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About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2017 Awardees 2017 (Dawson Grant) Megan R. Whitney


I grew up in a small coastal town in Maine where I developed a deep appreciation for biodiversity. I have always known I wanted to be biologist, but I never would have guessed I would be working with animals that died millions of years ago. I was a biology major at Macalester College and tried out different areas of biology research including the ecology of garlic mustard and the effects of climate change on Ecuadorian lizards during a semester abroad. At the beginning of my senior year, I joined Kristi Curry Rogers’ lab. I was interested in a research that combined anatomy and evolution, and although I had never considered becoming a paleontologist, my project with Kristi made me realize how perfectly aligned paleontological research is with my interests.

My undergraduate research examined a neonatal sauropod from Madagascar using bone histology and micro-CT scans. The microanatomy of this specimen revealed evidence of precocial behavior as well as a possible hatchling line with implications in reconstructing the dynamics of the earliest ontogeny in the largest animals to have walked on earth. After I graduated college, Kristi hired me to run her histology lab which is where I became particularly keen on inferring biological and evolutionary patterns from fossil animals through the microstructure of their bones.

In the fall of 2013 I began graduate school at the University of Washington to work with Christian Sidor. At the broadest level, I am interested in how traits evolve through time and what that can tell us about the selective pressures acting on those animals at the time. My research focuses on the acquisition of mammal-like dentition using the histology of our therapsid forbearers’ teeth and jaws. I am interested in how mammals evolved unique traits like diphyodonty and a soft tissue tooth attachment. My dissertation aims to reveal macroevolutionary trends in synapsid dentition with the hopes of providing a context for how and why these traits evolved.