David L. Fox
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota
I am an evolutionary paleoecologist and my research focuses on the connections between changes in environmental conditions through Earth history and changes in the composition and structure of organismal communities. Most of my projects focus on Cenozoic ecosystems over the last 65 million years and modern ecosystems with an emphasis on mammalian communities. My research is expressly interdisciplinary and relies on data, methods, and theory from geochemistry, sedimentary geology, traditional paleontology, ecology, evolutionary biology, comparative anatomy, and biogeography. The primary tools I use to examine the connections between environmental and organismal change are the elemental and stable isotope geochemistry of various materials (sedimentary minerals and organic matter; teeth, bones, and other tissue of fossil and modern organisms), the biogeography of modern mammals, and quantitative analyses of the three dimensional morphology of the teeth, jaws, and skulls of fossil and modern mammals.
The degree to which environmental change or biotic interactions control the evolution of ecosystems on long timescales remains a central focus in paleobiology. One set of theories holds that community change is driven by species adapting or responding individually to unpredictable changes in non-biological conditions, whether climatic or tectonic (e.g., Vrba’s turnover pulse and Barnosky’s Court Jester hypotheses). The alternative view is that ecological interactions within communities are the primary factors that drive community evolution (e.g., Van Valen’s Red Queen hypothesis). Which type of model will fit for given ecosystems through time is an empirical question that requires detailed study of disparate systems, although given the contingent nature of history, it is unlikely that only one type of model will apply to all ecosystems. An understanding of both climatic and habitat change in past ecosystems is necessary to examine the relative influences of physical environmental change and ecological change in driving ecosystem dynamics. Thus, my research focuses on case studies in which independent environmental records of climate and/or habitat change can be developed and compared to records of community response in terms of ecological organization and morphological evolution. As we await the full extent of anthropogenic climate change over the next few human generations, understanding past connections between environmental change and biotic response gains currency as a means of understanding the potential impact of impending changes on today’s biota.
Curriculum Vitae (download pdf)
Department of Earth Sciences
310 Pillsbury Drive SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
by Albert Einstein
by Martin Luther King, Jr.