The Jackson School's paleontology program is distinguished by its diverse and active faculty, modern equipment, and extensive reference collection. It has perennially been considered one of the top paleontology programs in the nation.

Paleontological research at the Jackson School is motivated by several overarching questions: What were the causes and mechanisms for change in major lineages represented in the fossil record? What is the evolutionary history of lineages such as echinoderms, reptiles, and mammals? How can we use the fossil record and phylogenetic hypotheses to test current theories, and make predictions about potential consequences of current global-change phenomena?

Vertebrate paleontologists in the Jackson School focus on the evolutionary morphology of vertebrates, evolutionary ecology (recent and ancient), phylogenetic systematics, and the evolution of development. A major tool in this work is a high resolution computer-aided tomography scanner for 3D imaging of fossil vertebrates.

Invertebrate paleontologists in the Jackson School focus on the development of early Paleozoic echinoderms. This includes trying to determine the origin, early evolutionary history, paleoecology and closest relatives of the earliest crinoids in the Early Ordovician based on new collections from the Rocky Mountains. Researchers are also looking at the expansion of all types of echinoderms during the Cambrian Explosion and the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event.

There is also interest among the School's invertebrate paleontologists in relationships between organisms over time, especially within reef environments. Rudists, a type of extinct bivalve important in reef environments, are a particular focus of interest. Researchers explore the connections between changes in major reef-building organisms through time to better understand how conditions in the global ocean changed. Because they provide a unique long term perspective, the University's extensive fossil collections are used by researchers to relate ancient to modern climate changes.

Faculty & Research Scientists


Christopher J BellChristopher J Bell
Vertebrate paleontology, North American Pliocene and Pleistocene small mammal biostratigraphy and biochronology, osteology, anatomy, and systematics of squamate reptiles and turtles, Impacts of climate change on vertebrate communities
Philip C BennettPhilip C Bennett
Aqueous geochemistry, geomicrobiology, environmental and microbial geochemistry, hydrogeology
Julia A ClarkeJulia A Clarke
Vertebrate paleontology, systematics, evolution of morphology, avian anatomy and the evolution of flight, fossil birds.
Matthew W ColbertMatthew W Colbert
Paleontology, CT data visualization, vertebrate cranial morphology, evolutionary and postnatal ontogenetic variation in the Tapiroidea (Mammalia: Perissodactyla), ontogenetic sequence analysis, digital educational resources
Robert L FolkRobert L Folk
Sedimentary Petrology. studying mineralogy and nannobiology of hot springs in Italy, the role of nannobacteria in creating carbonate rocks. work on cherts, opals, sulfides of iron and other metals, and metal oxides, nannobacteria in martian meteorites and weathering of igneous rocks by nannobacteria under a variety of conditions in Tahiti, West Texas, and Lombardia, Italy.
Rowan  MartindaleRowan Martindale
Triassic and Jurassic reef paleoecology, mass extinctions (Triassic-Jurassic, 201 Ma), carbon cycle perturbation events in deep time, ocean acidification in deep time, invertebrate paleontology (corals, sponges, algae, microbes), Mesozoic marine communities and ecosystems, paleoecology, carbonate petrography, warm-water and cool-water carbonate (eco)systems, low-temperature geochemistry.
Kitty L MillikenKitty L Milliken
Petrography and geochemistry of siliciclastic rocks; diagenesis; electron microbeam methods: X-ray mapping, cathodoluminescence imaging; micro-scale reservoir characterization
Christopher R OmelonChristopher R Omelon
Bacteria-mineral interactions; microbial biosignatures; polar and desert environments; cyanobacteria; electron microscopy; synchrotron radiation.
Timothy B RoweTimothy B Rowe
Vertebrate paleontology, evolution and development of the vertebrate skeleton, phylogenetic systematics, the early history of mammals and their extinct relatives among Synapsida, the history of birds and their extinct relatives among Dinosauria, the history of other amniotes, high-resolution X-ray computed tomography, CT scanner, DigiMorph, informatics
James T SprinkleJames T Sprinkle
Invertebrate paleontology; evolutionary biology; fossil and living echinoderms; echinoderm systematics; Paleozoic marine communities and ecosystems; paleoecology; crinoids; blastoids; rhombiferans; eocrinoids; parablastoids; blastozoans; edrioasteroids; edrioblastoids; starfish; stylophorans; ctenocystoids; helicoplacoids; Cambrian evolutionary fauna; Paleozoic evolutionary fauna; Ordovician radiation; Cambrian explosion; environment & earth science

