George Gaylord Simpson Prize - 2016
Search the Collections
Simon Darroch
Sarah Federman
Allison Hsaing

Simon Darroch

Since 2013 I have been working on ancient (Precambrian) fossil sites in southern Namibia. New data from these sites reveals that the first mass extinction of complex life was likely caused by evolution of animals capable of altering their environment, termed “ecosystem engineers”. Prior to the Cambrian Explosion, ecosystems were dominated by the Ediacara biota, a diverse group of organisms whose affinities are debated. Our study demonstrates that the youngest Ediacaran communities appear ecologically stressed, likely in response to increased animal activity such as predation, burrowing, and filter feeding. Unlike younger mass extinction events linked to volcanism or bolide impact, we show that the extinction of the Ediacara biota may be linked to the evolution of our oldest ancestors.

 

Sarah Federman

Madagascar houses some of the worlds most unique and threatened biodiversity. In the past few thousand years the island experienced a period of megafaunal extinctions, which included 17 species of lemur. Many of these extinct lemurs were inferred seed dispersers, a role that is essential to maintaining healthy and diverse forest ecosystems. We outline the substantial impact that these events have likely had on Malagasy forests by comparing the gape-size and diet of living and extinct lemurs to identify large seeded Malagasy plants that appear to have no living animal dispersers. We also identify living lemurs, many of which are endangered, that occupy unique and essential dispersal niches. This information can inform conservation initiatives that target the protection, enhancement, or restoration of these vulnerable ecosystems.

 

Allison Hsaing

"The origin of snakes: revealing the ecology, behavior, and evolutionary history of early snakes using genomics, phenomics, and the fossil record" represents a synthesis of varying lines of evidence in order to better understand the early evolution of snakes. By combining paleontological data with neontological data, my colleagues and I were able to shed light on the morphology, behavior, ecology, and phylogenetic history of this fascinating group of animals.

 

Broadly, my research integrates the fossil record with modern statistical and bioinformatic methods in order to better understand macroevolutionary patterns and the evolutionary history of major vertebrate and invertebrate clades. For my Ph.D. I worked on understanding sources of bias and misleading signal that can lead to phylogenetic incongruence between morphological and molecular datasets, with particular focus on the position of turtles within amniotes. Currently, as a postdoctoral associate at Yale, I have developed software tools for automatic extraction of 2D and 3D morphological data and am using these tools to explore the evolution of shape for planktonic foraminifera through time and space.