Almost all of the work I do is collaborative, and I have been blessed with several fruitful collaborations with my various academic advisors and colleagues from across the globe. Indeed, one of my favorite parts of the job is traveling the world to see museum collections, do fieldwork, and meet my colleagues to work on projects. I list several of my most important colleagues below. Apologies to anyone I have left out!
Advisors: I have enjoyed the support of three outstanding academic advisors, during my undergraduate, Masters, and PhD research. As an undergraduate at the University of Chicago I worked under Paul Sereno, and eminent dinosaur paleontologist and National Geographic Explorer in Residence. Paul and I have published several papers together, and Paul has taken me to do fieldwork in Tibet and the western United States. As an MSc student at the University of Bristol I worked under Mike Benton, an equally eminent paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and book author extraordinaire. We have also published several papers together. Finally, as a PhD student I worked under yet another well known and excellent scientist, Mark Norell. Mark and I have worked extensively on the anatomy and phylogeny of theropod dinosaurs (especially tyrannosauroids) and have numerous ongoing projects. Other advisors, both somewhat official and totally unofficial, have included Mark Webster, Mike Coates, and Mike LaBarbera at the University of Chicago; Marcello Ruta and Phil Donoghue at the University of Bristol; and John Flynn and Paul Olsen at the AMNH and Columbia University.
Theropods: I have enjoyed collaborations with many fellow theropod workers, including my advisors Paul Sereno and Mark Norell. I also have fruitful and long-standing collaborations with Roger Benson of Oxford University and Thomas Carr of Carthage College. Roger is the undisputed world expert (in my eyes at least) on basal tetanuran anatomy and phylogeny, and we have worked on many projects together, including monographs of the Early Cretaceous British theropod Neovenator (with Steve Hutt from the Dinosaur Isle Museum), the Middle Jurassic Chinese crested theropod Monolophosaurus (with the eminent Chinese dinosaur hunter Zhao Xijin and Philip Currie), and the Late Cretaceous eastern North American tyrannosauroid Dryptosaurus (with Mark Norell). Roger and I have also revised the Jurassic record of basal tyrannosauroids from Europe and North America, and along with Xu Xing and colleagues in China, we have named and monographed the first definitive Asian carcharodontosaurid theropod (Shaochilong). We have also worked together on numerous phylogenetic and macroevolutionary projects, including a revision of allosauroid and basal tetanuran phylogeny spearheaded by Roger (in which we argued for the existence of a major new clade centered on Neovenator) and studies of disparity and evolutionary rates in Mesozoic clades. Thomas is the undisputed world expert (in my eyes) on the anatomy of Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurids, including Tyrannosaurus and its closest relatives. We have worked together on the description and monographic treatment of a new species of Alioramus from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia (with Mark Norell, whose teams discovered the material), and worked closely together to produce a new phylogeny of all tyrannosauroid dinosaurs that was published in 2010 in Science. In addition to my work with Mark, Paul, Roger, and Thomas, I have also worked with a diverse set of theropod researchers including Xu Xing, Martin Ezcurra, Manabu Sakamoto, Dan Chure, Shaena Montanari, Gabe Bever, Amy Balanoff, Greg Erickson, John Hutchinson, Jonah Choiniere, Alan Turner, Pete Makovicky, Phil Currie, Tom Williamson, Zhao Xijin, Steve Hutt, Zoltan Csiki, Matyas Vremir, Gareth Dyke, and Darren Naish.
Thomas Carr wiping his eyes after telling a twisted joke about a cow at SVP (left); Roger Benson and Steve Hutt walking the beach together on the Isle of Wight (right).
Early Dinosaurs and Triassic Archosaur Macroevolution: I have enjoyed an exceptional and long-standing fieldwork and research collaboration with Richard Butler of the BSP in Munich. Richard and I have worked together to redescribe important archosaur specimens from the Triassic of Europe, including the oldest known archosaur body fossil in the global fossil record (Ctenosauriscus) and the Polish rauisuchian Polonosuchus (with Polish colleagues, below). We have also worked together on macroevolutionary projects focused on the evolution of morphological disparity and cranial shape in pterosaurs and other Mesozoic clades, as well as more theoretical issues surrounding sampling biases in macroevolutionary research (with Roger Benson, Brian Andres, and Christian Foth). Richard and I co-lead several ongoing field projects in Europe. We work with Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki and Tomasz Sulej from the Institute of Paleobiology in Warsaw, studying various Early-Late Triassic bone and footprint-bearing sites in southern Poland and Lithuania. This work recently yielded the oldest known fossils of dinosauromorphs (stem dinosaurs) in the global fossil record: 250-million-year-old footprints from central Poland. We also work with Octavio Mateus of the University of Lisbon and Museu da Lourinha in Portugal, and together with several other colleagues (Jessica Whiteside, Alex Kasprak, and Seb Steyer) we are exploring the Late Triassic record of southern Portugal. We have located a remarkably preserved and densely packed bonebed of temnospondyl and other tetrapod fossils (including archosaurs) within spitting distance of the Triassic-Jurassic boundary in southern Portugal, which we have been excavating for the past three years (2009-2011) and hope to continue as a long-term project.
