Research

From the Core to the Cosmos

Paleontology/Geobiology

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
Matthew A BrownMatthew A Brown
Brown's primary research goal is to develop a more thorough understanding of how past and future treatments affect specimens as sources of data, and the impact these treatments have on the science of paleontology. This approach examines how historic and current practices in the field, laboratory, and collections interplay, and how the scientific community interprets these results in the literature. He also studies how such events foster an evolution of best practices, policy, and law, ...
Julia A ClarkeJulia A Clarke
Evolution of morphology, vertebrate paleontology, systematic biology, avian anatomy and the evolution of flight, fossil birds. Dinosaurs.
Rowan C MartindaleRowan C Martindale
Triassic and Jurassic reef paleoecology, mass extinctions (Triassic-Jurassic, 201 Ma), carbon cycle perturbation events in deep time, ocean acidification in deep time, Oceanic Anoxic Events, invertebrate paleontology (corals, sponges, algae, microbes), Mesozoic marine communities and ecosystems, exceptional fossil preservation (Lagerstätten), paleoecology, carbonate petrography, warm-water and cool-water carbonate (eco)systems, low-temperature geochemistry.
Steven May
Kitty L MillikenKitty L Milliken
Petrography and geochemistry of siliciclastic rocks; diagenesis; electron microbeam methods: X-ray mapping, cathodoluminescence imaging; micro-scale reservoir characterization
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

Postdoctoral Researchers

William  FosterWilliam Foster
Palaeoecology; Palaeontology
Federico Galster
Tectonic; Geochronology, Stratigraphy, Biochronology
Christopher  LoweryChristopher Lowery
Micropaleontology, Stratigraphy, Paleoceanography, Geochemistry

Adjunct/Emeritus Faculty​ & Research Scientists

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.
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

Research Staff

Kenneth Bader
Fossil Preparation Osteological Preparation Forensic Entomology
Lisa D Boucher
Paleobotany, Evolutionary Biology, Paleoecology, Biogeography, Plant Anatomy
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.

Graduate Students

Hannah Brame
Benjamin T BreedenBenjamin T Breeden
Sarah N Davis
Abdulah  EljalafiAbdulah Eljalafi
Abdulah s research focuses on understanding depositional and stratigraphic processes of carbonate platforms. His research focuses on deciphering the architectural relationships of mid Cretaceous carbonate platforms in mexico from a depositional standpoint based on field mapping. Other Interests include microbialite morphology, field stratigraphy, and invertebrate paleontology.
Lauren English
Nicholas Ettinger
My research focuses on carbonate systems of the Lower Jurassic, in which I aim to document sedimentological and geochemical changes between the Pliensbachian and Toarcian. We predict changes in the early Toarcian to be apparent as a result of the Toarcian Ocean Anoxic Event. Through studying these systems in the Dinaric and Adriatic platforms of the Paleo-Tethys Ocean, I endeavour to draw analogies to other Lower Jurassic conjugate margin platforms that are not as accessible.
Kelly  HattoriKelly Hattori
I am a master's student in the Martindale lab. I obtained my undergraduate degrees in Geology and Marine Biology from the University of North Carolina Wilmington with a strong focus in paleontology and ecology. My research interests range broadly and include Mesozoic coral reef paleoecology, Pleistocene mollusk paleoecology, Eocene lacustrine taphonomy, and digitization techniques for museum collections. Here at UT, I will be focusing on coral reef paleoecology and transitions in reef community composition in ...
Erin M Keenan EarlyErin M Keenan Early
My research focuses on using ZooMS (zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry) to improve species identification in North America, with an eye to increasing understanding of paleoenvironment during the Pleistocene and early Holocene. This research includes building a North American ZooMS database and exploring ways to improve collagen extraction.
Joshua LivelyJoshua Lively
Ian H Moede
James V ProffittJames V Proffitt
My current research focuses on vertebrate evolutionary morphology and systematics, particularly in the modern birds and their extinct relatives. Specifically, 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 and how these behaviors evolve. I am also interested in ...
Simon  ScarpettaSimon Scarpetta
I study biogeography and systematics of Miocene lizards in North America, phylogenetics of extant gerrhonotine and iguanian lizards, and all things anole. My main research interests are 1) how and whether climate drives cladogenesis and biogeographic shifts 2) integration of molecular and fossil data in phylogenetics 3) assessing different methods for identifying fossils and 4) field biology. I use fossils, molecular data, high-resolution computed tomography, and field biology in my research.
Rachel V Wallace
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.
Anna M WeissAnna M Weiss
I am a PhD candidate in the Martindale lab. I received my undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Geology from Stony Brook University in 2013. My research interests are broad and include the consequences of climate change for biotic communities, the evolution of keystone species, and the use of databases, statistical analyses, and models in paleoecology. At UT, I focus on the impacts of temperature, nutrients, and other environmental stressors on corals during a carbon-cycle perturbation event ...
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

PhD Student (Graduate)
I am accepting applications for a new PhD Student in my lab. This student must be interested in paleontological or carbonate sedimentology research (both would be best), and should be aware of the current/recent projects in the Martindale Lab. Exceptional MSc students will be considered, but preference is for a doctoral student (prior research experience at the undergraduate or MSc level is desired).
Posted by: Rowan Martindale

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.
Posted by Marcus Gary
Photos of research of the Sistema Zacaton karst area Posted by Peter P Flaig
Photo set includes images of fieldwork done on the North Slope of Alaska from 2005-2013