Research at KU Vertebrate Paleontology seeks to reconstruct the history of vertebrate life on Earth. We contribute to this larger scientific effort by conducting original field and laboratory research aimed at discovering and interpreting the fossil record of vertebrates. Current research strengths include phylogeny, biogeography, functional morphology, and macroevolutionary patterns.
Phylogenetic and biostratigraphic data indicate that the oldest and most basal members of the anthropoid clade are fossil taxa known from the Eocene of Asia (mainly China and Myanmar). Understanding how and when these early Asian anthropoids colonized what was then the island continent of Africa is a priority for current research on anthropoid origins. The colonization of Africa by early Cenozoic anthropoids hailing from Asia was a pivotal event during primate evolution, because it instigated an evolutionary radiation of African anthropoids that ultimately yielded such familiar extant clade as Cercopithecoidea (Old World monkeys) and Hominoidea (apes and humans).
Scattered with numerous salt lakes and approximately 2700-3200 m above sea level, the giant Qaidam inland basin on the northern Tibetan Plateau has experienced continuing aridification since the beginning of the Late Cenozoic as a result of the India-Asia plate collision and associated uplift of the Tibetan Plateau. Previous evidence of aridification comes mainly from evaporite deposits and salinity-tolerant invertebrate fossils.
The Paleocene-Eocene boundary, roughly 55.8 million years ago, was an interval of rapid and dramatic global warming that serves as the best analogue currently identified in Earth history for modern climatic changes. Studying how past ecosystems responded to this early Cenozoic episode of global warming therefore has the potential to shed light on future biotic changes caused by the current climatic regime. Moreover, faunal turnover across the Paleocene-Eocene boundary was pronounced, making it a key interval for students of early mammal phylogeny and biogeography.