I have worked with Mike Benton, Marcello Ruta, and Graeme Lloyd on various statistical and macroevolutionary analyses of Triassic archosaurs, focusing primarily on rates of morphological character change, morphological disparity, and lineage evolution. The aim of this work is to characterize the patterns of the Triassic archosaur radiation, with the hope that these can be interpreted to tell us something about process, as well as about the rise of dinosaurs. The key result of this project is a series of publications, including a 2008 paper in Science, that argued that the dinosaur radiation was gradual and that dinosaurs did not outcompete other reptiles during their early history in the Triassic. Graeme and I are also working closely with Steve Wang, statistician extraordinaire, on new quantitative methods for determining rate heterogeneity in the morphological evolution of clades, which were recently published in Evolution. I have also worked with a diverse set of colleagues on additional Triassic projects, including Mike Benton, Julia Desojo, and Max Langer on a higher-level phylogeny of archosaurs that we published in 2010. Recently I have been working with Sterling Nesbitt (who for one year overlapped with me in the PhD program at Columbia University), Randy Irmis, Rainer Schoch, Mike Reich, Jahn Hornung, and Martin Ezcurra on a variety of projects. Along with Sterling, Randy, Richard, Mike, and Mark Norell, I have published a general review paper on the origin and early evolutionary history of dinosaurs (2010, Earth-Science Reviews).
Esteemed Professor Michael Benton, FRSE, enjoying a laugh in the pub (left); Graeme Lloyd doing his best Derek Zoolander expression (right).
Metriorhynchid Crocodylomorphs and Marine Reptile Evolution: I have worked on several projects on marine crocodylomorphs (metriorhynchids) with Marco Andrade and Mark Young of the University of Bristol. These projects mostly focus on the macroevolutionary patterns that characterize this incredible group of sea-faring crocs, including trends in disparity, body size evolution, and faunal composition. Recent work concerns the detailed morphology of metriorhynchid teeth, and implications of tooth and cranial form on feeding habits and niche partitioning, as well as detailed monographic descriptions of Dakosaurus and other metriorhynchid taxa from the Middle Jurassic of England. We are now working with Brian Beatty of NYCOM on several projects concerning the tooth microstructure of crocodylomorphs, and have been working with former Bristol colleague Mark Bell on several projects relating to detailed, quantitative examination of macroevolutionary trends (two of our papers have recently been published in Biology Letters and Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society).
Fieldwork Projects: Aside from my fieldwork in the Triassic of Europe, my major current field projects include work in the Cretaceous of Romania and the Paleocene of New Mexico. The Romanian project, done in collaboration with Matyas Vremir, Zoltan Csiki, Mark Norell, and Gareth Dyke, recently produced the best specimen of a theropod from the final 60 million years of the Mesozoic in Europe: a spectacular new skeleton of a dromaeosaurid that we named Balaur bondoc in a 2010 paper in PNAS. The Paleocene project is a collaboration with Tom Williamson of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, as well as Dan Peppe of Baylor University, Ross Secord of the University of Nebraska, and Anne Weil of Oklahoma State University. Our goal is to study the post-Cretaceous radiation of mammals using many of the quantitative macroevolutionary techniques I have used to study Triassic dinosaurs, as well as better map the San Juan Basin of New Mexico, provide new radioisotopic dates and paleomagnetic correlations for key units, and look at changes in local climate and precipitation during the first few million years after the K-Pg extinction. The first result of this project is a new phylogeny of Cretaceous-Paleocene metatherians, was published in 2012 in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. In the past I have worked in the field with crews from the Burpee Museum of Natural History in the Hell Creek Formation of southeastern Montana. Scott Williams, the Burpee collections manager, and Josh Mathews, a Burpee preparator, are good friends and colleagues despite their degenerate tendencies (Scott is a loudmouth Chicago Cubs fan and Josh is a Green Bay Packers fan).
Scott Williams doing his best Al Capone impression (left); Josh Mathews doing his best Thomas Henry Huxley impression (right).
Additional Projects: I also dabble in a lot of other topics. I have worked on a project reconstructing genome evolution in sauropod dinosaurs with Chris Organ of Harvard University and Koen Stein of the University of Bonn. As a followup, I was part of a team led by my fellow AMNH graduate student, Shaena Montanari, that looked at variation in the size of osteocytes across the skeletons of living animals, which has implications for predicting the genome sizes of fossils based on their osteocyte sizes. Recently I have been learning morphometric techniques and using them to study cranial shape evolution in theropods, other dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and Triassic archosaurs. Who knows what the future will hold...
And Most Important of All: My favorite collaborator, and surely my most ardent supporter and constructive critic, is my lovely wife Anne. Anne and I met while I was studying in England and we were married in July 2009 in her hometown of Bristol. The plan is to take Anne out into the field soon...!