Postdoctoral Researchers


Ryan McKenzieRyan McKenzie
I am broadly interested in Earth surface system evolution, thus my research focuses on sedimentary geology, geochemistry, and paleontology. My field-based projects utilize integrative methods that include detrital zircon geochronology and provenance, carbonate isotope geochemistry, paleontology and biostratigraphy.
Jakob  VintherJakob Vinther

Research Staff



Graduate Students


Benjamin T BreedenBenjamin T Breeden
I am interested in: the early evolution of archosaurs, particularly of armored dinosaurs; terrestrial faunal change across the Triassic-Jurassic Boundary on the Colorado Plateau; the correlation of the Triassic-Jurassic Boundary between the terrestrial and marine realms using stable isotopes.
Laura  BrenskelleLaura Brenskelle
My research interests focus on the use of digital technology to expand natural history museum practices and improve scientific infrastructure in the natural sciences. This includes scientific data management, modern specimen preparation and conservation, and mechanical and digital fossil preparation.
Robert W BurroughsRobert W Burroughs
I am an evolutionary paleobiologist. I am broadly interested in evaluating macroevolutionary patterns found in extant clades and their underlying mechanisms. A focus on macroevolution, necessarily requires an in-depth and critical understanding of the fossil record of extant groups. My research focuses on modes of evolution, speciation, and biogeographic distributions of taxa. At present, I am evaluating Bayesian statistical methods for, reconstructing phylogeny, understanding mosaic evolution, and evaluating the impact of systematic bias in conducting ...
Lauren English
My research interests primarily revolve around the use of computational methods to evaluate morphology in extinct vertebrates and how it relates to mechanical and ecological function as well as broad-scale evolutionary trends. All taxonomic groups are potentially of interest to me, though I am particularly drawn to animals with unusual morphologies that were very different from any living taxa. I am also rather interested in morphological changes associated with major evolutionary transitions, such as evolving ...
Felicia  KulpFelicia Kulp
Zhiheng Li
My research interests center on the morphological evolution of birds, from Mesozoic birds to living birds. I am working on a number of well-preserved early Cretaceous and Miocene birds from China. By comparing these extinct birds with their living counterparts, I am also looking into their feeding adaptation and ecology, trying to figure out the role of specific dietary preferences in driving bird evolution.
Joshua Lively
Adam D MarshAdam D Marsh
Anatomy and evolutionary history of early saurischian dinosaurs. Stratigraphy and geochronology of the Glen Canyon Group of the Colorado Plateau.
Zachary S Morris
I am broadly interested in how development of organisms has evolved through time. I am researching the role that changes to development and developmental variation have in facilitating or limiting evolution in vertebrates. By understanding how organisms develop we can better understand the processes by which evolutionary novelties actually evolve.
James V ProffittJames V Proffitt
My current research focuses on vertebrate evolutionary morphology and systematics, particularly in the modern avian clade. More broadly, I am interested in the patterns of morphological and ecological disparity in vertebrates, and how fossils can inform our understanding of the processes and circumstances that generated this disparity. Secondarily, I have a strong interest in locomotor biomechanics and physiology of living species of vertebrates, particularly birds. I am also interested in comparative phylogenetic methods and their ...
Rachel V Simon
Rachel Simon is interest in the evolution of mammals. For her thesis, she is describing the skull of the long-beaked echidna and writing a diagnosis for Monotremata, Ornithorhynchidae, and Tachyglossidae using parsimony analysis. Rachel would like to continue to her PhD, following up on the evolutionary history of montremes or studying the evolution of mammalian sensory systems.
Michelle StockerMichelle Stocker
I am a vertebrate paleontologist who examines questions about the evolution of tetrapods within an explicitly phylogenetic framework. I have interests in comparative anatomy and osteology of tetrapods, biostratigraphy and biochronology, and macroevolution. I am interested in how a cladistic framework modifies our secondary inferences, such as the use of vertebrates for biochronology or our understanding of paleobiogeographic patterns, in the fossil record. I explore the acquisition of the modern fauna through extinction and diversification ...
Natasha S VitekNatasha S Vitek
I am broadly interested in spatiotemporal variation and its influence on evolutionary processes. At UT, my thesis research focuses on how well different factors explain variation in the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) both now and in the Pleistocene. I've done additional research into the systematics of extinct soft-shelled turtles (Trionychidae) and the taphonomy of extraordinarily well-preserved feathers.
Travis Z Wicks
Undergraduate and Graduate Opportunities (Graduate or Undergraduate)
I regularly work with from 2-5 undergraduates and am open to co-advised honors theses and other. I feel undergraduate research is one of the most important aspects of undergraduate education. I will be accepting several graduate students over the next two years (I average from 2-5 total). I am particularly interested in PhD students with prior experience in systematic methods, an interest in phylogenetic or anatomical (evolution of morphology) questions concerning the evolution of birds. I am also interested in highly motivated MS candidates with an interest in studying avian evolution. Although I have advised theses on non-avialan dinosaurs in past years, given current funded research projects, I am presently interested in advising students interested in working on birds (origin and evolution of). Please feel free to contact me via email with any questions.
Posted by: Julia Clarke

