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

Christopher J Bell

Christopher 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 Bennett

Philip C Bennett

Aqueous geochemistry, geomicrobiology, environmental and microbial geochemistry, hydrogeology
Julia A Clarke

Julia A Clarke

Evolution of morphology, vertebrate paleontology, systematic biology, avian anatomy and the evolution of flight, fossil birds. Dinosaurs.
Charles  Kerans

Charles Kerans

Carbonate sequence stratigraphy, depositional systems, reservoir characterization, basin analysis, seismic interpretation, seismic stratigraphy, paleokarst analysis, carbonate diagenesis
Rowan C Martindale

Rowan 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 ...
Timothy B Rowe

Timothy 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

Lecturers

Christopher  Lowery

Christopher Lowery

Micropaleontology, Stratigraphy, Paleoceanography, Geochemistry

Research Scientists

Kitty L Milliken

Kitty L Milliken

Petrography and geochemistry of siliciclastic rocks; diagenesis; electron microbeam methods: X-ray mapping, cathodoluminescence imaging; micro-scale reservoir characterization
Cornelia  Rasmussen

Cornelia Rasmussen

Paleoecology, geobiology, geochemistry, geochronology, sedimentology

Research Staff

Kenneth Bader

Fossil Preparation Osteological Preparation Forensic Entomology
Lisa D Boucher

Lisa D Boucher

Paleobotany, Evolutionary Biology, Paleoecology, Biogeography, Plant Anatomy
Matthew W Colbert

Matthew 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

Sara Elliott

Kelly  Hattori

Kelly Hattori

Carbonate sedimentology and stratigraphy, sequence stratigraphy, mixed carbonate-siliciclastic systems, salt-sediment interactions, reefs, ocean anoxic events and effect on carbonate deposition
Christopher  Lowery

Christopher Lowery

Micropaleontology, Stratigraphy, Paleoceanography, Geochemistry

Graduate Students

Emily Bamber

I am a PhD student in the Planetary Surface Processes lab My current research addresses the past evolution of impact crater lakes on Mars, Earth, and elsewhere with fieldwork, satellite observations and landscape modelling.
Sarah N Davis

Sarah N Davis

I study avian evolution and drivers of avian diversity both in the present and deep time. My research focuses on how the expression of bright coloration changes across modern birds and how physical aspects of integument structure change with different pigmentation.
Abdulah  Eljalafi

Abdulah 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.
Hector K Garza

Hector K Garza

My research interests encompass a broad range of approaches incorporating geochemistry, geochronology, paleontology, stratigraphy, and sedimentology to understand major geologic and evolutionary events in Earth's history. Currently, I am researching the precise timing of early land colonization during the Ordovician, Silurian, and Devonian periods. I am also investigating the potential ...

Erin M Keenan Early

My research explores the use of geomolecular and biomolecular methodologies to address paleoenvironmental and paleoecological questions. Specifically I am researching the use of proteomics as applied to faunal material as a means of species identification and I am exploring the applications of brGDGTs recovered from various sources to aid in ...
William  Reyes

William Reyes

Generally, I am interested in the macroevolutionary processes that determine how terrestrial vertebrates have responded to periods of climatic fluctuations in earth's history. My research is focused on increasing our understanding of the endocranial morphology, paleoneurology, and paleoecology of Late Triassic pseudosuchians (crocodilian-relatives), particularly that of aetosaurs from North America. ...
Sinjini Sinha

Sinjini Sinha

Sinjini Sinha is a Ph.D. candidate in the Martindale lab. Her doctoral research is about assessing the impacts of environmental changes on Early Jurassic exceptional preservation, extinction, and recovery. She uses Scanning Electron Microscopy and Energy Dispersive X-Ray spectroscopy to investigate the taphonomy of Lagerstätten deposits from the ...
Stacie  Skwarcan

Stacie Skwarcan

Patty  Standring

Patty Standring

Co-advised by Dr. Chris Lowery and Dr. Rowan Martindale for PhD. Current research is focused on deep ocean current changes in the southern Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the western Atlantic around the Eocene-Oligocene Transition (EOT) using stable isotopes from benthic foraminifera, and determining how these changes may ...
Travis N Stone

Travis N Stone

Travis Stone is a first year PhD student working in the Martindale lab. He received his B.S. in Geological Sciences in 2018 from California State University, Fullerton, where he studied Triassic reefs and their recovery following the End-Permian mass extinction in the Panthalassic Ocean. Travis is interested in ecosystem reconstruction ...
Claire  Williams

Claire Williams

Claire Williams is a PhD student at the Jackson School of Geosciences. She has a B.S. in Geology and in Integrative Biology and a minor in Chemistry from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She is a biologist turned paleobiologist interested in conservation paleobiology. Besides research, she is interested in ...
Charlie (Yu-Chen)  Zheng

Charlie (Yu-Chen) Zheng

MSc or PhD Student

Graduate
Our team is almost always interested in recruiting new graduate students who are interested in paleoecology, marine communities, carbonate sedimentology, and/or geobiology.
Posted by: Rowan Martindale

Undergraduate Research: Inclusive Geoscience Education and Research Environmental Reconstruction in Holocene Estuaries on the Modern Texas Continental Shelf

