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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History




A. Kay Behrensmeyer
Ph.D. Harvard University
B.S. Washington University, St. Louis


Research Focus:

Vertebrate taphonomy and paleoecology, evolution of terrestrial ecosystems, the geological context of human evolution, fluvial stratigraphy and sedimentology, and the evolutionary impact of climate change.

A central theme of my research involves reconstructing and comparing land ecosystems through time and exploring how ecology has helped to shape land vertebrate evolution and community structure throughout the Phanerozoic. I work at the interfaces between the recent and the ancient and between the disciplines of geology, paleobiology, evolutionary biology, ecology and anthropology. Taphonomy is essential for understanding information contained in the fossil record, providing guidelines for ecological inferences about ancient animals and environments. Taphonomy also can reveal unique information about past and present ecosystem dynamics and the processes of organic recycling.

My current research targets several different field sites and problems, including: 1) the taphonomy and paleoecology of hominid-bearing deposits in East Africa, with special emphasis on how environmental change affected mammalian evolution over the past 4 million years, 2) evolution of the environments and faunas of the Miocene Siwalik sequence in Pakistan between 18 and 5 million years ago, 3) long-term taphonomic study of modern vertebrate remains in Amboseli Park, Kenya (including the bio- and geochemical processes involved in fossilization), 4) investigation of fluvial (river) transport of modern bones, 5) the taphonomy and paleoecology of the earliest mammals and associated small vertebrates (late Triassic – early Jurassic), 6) investigation of large-scale taphonomic patterns and biases in both the terrestrial and marine fossil records.

Research Themes:

For more information click on the pictures below.

The Bones of Amboseli Park, Kenya

Visual Catalogue of Bone Damage

Bones in Rivers: Observations and Experiments in Fluvial Taphonomy

Kenya - East Turkana (Plio-Pleistocene)


I also visit area schools and present lectures and other activities. A popularly requested activity is "Digging Habitats of the Past" in which students learn about how fossils are recovered and how to interpret where the fossils are found in the substrate. See here for a slide show of a recent Habitat Day at the Arlington Science Focus School in 2008.


Human Origins Program Team

Anna Kay Behrensmeyer's page at the Human Origins Site

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