 
Analytical Lab for Paleoclimate StudiesAnalytical Lab for Paleoclimate Studies
The Jackson School of Geosciences now has four stable isotope laboratories. UTIG Director and DGS faculty member Terry Quinn supervises one of these labs: ALPS. The ALPS houses two, state-of-the-science, Thermo isotope ratio mass spectrometers and an Inductively Coupled Plasma-spectrometer (ICP).
Aqueous Geochemistry Lab
Characterizes the chemical properties of water and solids to support research in hydrogeology, geochemistry, and geomicrobiology. Equipment used: carbon analyzer (TC), Organic analysis Field and laboratory gas chromatographs, thermal desorber, high pressure liquid chromatographs, Inorganic analyses Ion chromatograph, autotitrator, field and lab spectrophotometers. BET sorptometer for N2, Ar, and Kr BET surface areas, and A microporosities, organic carbon analyzer.
Digital Morphology LibraryDigital Morphology Library
The Digital Morphology library (www.digimorph.org) is a National Science Foundation-funded initiative offering 2D and 3D visualizations of the internal and external structure of living and extinct vertebrates, and a growing number of non-vertebrates. Images are generated using the world's first high-resolution X-ray CT scanner in an academic science department, in the CT lab at the Jackson School.
Geomicrobiology LaboratoriesGeomicrobiology Laboratories
Facilities for culturing and characterizing aerobic and anaerobic prokaryotes (Eubacteria and Archaeabacteria) using a Coy anaerobic chamber (H2/N2 atmosphere), Constant temperature water baths, autoclave, incubator, horizontal and vertical gel rigs, refrigerated centrifuge, UV light box, Thermalcycler, phase-contrast and fluorescent microscope. HPLC and GC facilities for degradation studies.
High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography FacilityHigh-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility
Provides high resolution non-destructive, density maps of solid samples (rocks, fossils, etc) up to a maximum size of 50 cm diameter by 150 cm high (50 kg mass). Equipment: An industrial CT scanner that is an adaptation of medical CAT scanners.
HR-ICP Mass Spectrometers
Equipment available: Thermo Element2 HR-ICP-MS with ESI autosampler system for solutions; and Thermo Element2 HR-ICP-MS with Photonmachines Analyte G2 Excimer laser ablation system.
Non-vertebrate Paleontology LabNon-vertebrate Paleontology Lab
NPL, part of the Texas Natural Science Center, was created in 1999 as an answer to the increasing conservation and curation issues developing with the huge increase in collection size. Collections placed in the care of TNSC mainly were derived from research at the BEG, the UTDGS and the Museum (TMM) itself. Other material came from orphaned collections within Texas. Numerous other collections have been contributed as donations. Although an exact count has never been made, the collection is estimated to contain about 4 million.
Paleomagnetic LabPaleomagnetic Lab
There are several aspects to our laboratory that make it different from others. One is our automatic handler system created at California Institute of Technology and adapted for our needs. Scientists and students can keep up with changes to our system by keeping in touch with the other 6 similar systems in the world and RAPID Consortium at http://rapid.gps.caltech.edu/. It also includes a cryogenic magnetometer and portable magnetic susceptibility meter (TerraPlus KT-10 Plus).
Skeleton Preparation FacilitySkeleton Preparation Facility
Located at the VPL Annex on the Pickle Research Campus, the Skeleton Preparation Facility is used to transform fleshy carcasses of modern animals such as birds, mammals and reptiles into clean skeletons for comparison with paleontological specimens.
Vertebrate Paleontology LabVertebrate Paleontology Lab
The Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory (VPL) is known worldwide as a major repository for unique scientific collections from the American Southwest. VPL was founded in 1948 by John A. Wilson, Emeritus Professor of Geology at The University of Texas at Austin. Today, VPL is the principal repository for vertebrate fossils collected from state and federal lands in Texas and contiguous areas, as well as for specimens collected elsewhere using state and federal funds. The fossil vertebrate holdings of VPL rank among the seven largest in North America.
High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility
The High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility at The University of Texas at Austin (UTCT) is a national shared multi-user facility supported by the Instrumentation and Facilities Program of NSF's Earth Sciences (EAR) directorate. UTCT offers scientific researchers across the earth, biological and engineering sciences access to a completely nondestructive technique for visualizing features in the interior of opaque solid objects, and for obtaining digital information on their 3D geometries and properties.
Non-vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory
NPL was created in 1999 as an answer to the increasing conservation and curation issues developing with the huge increase in collection size. Collections placed in the care of TNSC mainly were derived from research at the BEG, the UTDGS and the Museum (TMM) itself. Other material came from orphaned collections within Texas. Numerous other collections have been contributed as donations. Although an exact count has never been made, the collection is estimated to contain about 4 million specimens.
Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory
The mission of the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory is three-fold, involving research, conservation, and education pertaining to the history of vertebrates. In particular, VPL focuses on the history of vertebrates in Texas and adjacent regions, but much broader studies are also conducted to establish a national and global context for Texas vertebrate history.


