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Felisa Smith, Ph.D. (she/her)

Principal Investigator

Welcome to the Smith Lab!

We work in the area of conservation paleoecology. After all, most of the pressing environmental issues of modern life, including climate change and biodiversity loss, have happened before in earth history. What’s different this time is the driver.

I am particularly interested in the role body size plays as a means of adaptation to climate change, and in the structure and function of ecological communities. Why are animals the size they are? What are the ecological and evolutionary consequences of being a certain size? What complex and dynamic tradeoffs exist between physiology, life history, environment, phylogeny, and past history? I try to bridge the gap between paleontology and modern biology by examining factors influencing body size across both ecological and evolutionary time. I tend to work mostly with mammals, because frankly, I find them more interesting than other taxa. Maybe it’s the fur.

You can view a copy of my CV Smith CV (Nov 2023).

Current lab members

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Carson Hedberg (she/her)

Ph.D. Candidate
Carson is a PhD student who is interested in mammal functional ecology. Her research focuses on how biodiversity influences ecosystem function, and she explores this relationship by quantifying patterns in mammalian functional diversity over time and across space. She is particularly interested in how insights from the fossil record can be applied to modern conservation and ecological restoration, as well as in the role of naturalized exotic animals in ecosystems.
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Jonathan Keller (he/him)

Ph.D. Candidate
Jonathan studies animal ecology, evolution, and behavior by quantifying shifts caused by climate, extinction, and other disturbances. 3D morphology, body size proxies, direct photographic observations, dental microwear, and stable isotopes represent his current primary approaches. For his dissertation, Jonathan studies the micromammals of Hall's Cave, which records the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna and warming since the last ice age. Jonathan and undergraduate mentees have measured thousands of newly identified rodent fossils, analyzed their stable isotopes, and collected 3D dental ecomorphology variables to understand how their diets, body size, and teeth reflect effects of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Nick Ryan (he/him)

Ph.D. Candidate
Nick is a first-year PhD student studing mammalian ecomorphology, specifically related to diet. He plans to use microCT and paleohistology and to uncover evolutionary mechanisms behind major mammalian dietary transitions in the past. Mammals of many taxa have evolved adaptations for herbivory especially for extensive mastication and symbiotic microbial digestion in the gut. Bone shape and microstructure analyses of feeding related elements of skulls and postcrania might provide novel insights into the patterns of dietary evolution that profoundly shape species and ecosystems.
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Esteban Restrepo Cortés

Ph.D. Student
Esteban likes very large Pleistocene jaguars ....
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Marina Casiano Ruiz

MSc Student
Marina is a master’s student beginning to study macroecology and biogeography with a focus on conservation of North American mammals. As cities expand, endemic mammals must move, adapt, or die. Marina uses existing databases and GIS approaches to model how the composition of mammalian species’ geographic ranges affect their conservation status (IUCN rating). For example, how do different human land uses such as pastureland, metropolitan areas, or suburbs affect mammal populations?

Lisa Garcia

MSc Student
Lisa is using the woodcut paleomidden record to investigate changes in the stable isotopic signature of juniper over both time and space. Can this provide a record of the transition of Death Valley from what was once a mesic ecosystem into the hyperarid desert of today?

Lab alumni since 2016 (see list below for rest)

lab members-3

Kat Schroeder, Ph.D. (she/her)

Prior Smith lab doctoral student
Kat is a former Smith doctoral student who graduated in 2022. She is now a postdoc at Yale University. Kate studies the effects of extreme body size in non-avian dinosaurs, particularly large, carnivorous theropods. As oviparous organisms, even the largest dinosaurs would have been born no larger than the average dog. As they grew, they had different ecological roles in communities, and these ontogenetic niche shifts may have influenced the evolutionary trends in dinosaur community structure.

Catalina Tomé, Ph.D.

Prior Smith Lab doctoral student
Catalina completed her PhD in 2019, and is now the Curator of Paleobiology at the Indiana State Museum. Cat is interested in species and ecosystem responses to climate and biodiversity changes across varying temporal and spatial scales, particularly with regards to the late Pleistocene.

John Grady Ph.D. (he/him)

Prior Smith Lab doctoral student
John completed his PhD in 2016 and is a postdoc at the Center for Biodiversity in St. Louis, MO. John investigates the scaling of metabolism and energetics, particularly as it relates to predator-prey relationships and broad scale biogeographic and evolutionary patterns.

Zoë Rossman (she/her)

Prior Smith Lab Masters Student
Zoë' retains an interest in urban mammal ecology, with a particular interest in the mammal communities in Albuquerque and other arid cities. Not all mammals are able to adapt to highly modified and constantly changing urban environments, but certain species like coyotes, raccoons, skunks, and many others have learned to take advantage of the resources cities provide, and persist in these environments.

Nick Freymueller, M.S.

Prior Smith Lab Masters Student
Nick is broadly interested in how climate change, earth system processes, and extinction modifies species interactions and ecosystem structure. He finished his masters degree in the lab in December 2020, where he applied ecological niche modeling to quantify niche dynamics over the Late Quaternary and determine how felids like the puma and jaguar responded to the extinction of larger megafaunal felids such as Smilodon. He is currently working on conservation paleoecology of Arctic marine mammals using process-explicit population demographic models for his Ph.D. in Denmark/Australia.
Faculty, fulbright,

Amelia Villaseñor, Ph.D.

Prior Smith Lab postdoctoral scholar
Amelia was a postdoc in the Smith lab and is now an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas. She links largescale ecological patterns and processes to human evolution from the Pliocene to the Anthropocene and seeks to understand the place of our ancestors in past ecosystems and to elucidate when humans became large-scale ecosystem engineers.
Mel measuring canid sp. jawbone

Melissa Pardi, Ph.D. (she/her)

Prior Smith Lab doctoral student
Mel is a former Smith Lab doctoral student who graduated from UNM biology in 2016. She is currently an adjunct professor at UNM and University of Illinois Springfield, and is curator of Geology at the Illinois State Museum. She studies long-term ecological responses to changes in the Earth system, primarily in mammals.

Marie Westover Ph.D. (she/her)

Prior Smith Lab doctoral student
Marie completed her PhD in 2019 and is now an insturctor at Sacramento City College in California. She has an inordinate fondness for pikas and investigates the influence of historic and current climate change on their distribution, abundance, morphology and diet.

Meghan Balk Ph.D. (she/her)

Prior Smith Lab doctoral student
Meghan finished her PhD in 2017 and is currently a postdoc at the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Sweden. She has a large variety of interests that revolve around big data, body size and evolution.

Alumni & Collaborators