The objective of paleontological studies at SMU is to apply fossils to understanding significant issues in Earth and life history. Students are encouraged to take a global perspective. Interdisciplinary and international studies are encouraged. Particular strengths lie in stratigraphy, systematics, taphonomy, and paleoecology of terrestrial ecosystems, with particular focus on secondarily adapted marine vertebrates and terrestrial vertebrates and plants of the Cretaceous and Paleogene. Students utilize innovative approaches and benefit from departmental strengths in paleoclimatology and stable isotope geochemistry. Current geographic areas of study include Alaska, Texas, Angola, Antarctica, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mongolia, Mozambique, Pakistan, and Portugal. The program is supported by the facilities of the Shuler Museum of Paleontology, including laboratories for fossil preparation, molding and casting, pollen extraction and analysis, and morphometric analysis. The paleontology program has several types of specialized imaging equipment, including a Leica epifluorescence microscope, a Keyence digital microscope, and a portable laser scanner with associated image processing facilities in the SMU Digital Earth Sciences Laboratory. Students also have access to the departmental SEM and XRD facilities, as well as the SMU Stable Isotope Laboratory with Finnigan MAT 252 and MAT 253 isotope ratio mass spectrometers and peripherals for analysis of waters, carbonates, and organic materials. Our program in paleontology leads to M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Earth Sciences.

Current Research

Projects currently underway cover a wide variety of topics:

  • The evolution, functional morphology, and physiology of mosasaurs
  • The functional morphology of Cretaceous plesiosaurs from Angola and comparison with modern analogues using computer modeling
  • Analyses of carbon isotopes in plant fossils and contemporaneous tooth enamel to investigate diet and niche partitioning among extinct fauna
  • Taxonomic and systematic studies of Oligocene plant fossils from Ethiopia
  • Crocodilian systematics and trends in diversity, with the description of new specimens from the Cretaceous of Texas
  • Age and stratigraphy of the Cretaceous marine deposits of Angola and paleoecology of sharks, plesiosaurs, and mosasaurs from these strata
  • Exploration of changing terrestrial environments across the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary in Mongolia using stable isotope geochemistry
  • Assessing temporal change in the diet of Miocene rodents from Pakistan using dental morphology and stable isotope geochemistry
  • Estimation of pCO2 and paleoclimate for the Early Miocene and Late Oligocene of Ethiopia using independent proxies including plant fossils and isotopes
  • Assessment and comparison of paleoecology from Late Oligocene and early Miocene paleobotanical sites using fossil plants, insect damage data, and isotopes
  • Paleoenvironmental analysis of the 10 Ma Nakalipithecus hominoid site, Kenya
  • Understanding the paleoecology of Cretaceous high-latitude terrestrial ecosystems and their relationship to climate signals

SMU Paleontology Research Links

PaleoAngola Project

Paleobotany in Ethiopia

First dinosaur from Angola

State dinosaur of Texas

Recent Theses and Dissertations

Adams, Thomas L. 2011. Crocodyliform systematics, with the description of new taxa from the Cretaceous of Texas. Ph.D. Dissertation, 186 pp.

Aguillon Martinez, Martha Carolina. 2010. Fossil vertebrates from the Cerro del Pueblo Formation, Coahuila, Mexico, and the distribution of Late Campanian (Cretaceous) terrestrial vertebrate faunas. M.S. Thesis, 148 pp.

Danehy, Daniel R. 2010. Terrestrial vegetation reconstructions spanning the Paleogene-Neogene boundary in the Ethiopian highlands. M.S. Thesis, 172 pp.

García Massini, Juan L. 2009. Paleoenvironmental reconstruction of Late Oligocene deposits from the northwestern Ethiopian Plateau. Ph.D. Dissertation, 250 pp.

Kimura, Yuri. 2009. New sicistine mice (Sicistinae, Rodentia, Mammalia) from the Early Miocene of Gashunyinadege, Inner Mongolia, China. M.S. Thesis, 149 pp.

Myers, Timothy S. 2009. Late Jurassic paleoclimate of Europe and Africa. Ph.D. Dissertation, 216 pp.

Nishida, Yosuke. 2009. A new desmostylid (Mammalia: Desmostylia) from the early Miocene Unalaska Formation, Alaska. M.S. Thesis, 108 pp.

Vineyard, Diana. 2009. A new Eucryptodiran turtle from the Lower Cretaceous Glen Rose Formation of Texas. M.S. Thesis, 123 pp.

Adams, Thomas L. 2008. Deposition and taphonomy of the Hound Island vertebrate fauna from the Late Triassic (middle Norian) of southeast Alaska. M.S. Thesis, 121 pp.

Strganac, Christopher B. 2008. Paleogene terrestrial mammals from the Tieton River area, south central Washington. M.S. Thesis, 127 pp.

Pan, Aaron D. 2007. The Late Oligocene (28--27 Ma) Guang River flora from the northwestern plateau of Ethiopia. Ph.D. Dissertation, 235 pp.

Paleo Faculty/Staff

  • Anthony Fiorillo, Adjunct Professor, Curator of Paleontology, Dallas Museum of Nature & Science
  • Bonnie Jacobs, Associate Professor, Chair, Environmental Science Program
  • Louis Jacobs, Professor, President, Institute for the Study of Earth and Man (ISEM)
  • Timothy Myers, Research Curator, Shuler Museum of Paleontology
  • Michael Polcyn, Research Associate, Director of the Digital Earth Sciences Laboratory at SMU
  • Diana Vineyard, Research Associate, Institute for the Study of Earth and Man (ISEM)
  • Alisa Winkler, Adjunct Professor, Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern Medical School
  • Dale Winkler, Adjunct Professor, Director, Shuler Museum of Paleontology


Adams, T.L., Polcyn, M.J., Mateus, O., Winkler, D.A. and Jacobs, L.L. (2011) First occurrence of the long-snouted crocodyliform Terminonaris (Pholidosauridae) from the Woodbine Formation (Cenomanian) of Texas. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 31:712–716.

