Research

How has the open ocean ecosystem changed through time?

I am broadly interested in how a functional (open ocean) marine ecosystem can exist, has existed, and has changed over geologic time, in conjunction with major changes in climate, biotic turnover, and earth system shifts. The fossil record provides a rich historical record that can be examined, in conjunction with climatic proxies and other tools (eg. phylogenies, ecosystem models, and more), to look at how these changes interact with evolution and ecosystem function. I am also interested in the evolution of fish, and the evolution of ecological roles played by fish and other marine megafauna within the pelagic ecosystem. My main research focus is on ichthyoliths, isolated fossil fish teeth and shark dermal scales, preserved in deep-sea sediment cores, to study how pelagic vertebrate consumers, and marine ecosystem function, has responded to these changes.

I use ichthyoliths to investigate three main aspects of pelagic ecosystem evolution throughout Earth’s history, to assess changes in fish with respect to their abundance, community structure, and evolutionary dynamics. Interpreted within their paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic context, ichthyoliths can reveal patterns in the coevolution of life and climate in the ocean, during periods of global change and relative stasis alike.

My work combines tools from both biological and geological disciplines, including (micro)paleontology, (paleo)ceanography, evolutionary biology, ecology, ecological modeling, earth history, and even plankton biology, to get at different aspects of how marine ecosystems work. I’m always excited to add new tools and ways of thinking into my work, and believe that the most interesting questions reach beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries.

I was recently awarded an NSF grant (IntBIO COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH: Deep Time, Development, and Design: Evolution of shark skin teeth from genotype to phenotype to prototype) with Gareth Fraser and George Lauder, which will explore how shark denticle morphology varies through time and development, and then investigates those shapes to inform fluid dynamics and engineering. This grant will also support a unique accessible REU program in the summers of 2023 and 2024 – stay tuned for details about that!

I am also currently involved in a number of multi-national, interdisciplinary collaborative projects. One of them even has a website! COD-REMAP aims to reconstruct the physical, biological, archaeological, and historical processes dominating the Scotia Shelf ecosystem over the past 4000 years, to understand the interactions between cod, humans, and the environment.

You can read my dissertation here if you’re really interested, or reach out if you’d like copies of the papers!

My formal Research Statement for the 2021-2022 season is available here.

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