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SVP Wood Award Interview: Spencer Hellert

Following the annual meeting, we're highlighting the student and early career award winners from the society. Over the next week or two, we'll be running brief interviews with awardees on the research related to their award. Today we talk with Spencer M. Hellert (Indiana University), recipient of the Wood Award for her project, "Understanding the Causes of Phenotypic Integration Patterns in the Evolution of Flightless Birds."


Briefly, what is your academic background up to this point? How did you get interested in paleontology?
I double majored in biology and geology at Augustana College, got my master's in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology at the University of Illinois and I'm now a Ph.D. candidate in the Geology department at Indiana University (with a minor in Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior).

I was fascinated with nature from a very young age and when I was about 7 years old, my mother and a family friend showed me crinoid fossils in one of the valleys on my farm in the Driftless Region of Northern Iowa. They explained that my farm used to be the bottom of an ancient ocean and from that moment on I was hooked.

What about the evolution of flightless birds interests you?
Flightless birds provide a fascinating insight into how trait integration affects and perhaps is effected by major evolutionary change, including change brought on by sexual selection.

What kinds of research methods are you using?
I use 2D digital photographs and 3D scans to landmark skeletal elements. These landmarks are then used in geometric morphometric analyses to study and compare shape, trait integration, and modularity.

How will this award help you accomplish your research?
My research requires photographs and scans of limb elements from both flying and flightless birds. There are not many flightless bird skeletons (especially complete ones) and the skeletons that are available for study are located in collections across the globe. The Wood Award will help fund my travel to various collections to collect the data necessary for my research.

Thank you, Spencer, and good luck on your research!
Posted: 8/31/2017 1:48:01 PM by andyfarkeadmin | with 0 comments
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