Geobiology and Paleobiology

The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences offers interdisciplinary curricula in geobiology and paleobiology, leading to the Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Research opportunities exist in invertebrate and vertebrate paleontology, evolutionary biology, phylogenetic inference, paleoecology, 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. Graduate seminars are offered each quarter on different topics in paleontology, and a wide variety of seminars on related topics are offered in the Departments of Evolution and Ecology, Entomology and Nematology, Environmental Science and Policy, as well as through the Graduate Groups in Ecology, Population Biology, Plant Biology, Integrative Genetics and Genomics, and others.

Diverse fossil deposits ranging in age from Cambrian to Recent are located within a day's drive of Davis; several field and museum 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 department houses an extensive teaching collection of fossil invertebrates, vertebrates, microfossils, and plants. Ample laboratory facilities exist within the department and on campus for microfossil and macrofossil analysis, including stable isotope, trace element, and electron microprobe laboratories, as well as genomic analysis through the UC Davis Genome Center. 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 Cruz; Stanford University; U.S. Geological Survey; and others. These and other rich resources create a particularly attractive academic climate for paleobiological research at Davis.


Sandy CarlsonSandra J. Carlson
Professor | 530-752-2834

Systematics of fossil and Recent brachiopods (marine invertebrate animals), including phylogeny reconstruction and revision of brachiopod classification at several hierarchical levels. Use of stratigraphic data and genomic 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.

David GoldDavid Gold
Assistant Professor | 530-754-5361

Dr. Gold uses genetic and computational tools to explore the origins of complex life, particularly the evolution of animals across the Neoproterozoic/Cambrian boundary. Data from living organisms are integrated with the fossil record to better understand Earth-life interactions across deep timescales. Research areas include phylogenetics, next-generation nucleotide sequencing, and molecular clock analyses.

Tessa HillTessa Hill
Professor | 530-875-1910

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 MotaniRyosuke Motani
Professor | 530-754-6284

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.

Howie SperoHoward Spero
Distinguished Professor | 530-752-3307

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 SumnerDawn Sumner
Professor | 530-752-5353

Paleobiology research focuses on tracing the evolution of microbial communities throughout Earth history and the search for evidence of life on Mars. Her lab group is using modern cyanobacterial communities in Antarctic lakes as models for stromatolite growth as well as exploring their genomic composition to understand ecological processes. They are also using metagenomics to characterize organisms near the base of the cyanobacterial clade (including Melainabacteria) to understand the evolutionary processes leading to oxygenic photosynthesis.

Geerat VermeijGeerat Vermeij
Distinguished Professor | 530-752-2234

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.