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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 here.

Current lab members

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Kat Schroeder, MSc (she/her)

Ph.D. Candidate
Kat 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 such, many dinosaurs spent extended periods of their lives simply growing to adult size. These juveniles likely played a significantly different ecological role than their enormous parents. Over time, the impact of such ontogenetic niche shifts may have influenced the evolutionary trends in dinosaur community structure we see in the fossil record today.
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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.
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Carson Hedberg (she/her)

Ph.D. Candidate
Carson is a fourth year PhD candidate studying mammal functional ecology. Her research focuses on how biodiversity influences ecosystem function, and she explore 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.

Zoë Rossman (she/her)

Ph.D. Student
Zoë's research focuses on 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. Little is known about how urban mammals use arid cities, and what factors contribute to their occurance. Zoë works with the City of Albuquerque and the Lincoln Park Zoo's Urban Wildlife Information Network to address gaps in knowledge about urban mammal ecology in arid and semi-arid ecosystems.
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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?

Tyler Martin

Undergraduate Researcher
Tyler is involved in the research projects surrounding Halls Cave. He has worked on identification, accessioning, data entry, and photographing of specimens.

Lab alumni

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 graduate 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.
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Amelia Villaseñor, Ph.D.

Prior Smith Lab postdoctoral scholar
Amelia Villaseñor links largescale ecological patterns and processes to human evolution from the Pliocene to the Anthropocene. She seeks to understand the place of our ancestors in past ecosystems and to elucidate when humans became large-scale ecosystem engineers. She also explores the implications of these changes for the anthropogenically altered future.

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.
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Catalina Tomé, Ph.D.

Prior Smith Lab doctoral student
Catalina is interested in ecosystem responses to climate and biodiversity changes across varying temporal and spatial scales. Her research focuses on changes in mammal species morphology and diet, along with changes in species associations within their communities, in response to climatic shifts across the Quaternary and the extinction of the mammalian megafauna in the late Pleistocene.

Alumni & Collaborators

The Smith Lab in Photos