Welcome to Paleobiology in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Tufts University. Paleobiology is the study of ancient biology, particularly of fossil organisms. Understanding the biology of ancient, and often extinct, organisms also requires a good understanding of biology in the present day. At Tufts, the paleobiology program is mainly focused on the evolution of marine organisms, ecosystems, and environments. Through our courses and undergraduate student research we seek to understand both the patterns and processes that have been shaping and reshaping our ocean ecosystems over the past 700 million years.
This course surveys the key patterns in the evolution of marine ecosystems across Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history and interprets these patterns in light of theories and evidence from geology, paleontology, geochemistry, ecology, and marine biology. In this course, students will learn how to identify fossils from the major groups of marine invertebrates and interpret their modes of life; use field methods common in paleontology to collect and document fossils in the field; address research questions in paleobiology using data from the fossil record; and write R code to analyze paleobiological data using basic statistical methods. Prerequisites: an introductory course in biology or geology; or permission of the instructor.
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?"
I am interested in reconstructing the history of Earth’s marine biosphere, including ongoing and future Anthropogenic change. My 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.
I am developing and analyzing a large database of marine animal body sizes and ecological traits. This database has allowed me and my collaborators to quantify and explain trends in marine animal body size and ecological diversity over the past 550 million years.
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.
Undergraduate Research Student: Devin J. Hagan, an Earth Systems major at Stanford University.
Collaborator: Jon Payne
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 data as well as museum records that have been archived with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).
Undergraduate Research Student: Niza R. Contreras, an Earth Systems major at Stanford University.
Collaborator: Jon Payne