SVP Estes Memorial Grant Interview: Krista Koeller

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 Krista Koeller (Virginia Tech University), recipient of the Estes Memorial Grant for her project, “Exploring constraints on pectoral girdle morphology during the evolution of limblessness.”


Briefly, what is your academic background up to this point? How did you get interested in paleontology?

My paleontology story starts rather late in my education, in my senior year of college. I did a senior thesis project on speciation in parrot snakes and was interested in the glaciation cycles that had likely driven their divergence. My advisor, however, was not and I decided to leave neontology to find a field that would allow me to explore larger scale evolutionary questions and get at the “how” and “why” of evolution rather than just the “what.” I started an internship at the Field Museum the fall after graduation and got a chance to explore a range of approaches to paleontology. After deciding what my interests and goals were, I began a master’s program with Dr. Michelle Stocker at Virginia Tech, which is where I am now.



Your work on limblessness focuses on the pectoral girdle in particular--why look at that, instead of bones like the humerus, or hands?

The pectoral girdle is an interesting system in its own right. It is a complex of of dermal and endochondral bone and supports muscles involved in more than just limb movement, yet it is completely lost in most limbless taxa. It has its own highly conserved and unique developmental program and learning about how it’s lost may allow me to develop hypotheses about the genetic mechanisms and selective pressures involved in this and other limb loss events.

In addition, limb and digit loss has been studied before, even in the group I’m working on, but limb girdles have barely been looked at. When I was doing my initial background reading, it surprised me how few papers there were on pectoral girdle loss and how few of those looked at pectoral girdle loss in a phylogenetic context.



What kinds of research methods are you using?

I am CT scanning alcohol preserved specimens from museums and analyzing their pectoral girdle morphology using 3D geometric morphometrics.


How will this award help you accomplish your research?

This award will allow me to increase my sample size so I’ll be able to study a representative sample both phylogenetically and morphologically. There are over 90 species, and over a dozen different combinations of digit numbers in this group so having a large sample size is important.

Thank you, Krista, and good luck on your research!

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