Amherst College Geology


Our lab focuses on early animal communities, microbially-dominated sandy environments, and exceptional fossil deposits known as konservat-lagerstatten. We do digital paleontology as well as plenty of fieldwork in places where Proterozoic and Cambrian rocks are well exposed, such as Death Valley and the Grand Canyon. There are many opportunities for motivated students to become involved, whether you're in your first year of college, a rising senior, or you're thinking about a grad school or postdoc project. Some recent research projects are outlined below. Recent fieldwork: Summer 2005, Summer 2004

Early Shorelines

The earliest land-going animals likely inhabited tidal flats and sandy beaches - areas which were intermittently exposed to air and where adaptations to terrestrial life could be developed. Yet we know little about these early communities - how, why, and what type of marine animals made the first sojourns onto land? Moreover, what were early terrestrial environments like - were they laden with microbial mats, bryophytes, or were they barren? How muddy were they? Students and I address these questions by examining coastal aeolian and tidal facies of Cambrian strata in North America and elsewhere. Some typical sedimentary structures and fossils are illustrated here.

Digital Paleobiology

The most critical fossil deposits contain soft-bodied organisms, or soft-tissues of biomineralized organisms. Yet the potency of these deposits is often diminished because it is difficult to mechanically or chemically extract such fossils from their matrix, or to examine the internal features of mineralized tissues. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than with pyritized shale-bound fossils or phosphatized soft-bodied fossils. Students in my lab use microfocus X-ray computed tomography together with digitized serial grinding to reveal the story behind such fossils, and to examine other opaque features in rock.
Neoproterozoic-Cambrian Paleocommunities

The Neoproterozoic-Cambrian transition marks a fundamental change in the dynamic of marine sedimentary environments, because it is when benthic metazoans invaded the seafloor, predation arose, and ecologically complex communities proliferated. At the same time, animals began to biomineralize and siliciclastic microbial communities disappeared - two phenomena which may have triggered or been caused by the aforementioned biotic changes. Students in my group investigate these two events using a combination of field and laboratory approaches, emphasizing well preserved strata from California, Nevada, and Sonora.


Please get in touch with me, check out my lab, or examine the thesis web pages of my former students:
B.A. - Martha Buck '04, Charlie Hoxie '05, Matty McFeely '05 , Joe Collette '07, Ariel Morales '07E, Lidya Tarhan '08, Emmy Smith '08, John Neff '09, Mariel Schottenfeld '09, Conor McDowell '09
M.S. - Kerin Claeson* '05, Patrick Getty '07, Joe Collette '09
- Eric Dewar* '08, Una Farrell* '09 (*secondary advisor)


Amherst College > Geology > Faculty > YT's page > Research