George Washington University; Ph.D. (1971) Yale University. Research specialties: Ecology and evolution of marine invertebrates; human impacts on tropical marine communities.
JOHNSON, Kirk. Sant Director. A.B. (1982) Amherst College; M.S. (1985) University of Pennsylvania; Ph.D. (1989) Yale University. Research specialties: Cretaceous-Paleogene; paleobotany, stratigraphy, geochemistry.
LYONS, Kate, Research Paleontologist. B.S. (1991) Wayland Baptist University; M.S. (1994) Texas Tech University; Ph.D. (2001) University of Chicago. Research specialties: Species and community level responses to climate change; extinction risk; macroecological patterns across space and time; macroevolutionary dynamics of mammals; biases in the mammalian fossil record; latitudinal gradients in species richness.
MACINTYRE, Ian G., Research Geologist Emeritus. B.S. (1957) Queen’s University; Ph.D. (1967) McGill University. Research specialties: Carbonate petrography; geological aspects of tropical coral-reef ecosystems; Holocene reef history in the western Atlantic and Eastern Pacific; shallow-water marine geology of the U.S. continental shelf; problems in submarine cementation.
POJETA, JR., John, Research Associate (U.S. Geological Survey, retired). B.S. (1957) Capital University; M.S. (1961), Ph.D. (1963) University of Cincinnati. Research specialties: Lower Paleozoic pelecypods, and rostroconchs; biostratigraphy, systematics and phylogeny of Paleozoic chitons.
SANTIAGO-BLAY, Jorge, Research Associate. B.S. (1979) University of Puerto Rico; M.S. (1985) University of Puerto Rico; Ph.D. (1990) University of California, Berkeley. Research specialties: Fossil insects.
TOSCANO, Marguerite, Research Associate. B.S. (1982) Long Island University; M.S. (1986), University of Delaware; Ph.D. (1996) University of South Florida. Research specialties: Quaternary coastal stratigraphy (siliclastic and carbonate); multi-proxy reconstructions of late Quaternary sea-level change; Pleistocene and Holocene coral reef histories, geochronology, paleoclimate, and sea level interpretations.
TYLER, James C., Senior Scientist Emeritus. B.A. (1957) George Washington University; Ph.D. (1962) Stanford University. Research specialties: Systematic ichthyology, especially Tetraodontiformes; community ecology of coral reef fishes.
WALLER, Thomas R., Curator Emeritus. B.A. (1959), M.S. (1961) University of Wisconsin; Ph.D. (1966) Columbia University. Research specialties: Marine Bivalvia, particularly evolution throughout the Phanerozoic, morphology, shell ultrastructure, larval development, biogeography, and biostratigraphy; monographic studies of living bivalves and their Mesozoic and Cenozoic fossil record.