Current Research Projects

Project I - Paleontology of Loperot, a Hominoid-bearing Early Miocene site in West Turkana, Kenya:

The Early Miocene site of Loperot has a unique mammalian community, including a beaked whale, unique rhinoceros, and an unusual primate community that combines taxa never before seen together. Because of its unique position in both space and time, Loperot is a critical site in understanding what factors affect the taxonomic composition of community. In particular, this site demonstrates that the earliest ancestors of modern apes and humans liven in a variety of different habitats, not just forests as would be expected by looking only at modern apes. I use functional and comparative anatomy in identifying the taxonomic structure of the mammalian community at Loperot. Together with Dr. Liutkus-Pierce at Appalachian State University , we use a variety of techniques in sedimentology, stratigraphy, and stable isotopes to reconstruct the environmental conditions at Loperot.

Project II - Early Miocene Mammals from Israel:

The initiation of the modern biotic exchange between Afro-Arabia and the Eurasian realm occurred during the Early Miocene. Numerous localities of that period are known in Africa and in Eurasia. However, the southern Levant which connects both realms is very poorly sampled. Together with collaborators at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the Geological Survey of Israel, I am currently engaged in studying the paleontology of Israel during the Miocene. Our current work is focused on the identification of Miocene sites in Israel, and the reconstruction of the mammalian taxa at these localities. We use these reconstructions to compare the Miocene communities of Israel to ones in Africa and in Eurasia. Our aim is to understand the role of Israel in the biotic exchange between Africa and Eurasia at this time.

Project III - Afrotherian anatomy:

The Afrotheria is an important group of placental mammals that is the sister group to Laurasiatheria, the group that includes most mammals, including humans. While molecular data clearly separate Afrotheria from Laurasiatheria, anatomical characteristics distinguishing these groups are not well described. In conjunction with colleagues at Trento Museum of Natural Sciences, UC-Berkeley, and Dartmuth University I am currently engaged in anatomical investigations that aim to address these issues. One particulaarly exciting aspect of this research includes the anatomical description of the newly discovered grey-faced sengi (Rhynchocyon udzugwensis), a giant species of sengi.