Smith Lab Research Projects

Project I: Human and Nonhuman Primate Cranial Morphology and Evolution

This multifaceted research program focuses on cranial evolution and morphological variation in humans and nonhuman primates. This research involves collecting 3D scans and digitized 3D landmark-based data, which are evaluated using geometric morphometric analyses to compare cranial shape differences among individuals, populations, and taxa. The projects within this research focus include studies on microevolutionary modeling in human cranial shape,  the ontogenetic patterning of human temporal bone growth, the phylogenetic utility of hominoid (ape) cranial morphology, and an individual-level investigation of molecules vs. morphology in a Native American population.


Project II: Evolution of the Cecal Appendix in Mammals

This project focuses on the evolution, morphological variation, and phylogenetic distribution of the cecal appendix. The goal of this research has been to track the evolutionary history of the cecal appendix throughout mammalian evolution, and identify its anatomical and ecological correlates that may explain why it exists and has evolved independently several times throughout mammalian evolution. The results of this project have included two peer-reviewed publications, one of was selected for their "Highlights of Recent Literature" by Science magazine, and an invited international plenary lecture conference invitation.













Project III: Eocene Turtle Evolution

The Smith lab has recently become involved in a new avenue of research on the evolution of turtle species in the Uinta Basin, Utah. The Uinta Formation contains an extremely rich and diverse assemblage of turtle and mammal fossils from the Uintan North American Land Mammal Age (46.2-42 Ma), which preserves the period immediately preceding the middle Eocene Climatic Optimum (MECO) warming interval. The Eocene represents a critical time in turtle evolution because it was characterized by dramatic climatic changes which ultimately resulted in the extinction of many turtle species, and even entire families, by the end of the epoch. This research will elucidate the evolutionary, anatomical, and ecological characteristics of many extinct turtle species, and provide valuable insight into adaptation and extinction events in response to climatic changes during the middle Eocene.