Affiliated UT Programs & Centers

Environmental Science Institute
The Environmental Science Institute is a multi-disciplinary institute for basic scientific research in environmental studies founded by The University of Texas at Austin. The Institute serves as a focal point on campus for a wide scope of interdisciplinary research and teaching involving the complex interactions of the biosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere in the Earth system, as well as the human dimensions of these interactions.


Collecting depth profiles at the Poza Verde Posted by Marcus Gary

Photos of research of the Sistema Zacaton karst area

Collecting depth profiles at the Poza VerdeStaging for a dive at CaracolDEPTHX being lowered into El Zacaton.Sheck Exley and Jim Bowden after discovering Zacaton was deep.Camping area at La Pilita.Deploying a decompression system for dive exploration.Aerial view of El Zacaton (left) and the resurgence of Nacimiento.Poza Verde with the Miocene granitic peak of Granadillas in the background.Floating islands are called El ZacatonEl Zacaton

 

Field Team 2012 summer field season. From left to right: Dolores van der Kolk, Andrea Miller, Peter Flaig, Doug Hissom, Steve Hasiotis. Posted by Peter P Flaig

Photo set includes images of fieldwork done on the North Slope of Alaska from 2005-2013

Field Team 2012 summer field season. From left to right: Dolores van der Kolk, Andrea Miller, Peter Flaig, Doug Hissom, Steve Hasiotis. Preparing to boat to work, summer 2012.Small aircraft put in, Shivugak Bluffs Alaska 2012.Cretaceous meandering channels and floodplain facies of the Prince Creek Formation, North Slope - Alaska.Cook tent and fall tundra colors, Colville River, North Slope - Alaska.Alaskan dinosaur Pachyrhinosaurus Perotorum skulls and bones loaded into a Cessna Caravan and ready for shipment to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas - Texas.Pachyrhinosaurus Perotorum skull from the previous photo prepared and on display at the  Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas - Texas.It's a rough job, but someone has to do it :) Boating the Colville River during fieldwork in 2006.The Cretaceous coastal plain of Arctic Alaska, Colville River, North Slope - AlaskaBoating the Colville River in a sandstorm.