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About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2012 Awardees 2012 (Albert E. Wood Award) Melissa Kemp

I was born and raised in Granite, Maryland, a rural town outside of Baltimore, named such for its quarries. It was amongst these outcrops and the surrounding forests of the Patapsco State Park that my love for the natural world grew. Always fascinated by the past, my first encounter with fossils was in the sixth grade, when my teacher brought in a fossilized fish. Ever since, I have been obsessed with studying the fossil record.

I received a BA in Biology from Williams College. There, my interests in paleontology, biogeography, and molecular biology began to coalesce. As a sophomore, I accompanied Professor Markes Johnson to Baja California Sur, Mexico in order to study the paleoecology of ancient rocky shores. Under the guidance of Professor Anne Skinner, I used Electron Spin Resonance to date bovid bones from archaeological sites. It was in a course with Skinner that I first learned about the field of paleogenetics, which I saw as a way to synthesize my childhood fascination with paleontology and my growing interest in population genetics.   During this time period I also studied genetic drift in the boreal chorus frog of Isle Royale, and accompanied a team of population geneticists and phylogeographers to Indonesia in order to understand coral reef biodiversity. 

I am currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Biology at Stanford University, with Elizabeth Hadly as my advisor. My research aims to elucidate patterns of extinction and diversification in the herpetofauna of the Lesser Antilles, with an emphasis on lizards. In particular, I am interested in the impact of island area on species and genetic diversity. This work capitalizes on subfossil deposits throughout the region, morphometrics, and ancient DNA.

I am extremely grateful to receive the Albert E. Wood Award. The funding from this work will be used to visit the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France and study a Late Pleistocene herpetofaunal assemblage from Marie-Galante.   I would like to thank all my mentors and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology for their guidance and continued support.