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About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2015 Awardees 2015 (Albert E. Wood Award) - Zachary Morris


I was born and raised in northern California with parents that nurtured exploration and learning. I was always fascinated by the world around me and wanted to know how and why the world was the way it was. I spent my days exploring the rocks and animals around me and gained a deep appreciation of nature.

I received a B.A. in Integrative Biology from The University of California at Berkeley and earned the Departmental Citation. During my time at UC Berkeley, I spent many hours exploring the paleontology collections in the University of California Museum of Paleontology. I worked as an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Kevin Padian’s lab working with Dr. Sarah Werning on histological analyses of extinct relatives of crocodiles and birds. It was during these research experiences that I realized evolutionary biology was my calling and I dedicated myself to research science. My undergraduate research focused on studying shape changes in turtles bones through ontogeny and looking at the microsctructure of bones to understand variation in the ontogeny of extinct reptiles. The summer after I graduated I spent three weeks traveling around Arizona and New Mexico collecting reptiles and amphibians for research in UC Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and had my first paleontology field experience at Ghost Ranch, NM. While learning about Triassic ecosystems and how to collect fossils, I knew I was in love with paleontology and it was the path I wanted to pursue in graduate school.

At the end of that summer, I began graduate school at the Jackson School of Geosciences at The University of Texas at Austin. I studied vertebrate paleontology under the advising of Dr. Timothy Rowe. In my Master’s Thesis I studied the variation in the ossification of the skeleton of Monodelphis domestica, an extant marsupial. This project has revealed that developmental sequences are much more variable than previously recognized. While I was learning about vertebrate anatomy, systematic methods, and paleontological lab techniques, I realized that many of the interesting questions about how new features evolved were related to how development has evolved through time.

In order to be able to study the evolution of development, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. integrating paleontology and developmental biology at Harvard University working with Dr. Arkhat Abzhanov. In my dissertation I am integrating studies of the evolution of skull shape in Archosauria with the developmental genetics of craniofacial development in extant crocodylians and birds in order to test hypotheses about how the crocodylian and avian skulls have evolved.