The next adventure

It’s been nearly a year since I last posted, and what a year it’s been! I wrote and defended my PhD thesis (which took up most of my time), submitted a couple papers and grant applications, and still managed to find a bit of time for fieldwork.

My thesis is now 100% complete, and I’ll hopefully be uploading a version to the website once I’ve sorted out copyrights etc. If you want a copy in the meantime, just contact me with your email address and I’ll send it on. There will also be some papers splintering off from the thesis that will get published over the next couple years, so watch for those too.

So, what’s next?

I’ve come to the end of an era at the University of Alberta: a full decade between my undergrad and PhD. It’s time to move on, and I’m excited to announce that I’ll be taking up a 2-year Royal Society Newton Fellowship with Steve Brusatte at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland!

Edinburgh is a beautiful city and I’m thrilled to be heading there for two years!

This is an incredibly exciting opportunity, not just for the research but also for the opportunity to travel and expand my horizons. The research is a bit of a change-up from what I usually work on. Instead of focusing on dinosaurs, I’ll be looking at Paleocene mammals–these are the very first animals that took over on land after the dinosaurs went extinct. Unlike their Mesozoic ancestors, these mammals became BIG, and this encapsulates one of the major questions in mammal evolution: why did mammals only get big after the dinosaurs went extinct?

There are (if we oversimplify) two main theories. First, there’s the obvious one: Mesozoic mammals were outcompeted by dinosaurs and couldn’t evolve to large sizes. This seems ok on the surface, but every other group of ‘background characters’ also became giant during the reign of dinosaurs: crocs, pterosaurs, turtles, etc. So instead, some palaeontologists think that mammal body sizes were limited by their physiology–the way they grew.

Our project tries to evaluate which of these hypotheses is more likely by figuring out the growth patterns of the first mammals that got big, using histology. If they’re radically different than their ancestors, then we have good evidence that it was some physiological barrier that they overcame.

Our histological approach for the study: by thin-sectioning the bones, we can establish the rates and durations of maximum growth in Paleocene mammals.

The study is a small portion of a broad project led by Steve and Tom Williamson, to understand the dynamics of how mammals took over the world after the dinosaurs. It’s an incredibly exciting project that could change the way we perceive one of the major transitions in life on earth. Needless to say, I’m excited to be on board!

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