Graduate - 1 year
Sea level rise is one of the most pressing impacts of climate change facing coastal communities. A variety of mitigation efforts on the local and regional level (beach nourishment, marsh restoration, coastal barriers, etc.) can provide some measure of protection for coastal communities. These large engineering projects require huge quantities of sand to complete, and sand is not as common on the seafloor as you might expect. On northern Texas shelf, offshore Galveston Bay, a few sand banks exist, but much more material is buried in drowned river valleys, which were carved by rivers when sea level was ~120 meters lower and dry land extended all the way to the edge of the continental shelf. These rivers deposited sand in point bars, which were then buried in estuarine mud as sea level rose and the river valley became a bay. Sand was also deposited in this estuary as bay head deltas, flood tide deltas, and over wash fans. UT is currently involved in an extensive project to find and map (using seismic surveying and sediment cores) the extent of Holocene sand deposits in the Trinity and Sabine river valleys offshore modern Galveston Bay. For this project, the REU student will conduct grain size analysis on sediment cores collected offshore Galveston Bay to determine the overall sedimentology and stratigraphy of these environments. This student will also use marine microfossils (benthic foraminifera) to determine the depositional environment of the muds deposited in between the sand deposits to determine the overall environmental evolution of the Holocene estuary system. This work will help identify sand resources for future coastal protection projects in the Galveston area. This work will also help reconstruct the history of the Holocene estuary and barrier island system; understanding how ancient barrier island systems responded to different rates of sea level rise during the Holocene can help constrain how barrier islands will respond to similar rates of sea level rise today. This project will involve work on a Malvern Mastersizer laser grain size analyzer, managing grain size datasets, and microfossil picking on a microscope. Prior experience with any of these things is not required. Apply through the Champions of Diversity website: https://jsg-gen.squarespace.com/mentee-application
Posted by: Christopher Lowery

Environmental Reconstruction in Holocene Estuaries on the Modern Texas Continental Shelf

Undergraduate - 1 year
Sea level rise is one of the most pressing impacts of climate change facing coastal communities. A variety of mitigation efforts on the local and regional level (beach nourishment, marsh restoration, coastal barriers, etc.) can provide some measure of protection for coastal communities. These large engineering projects require huge quantities of sand to complete, and sand is not as common on the seafloor as you might expect. On northern Texas shelf, offshore Galveston Bay, a few sand banks exist, but much more material is buried in drowned river valleys, which were carved by rivers when sea level was ~120 meters lower and dry land extended all the way to the edge of the continental shelf. These rivers deposited sand in point bars, which were then buried in estuarine mud as sea level rose and the river valley became a bay. Sand was also deposited in this estuary as bay head deltas, flood tide deltas, and over wash fans. UT is currently involved in an extensive project to find and map (using seismic surveying and sediment cores) the extent of Holocene sand deposits in the Trinity and Sabine river valleys offshore modern Galveston Bay. For this project, the REU student will conduct grain size analysis on sediment cores collected offshore Galveston Bay to determine the overall sedimentology and stratigraphy of these environments. This student will also use marine microfossils (benthic foraminifera) to determine the depositional environment of the muds deposited in between the sand deposits to determine the overall environmental evolution of the Holocene estuary system. This work will help identify sand resources for future coastal protection projects in the Galveston area. This work will also help reconstruct the history of the Holocene estuary and barrier island system; understanding how ancient barrier island systems responded to different rates of sea level rise during the Holocene can help constrain how barrier islands will respond to similar rates of sea level rise today. This project will involve work on a Malvern Mastersizer laser grain size analyzer, managing grain size datasets, and microfossil picking on a microscope. Prior experience with any of these things is not required. Apply through the Champions of Diversity website: https://jsg-gen.squarespace.com/mentee-application
Posted by: Christopher Lowery

Research Triassic vertebrates (Paleontology)

Undergraduate
Undergraduates interested in Triassic vertebrates of Texas and the Colorado Plateau!! Get involved with new research including digital segmentation of CT-scanned specimens from Petrified Forest National Park and the University of Texas Vertebrate Paleontology Collections, preparation of vertebrate fossils collected by the WPA in the early 1900s, and photographic documentation of those materials. Opportunities exist for students to develop independent research related to the main questions associated with this project. Projects begin in the Fall, 2022 semester. Interested students should contact Will Reyes (will_reyes@utexas.edu) and Chris Bell (cjbell@jsg.utexas.edu).
Posted by: Christopher Bell

Research Phillips Cave fossils (Paleontology)

Undergraduate
Dedicated, enthusiastic undergraduate student(s) sought to help work on fossils from Phillips Cave in Crockett County, Texas. Student(s) will help with screen-washing, sorting, identifying, and curating vertebrate fossils from Ice-Age sediments in the cave. Students will learn aspects of the anatomy of the vertebrate skeleton as they contribute to broadening our understanding of vertebrate paleobiogeography on the Edwards Plateau. The project is under way and volunteers can be brought on board immediately. Interested students should contact Stacie Skwarcan (sskwarca@utexas.edu) and Chris Bell (cjbell@jsg.utexas.edu).
Posted by: Christopher Bell

Research Inner-Space Cavern fossils (Paleontology)

Undergraduate
Dedicated, enthusiastic undergraduate student(s) sought to help work on fossils from Inner Space Cavern in Williamson County, Texas. Student(s) will help with screen-washing, sorting, identifying, and curating vertebrate fossils from Ice-Age sediments in the cave. Students will learn aspects of the anatomy of the vertebrate skeleton as they contribute to studying patterns of vertebrate diversity through time in the context of climate change. Potential opportunities exist for motivated students to pursue independent supervised research related to the main questions associated with this project. Projects begin in the Fall, 2022 semester. Interested students should contact John Moretti (jamoretti@utexas.edu) and Chris Bell (cjbell@jsg.utexas.edu).
Posted by: Christopher Bell

Center for Planetary Systems Habitability

The Center for Planetary Systems Habitability is an interdisciplinary research center at UT and is the result of a partnership between the Jackson School, the College of Natural Sciences, and the Cockrell School of Engineering. The center advances our ability to search for life on other planets by collaborating on research that helps better understand where habitable zones develop and how they evolve within planetary systems.

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