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Paleobiology @ Tufts

Noel A. Heim, Ph.D.

I am primarily interested in the evolution of marine organisms, ecosystems, and environments. My work seeks to understand both the patterns and processes that have been shaping and reshaping our ocean ecosystems over the past 700 million years. This includes quantifying evolutionary trends, interrogating the evolutionary history of body size, measuring the ecological impact of extinction, and evaluating extinction threat in modern species.

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Noel Heim, Ph.D.


If you are intersted in joining the team, please email Dr. Heim at noel [dot] heim [at] tufts [dot] edu.
Please note that research opportunities are only available for current Tufts undergraduates.



Stephanie Lechki

Currently a Ph.D. Student at the University of Oxford


Shell Beds, New Brighton State Beach

Principles of Paleontology

ECS 38

This course surveys the key patterns in the evolution of life across Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history and interprets these patterns in light of theories and evidence from geology, paleontology, geochemistry, and ecology. Labs introduce students to the taxonomy, morphology, and paleoecology of major fossil groups, with an emphasis on marine invertebrates. An overnight field trip gives students a chance to practice field methods common in paleontology. This course will give students the tools the need to address research questions in paleontology using data from the fossil record.

Lake Michigan Zebra Mussels

Mass Extinctions: The Past, Present & Future of Biodiversity

ECS 15

The history of Earth's biodiversity is punctuated by intervals of geologically rapid species loss, so-called mass extinctions. Mass extinctions have had a profound impact on biodiversity trends and the structure of today's biosphere. In this seminar-style course, we will explore the historical development mass extinctions as a concept, the causes and consequences of the "Big 5" Phanerozoic mass extinctions, and attempt to answer the question "Are we in the midst of the 6th mass extinction?"

Heim et al. 2015 Fig. 1

Statistical Analysis in the Earth Sciences

ECS 192 (Special Topics)

This course is an introduction to typical univariate and multivariate statistical analyses used in the earth sciences. Students will become proficient in the R programming language to access databases with an application programming interface (API), conduct analyses, and produce publication-quality figures. Most skills learned are transferable to other types of data (e.g., biological, environmental, chemical). The goal of the course is to help students build their ‘tool kit’ for scientific research that will be useful in graduate school or any scientific career.



At Tufts, we are interested in reconstructing the history of Earth’s biosphere, including ongoing and future Anthropogenic change. Our research on this broad interdisciplinary problem focuses on environmental, physiological, ecological, and evolutionary processes, and deploys a variety of methods, including analysis of large databases, such as the Paleobiology Database and Macrostrat, statistical modeling, and field work.


Analytical Paleobiology

We are developing and analyzing a large database of marine animal body sizes and ecological traits. This database has allowed us and our collaborators to quantify and explain trends in marine animal body size and ecological diversity over the past 550 million years.


Eastern Pacific Intertidal Biodiversity & Climate Change

In 2014 a large persistant warming anomaly developed in the Northeastern Pacific. This warming event, often called the "Warm Blob", was followed in the winter of 2015 by and el niño event, with the net effect of exceptionally warm surface water temperatures in the California Current. We are using a database of Northeastern Pacific intertidal invertebrate body sizes and recent historical records (mostly from iNaturalist and accessed through GBIF) to determine if and why intertidal invertebrates changed their geographic ranges during the prolonged warming. We are also working to develop a model of changing marine physiological habitats to predict which species should be more or less affected by the Blob and future extreme warming events.


Predicting Extinction Threat in Modern Insects

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has been operating since 1964. However, the coverage across higher taxa is uneven. While most terrestrial vertebrate species, e.g., mammals and amphibians, have been comprehensively evaluated, most of the more than one million described species have not. We are using two orders of insects, Lepidoptera (moths & butterflies) and Odonata (dragonflies & damselflies) to develop models for predicting species extinction risk from historical sighting records and a few ecological variables, such as body size, geographic range, and breadth of habitat preferences.

This data takes advantage of citizen science observations and museum records archived with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).


Contact Us


Noel A. Heim
Department of Earth & Climate Sciences
Tufts University
2 N. Hill Rd.
Medford, MA 02155 U.S.A.
+1 617.627.2207
Geological Location: Lane Hall sits on Jurassic Diabase dikes and sills intruding the Ediacarian-Cambrian Cambridge Argillite