Current Research and Scholarly Interests
I focus on the initial evolution of complex multicellular life on land in the Paleozoic (542 to 250 million years ago) through the establishment of more modern ecosystems over the Mesozoic (250 to 65 million years ago). I am interested in fossils as the remnants of functioning biological organisms that can inform on the evolution of their physiology, development, and biochemistry. Those organisms preserved in the fossil record were also components of larger ecological and environmental systems and I am particularly interested in how the evolution of physiology and structure would have influenced those larger systems including carbon and other nutrient cycles as well as climate. In practice, my work involves both living and fossil organisms and a wide variety of collaborative approaches: developmental and physiological investigation, modeling of climate and the geological carbon cycle, comparative study of morphological diversity through time, and cell and tissue-specific analysis of fossil elemental, isotopic, and organic chemistry.
My science has been rooted in the plant fossil record and the particular advantages that the anatomical preservation of plant fossils provides for studying physiological and developmental evolution. Over the last decade, my work and that of my students has increasingly come to encompass the complete terrestrial biota including animals, fungi, and microbial communities. My students can expect to develop their own projects and be as much collaborator as apprentice. Applicants are welcome from both geological or biological backgrounds and with interest or expertise in any component of the terrestrial system.