The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences offers interdisciplinary curricula in paleobiology, leading to the Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Research opportunities exist in invertebrate and vertebrate paleontology, paleobotany, evolutionary biology, phylogenetic inference, paleoecology, taphonomy, functional morphology, biogeography, geomicrobiology, paleoclimatology, and biogeochemistry. Students are encouraged to design individual academic programs involving both empirical and theoretical approaches to investigating pattern and process in the evolution of life.

Each year, at least two graduate seminars are offered on different topics in paleontology. In the seminars, students read from the primary literature in paleontology to increase their exposure to a wide variety of current research in the field, engage in and lead spirited discussions on the topics to enable them to phrase oral arguments, and prepare original research papers to hone writing skills. A wide variety of seminars on related topics are offered in Evolution and Ecology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Environmental Science and Policy, to name a few, as well as through the Graduate Groups in Ecology, Population Biology, and others.

Diverse fossil deposits ranging in age from Cambrian to Recent are located within a day's drive of Davis; several field research facilities are similarily accessible. The Bodega Marine Laboratory is situated nearby on the Northern California coast in a region of tremendous ecological diversity. The UCD library is extraordinary. The department houses an extensive teaching collection of fossil invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants. Ample laboratory facilities exist within the department and on campus for microfossil and macrofossil analysis, including stable isotope (dual inlet and continuous flow systems for C,O,H,N and S isotopes), trace element (ICP-MS and MC-ICPMS) and electron microprobe laboratories. Abundant opportunities exist in the Bay Area for a variety of collaborative paleontological research projects at the University of California, BerkeleyCalifornia Academy of Sciences, San FranciscoUniversity of California, Santa CruzStanford UniversityU.S. Geological Survey; and others.These and other rich resources create a particularly attractive academic climate for paleobiological research at Davis.


Sandra Carlson portrait

Sandra J. Carlson
office: 2123 Earth and Physical Sciences
phone: (530) 752-2834

Sandra Carlson. Systematics of fossil and Recent brachiopods, including phylogeny reconstruction and revision of brachiopod classification at several hierarchical levels. Use of stratigraphic data in phylogenetic inference. Phylogenetic systematics and invertebrate paleontology. Stable isotopic variation in Recent and fossil brachiopod shells. Functional morphology of the brachiopod hinge mechanism. Biomineralization, growth, and diagenesis of "hard parts" - shells, bones, and teeth.

Tessa Hill portrait

Tessa M. Hill
Paleoclimate and Paleoenvironmental ChangeGeochemistry; Paleobiology Earth-Surface Processes
office: 1129 Earth and Physical Sciences
phone: (707) 875-1910

Tessa Hill. Research areas include marine micropaleontology, geological oceanography, and paleoceanography utilizing geochemistry of marine sediment and coral records. Tessa is also involved in interdisciplinary research to investigate the impacts of ocean acidification on coastal California environments. Research in her laboratory includes

  • Culturing of key species in the laboratory under controlled environmental conditions
  • Monitoring modern pH variability on the Northern California coast using pH sensors and oceanographic transects
  • Reconstructing climate variability utilizing geochemical proxies in foraminifera, corals, and other carbonates
  • Investigating coastal environments to understand potential for carbon storage
Ryosuke Motani portrait

Ryosuke Motani
office: 2125 Earth and Physical Sciences
phone: (530) 754-6284

Ryosuke Motani. Vertebrate Paleontology. Physics-based functional morphology, and its integration with systematics and phylogenetics to probe physical evolutionary constraints in evolution. Systematics and phylogenetics of Mesozoic marine reptiles, especially ichthyosaurs. His ultimate research interest is in how long-term changes in physical environments affect or drive the evolution of vertebrates. Vertebrates interact with their environment through body functions, so form-function relationship plays an important role in his research.

    Howard Spero portrait

    Howard J. Spero
    PaleobiologyPaleoclimate and Paleoenvironmental Change; Geochemistry
    office: 3131 Earth and Physical Sciences
    phone: (530) 752-3307

    Howard Spero. Research on living and fossil marine organisms as tracers of past environmental change. Research focuses on the biological and environmental parameters that affect the stable isotope and trace metal geochemistry of the shells of recent and fossil organisms; paleoclimatology, marine micropaleontology, and paleoceanography. An ongoing multi-year field research program involving undergraduate and graduate students has been studying living planktonic foraminifera in the Southern California Borderland and the Caribbean. The results of this study are being used to interpret fossil foraminifera stable isotope data from Indian and Atlantic Ocean deep sea cores in order to reconstruct paleoenvironmental sea surface temperatures, nutrient levels and CO2 concentrations during the Pleistocene.

    Dawn Sumner. I study microbial mat morphology and mineral-microbial interactions to constrain the early evolution of life, particularly the origin of oxygenic photosynthesis. My group also investigates growth processes and the genomics of modern microbial communities as analogs for interpreting stromatolites and microbialites in the rock record. Similarly, we are trying to understand how biosignatures are preserved in diverse geochemical settings to increase our ability to look for and identify possible biosignatures on Mars.

    Geerat Vermeij portrait

    Geerat J. Vermeij
    office: 2224A Earth and Physical Sciences
    phone: (530) 752-2234

    Geerat Vermeij. Marine ecology and paleoecology. The functional morphology of marine molluscs. The coevolutionary reactions between predators and prey, and their effects on morphology, ecology, and evolution. Biogeography and climate, and their reconstruction from paleontological evidence. The marine Mesozoic revolution. The paleobiogeography of the Arctic, and its influence on Atlantic and Pacific Cenozoic faunas. Molluscan taxonomy and phylogeny. Plant Defenses. Evolution and Economics.

    Faculty Emeriti

    Richard Cowen portrait

    Richard Cowen
    email: richard "at"

    James Doyle portrait placeholder

    James A. Doyle
    office: 5349 Storer Hall
    phone: (530) 752-7591