Adams, T.L., Strganac, C.Polcyn, M. and Jacobs, L.L. (2010) High resolution three-dimensional scanning of the type specimen of Eubrontes (?) glenrosensis Shuler, 1935 from the Comanchean (Lower Cretaceous) of Texas: implications for digital archiving and preservation. Palaeontologica Electronica, 13(3):1T.

Araújo, R., Castanhinha, R. and Mateus, O. (2011) Evolutionary major trends of ornithopod dinosaurs teeth. In: Dinosaurios y paleontología desde América Latina (Eds. J. Calvo, J. Porfiri, B. Gonzalez Riga, and D. Dos Santos), pp. 25–31. Editorial de la Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, Mendoza.
Araújo, R., Natário, C. and Pound, M. (2011) How to mount an inexpensive sieving lab. Journal of Paleontological Techniques, 9:1–8.

García Massini, J.L. and Jacobs, B.F. (2011) The effects of volcanism on Oligocene-age plant communities from the Ethiopian Plateau, and implications for vegetational resilience in a heterogeneous landscape. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, 164:211–222.

García Massini, J.L., Jacobs, B.F. and Tabor, N.J. (2010) Paleobotany and sedimentology of Late Oligocene terrestrial strata from the northwestern Ethiopian Plateau. Palaeontologia Electronica, 13(1):6A.

Jacobs, B.F., Pan, A.D. and Scotese, C.R. (2010) A review of the Cenozoic vegetation history of Africa. In: Cenozoic Mammals of Africa (Eds. L. Werdelin and W.J. Sanders), pp. 57–72. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Jacobs, L.L.Strganac, C. and Scotese, C.R. (2011) Plate motions, Gondwana dinosaurs, Noah's Arks, Beached Viking Funeral Ships, ghost ships, and landspans. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências, 83:3–22.

Kimura, Y. (2011) The earliest record of birch mice from the Early Miocene Nei Mongol, China. Naturwissenschaften, 98:87–95.

Kimura, Y. (2010) New material of dipodid rodents (Dipodidae, Rodentia) from the early Miocene of Gashunyinadege, Nei Mongol, China. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 30:1860–1873.

Kimura, Y., Yokoyama, Y. and Hirano, H. (2011) Stratigraphic trends in molluscan paleoecology in storm-generated shell beds from the lower shoreface deposits of the Pliocene Dainichi Formation, Kakegawa Group, central Japan. Fossils, 90:5–15.

Myers, T.S. (2010) A new ornithocheirid pterosaur from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian-Turonian) Eagle Ford Group of Texas. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 30:280–287.

Myers, T.S. (2010) Earliest occurrence of the Pteranodontidae (Archosauria: Pterosauria) in North America: New material from the Austin Group of Texas. Journal of Paleontology, 84:1071–1081.

Myers, T.S., Tabor, N.J. and Jacobs, L.L. (2011) Late Jurassic paleoclimate of Central Africa. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 311:111–125.

Pan, A., Jacobs, B.F. and Herendeen, P. (2010) Detarieae sensu lato (Fabaceae) from the Late Oligocene (27.23 Ma) Guang River flora of north-western Ethiopia.  Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 163:44–54.

Polcyn, M. J. and Lamb, J. (2012) The snout of Halisaurus platyspondylus Marsh 1869: phylogenetic and functional implications. Bulletin de la Société Géologique de France, 183(2):135–141.

Polcyn, M. J., Lindgren, J., Bardet, N., Cornelissen, D., Verding, L. and Schulp, A.S. (2012) Description of new specimens of Halisaurus arambourgi Bardet & Pereda Suberbiola, 2005 and the relationships of Halisaurinae. Bulletin de la Société Géologique de France, 183(2):121–134.

Polcyn, M.J.Jacobs, L.L., Schulp, A.S. and Mateus, O. (2010) The North African mosasaur Globidens phosphaticusfrom the Maastrichtian of Angola. Historical Biology, 22:175–185.

Strganac, C. (2011) Terrestrial mammal fossils from the Wildcat Creek Beds (Paleogene), Tieton River Area, south-central Washington, USA. Palaeontologia Electronica 14(3):24A.

Winkler, A.J. (2011) Macroscelidea. In: Paleontology and Geology of Laetoli: Human Evolution in Context. Volume 2: Fossil Hominins and the Associated Fauna (Ed. T. Harrison), pp. 67–74. Springer, Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology.

Winkler, A.J., Flynn, L.J. and Tomida, Y. (2011) Fossil lagomorphs from the Potwar Plateau, northern Pakistan. Palaeontologia Electronica 14(3):38A.

Winkler, A.J. and Tomida, Y. (2011) The lower third premolar of Serengetilagus praecapensis (Mammalia: Lagomorpha: Leporidae) from Laetoli, Tanzania. In: Palaeontology and Geology of Laetoli: Human Evolution in Context. Volume 2: Fossil Hominins and the Associated Fauna (Ed. T. Harrison), pp. 55–66. Springer, Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology.

Winkler, D.A.Jacobs, L.L., Kobayashi, Y. and Polcyn, M.J. (2011) CT reconstructions and relationships of the Early Cretaceous tribosphenidan mammal, Slaughteria eruptens (Trinity Group Texas, USA). Palaeontologia Electronica, 14(3):21A.