2013 Patterson Memorial Grant


Tara Smiley

Growing up in the Appalachians of southeast US fostered my deep appreciation and interest of nature, biology and mountains.  Although not geologists themselves, my parents instilled a sense of wonder in me for the deep time processes that generated and eventually eroded those lush, rolling mountains.  As an undergraduate at the University of Washington, I easily fell into studies of ecology, evolutionary biology and geology.  After a course in Earth History and Evolution, I was motivated to pursue research in paleontology, starting with Eocene-Oligocene mollusks from the Pacific Northwest with Dr. Liz Nesbitt. A summer internship at the John Day Fossil Beds, working with Dr. Ted Fremd and others gave me valuable field experience and an introduction to both the fossil mammals and the geological history of western North America. My passion for vertebrate paleontology continued to develop with the opportunity to conduct fieldwork in Niger, West Africa with Dr. Christian Sidor and study Permian biogeography of such groups as therapsids. After graduating from the University of Washington, I volunteered for the US Peace Corps. Serving in western Madagascar with the Mahajanga Basin as my backyard and in Tanzania within the East African Rift, I experienced the remarkable paleontology and geology of those remote places firsthand.

    

 

Currently, I am pursuing my Ph.D. in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan, working under the guidance of Dr. Catherine Badgley. My research interests include the paleoecology, biogeography and diversification history of mammals in relation to landscape history and climate change. My dissertation work focuses on the small mammal record of western North America during episodes of Miocene tectonic extension and development of topographic complexity, and during the Mid-Miocene Climatic Optimum. My fieldwork in the Mojave Desert targets Hemingfordian-to-Barstovian small mammal localities in the Barstow, Crowder and Cajon Formations for fossil collection and sampling of geologic materials for age control and paleoenvironmental reconstruction. Fossils collected from the field will add to existing collections and will be used in studies utilizing paleontological methods of geometric morphometric shape analysis and stable isotope diet and environment reconstruction. This analysis of faunal assemblages and environment through time in the Mojave aims to shed light on historical and geographic processes influencing diversification and ecological distributions of species within the broader context of Basin and Range landscape change.

 

I am very grateful to receive the Patterson Memorial Grant. The support of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology through this award makes possible the continuation of fieldwork in the Mojave and contributes significantly to my dissertation research. In addition, this grant helps to support and further the education of a small crew of undergraduate field assistants interested in pursuing paleontology. I would also like to thank my advisor, Dr. Catherine Badgley, the many advisors and mentors who have helped and inspired me along the way, and my fellow students at the University of Michigan for their support and collaboration.