A central theme of my research involves reconstructing and comparing land ecosystems through time and exploring how ecology has helped to shape land vertebrate evolution and community structure throughout the Phanerozoic. I work at the interfaces between the recent and the ancient and between the disciplines of geology, paleobiology, evolutionary biology, ecology and anthropology. Taphonomy is essential for understanding information contained in the fossil record, providing guidelines for ecological inferences about ancient animals and environments. Taphonomy also can reveal unique information about past and present ecosystem dynamics and the processes of organic recycling.
Fossil plants of late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic age (240-350 million years old).
- Plant-insect associations in the fossil record
- Insect paleoecology and the evolution of terrestrial ecosystems
- Early Devonian ecosystems and the origin of arthropod terrestriality
Since joining the Smithsonian in 1985, Rick has dedicated his research to piecing together the record of Earth’s environmental change and human adaptation. His ideas on how human evolution responded to environmental instability have stimulated wide attention and new research in several scientific fields. Rick has developed international collaborations among scientists interested in the ecological aspects of human evolution.
My research focuses on Mesozoic terrestrial vertebrates, especially dinosaurs and their relatives, and changes in continental ecosystems through time. I have collected fossils of dinosaurs and other extinct vertebrates in North America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. I have discovered scores of new species of extinct mammal precursors and reptiles, including a number of new dinosaurs.
My research is on fossil plants and the history of climate change between about 70 and 40 million years ago - the last part of the Age of Dinosaurs (Mesozoic) and the first part of the Age of Mammals (Cenozoic). I’m particularly interested in the evolutionary radiation and ecological expansion of flowering plants, and in the globally warm climate of this time. One of my main interests is an event called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which provides the closest analog in earth history to current human-induced global warming.