Invertebrate Paleontology focuses on the study of macroevolutionary patterns and processes using analysis of the fossil record, especially trilobites and other arthropods. Curator Bruce Lieberman has interests in evolutionary theory, biogeography, and phylogenetics and focuses on key time periods in the history of life like the Cambrian radiation and the late Ordovician mass extinction. Other researchers in the division include:
- Curtis Congreve, who studies phylogenetic patterns in cheirurid trilobites and also the nature of the end Ordovician mass extinction.
- Corinne Myers, who investigates ecology, competition, biogeography, and macroevolution in the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway.
- Ian Wesley Gapp, who investigates phylogenetic and biogeographic patterns in Cambrian trilobites to study macroevolutionary patterns during the Cambrian radiation.
- Erin Saupe, co-advised with Paul Selden, who explores macroevolution in deep time using ecological niche modeling and phylogenetic biogeography.
Research in Invertebrate Paleontology
Curator Bruce Lieberman uses phylogenetic biogeographic approaches to determine the relationship between earth history change and evolution and also to reconstruct the sequence of Paleozoic tectonic events. One of the time intervals his research has focused on is the Cambrian radiation: that key episode in the history of life when diverse, abundant animal remains appear in the fossil record. He has conducted phylogenetic analyses of the diverse olenellid trilobites and used these to study evolutionary and biogeographic patterns during the radiation.
Studies of Burgess Shale type fossils
Invertebrate Paleontology has studied evolutionary and biogeographic patterns in a Middle Cambrian soft-bodied fauna from Utah. This work was conducted with former post-doc, Jon Hendricks, and involves collaboration with Derek Briggs, Bob Gaines, and Mary Droser. The group has described new taxa from these localities and has also conducted phylogenetic analysis on a series of new arachnomorph taxa that have been recovered from these localities. In addition they conducted biogeographic studies on these taxa using phylogenetic biogeographic analysis and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the latter in conjunction with Alycia Stigall at Ohio University. Finally, they documented beautifully preserved jellyfish from the Middle Cambrian of Utah. These appear to represent modern crown groups, including modern orders, families, and in one case a genus.
Research in Paleobiogeography
Curator Bruce Lieberman has an interest in paleobiogeographic studies and this has formed an important component of his research. Much of this research has involved phylogenetic approaches. This research has also included applying Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to study biogeographic patterns in deep time using the fossil record. This work was done in conjunction with my former student Alycia Stigall, who is now an assistant professor at Ohio University.
Research in Astrobiology
In collaboration with Adrian Melott and other scientists, and with support from NASA, Invertebrate Paleontology has been conducting research investigating the nature of the late Ordovician mass extinction and the extent to which it may have been precipitated by a Gamma Ray Burst. This research is described more fully at: http://kusmos.phsx.ku.edu/~melott/Astrobiology.htm
Investigating Large Scale Patterns in the History of Life
As part of Lieberman's research interests in macroevolution and biogeography, one of the topics he has considered is the evidence that at the large scale physical factors play a fundamental role in influencing macroevolution. This has included investigating the evidence that there is a fundamental connection between carbon dioxide levels and rates of evolution and extinction; this work was conducted in collaboration with Bob Goldstein and Lieberman's former student Jim Cornette; they found strong evidence that carbon dioxide levels and rates of macroevolution are significantly coupled.
Investigating Phylogenetic Patterns in Cheirurid Trilobites
Invertebrate Paleontology also studies phylogenetic patterns in a diverse clade of phacopid trilobites, the cheirurids. They use the phylogenies to produce a stable, modern classification for the group, and also to understand biogeographic patterns and macroevolution in this major invertebrate clade. This includes a consideration of patterns of speciation and extinction during a key episode in the history of life, the Late Ordovician mass extinction.