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My research examines evolution and ecology of early mammals in the context of major events in earth history through fieldwork, systematics, and quantitative functional analysis of modern and extinct species. Current research projects focus on three broad topics.
1. Mammalian change across the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary.
Mass extinctions play a dual role in influencing evolution (Gould 1985; Raup 1994). They are destructive in culling species and their evolutionary traits from the biosphere, but also are creative by generating open ecospace and new opportunities for survivors. My ongoing work on the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary in Hell Creek, Montana examines the patterns and processes of mass extinctions and the biotic recoveries that follow (Wilson 2005).
2. Mammal tooth shape and diet.
Most studies quantifying tooth shape rely on two-dimensional information to represent complex, three-dimensional teeth and use homologous landmarks (e.g., geometric morphometrics), which cannot effectively compare vastly different tooth shapes. To address these limitations, I work in collaboration with Drs. Alistair Evans, Jukka Jernvall, and Mikael Fortelius to develop methods of quantifying tooth shape that incorporate 3-D shape data but eliminate the need for homologous landmarks. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analyses of these data have identified metrics that strongly correlate with dietary preferences in phylogenetically independent groups, namely living rodents and carnivorans (Evans et al., 2007). We are now applying these methods to infer diet in extinct mammals, like multituberculates (see image; Wilson et al., 2006).
3. Biogeography of Cretaceous mammals.
Our understanding of early mammalian evolution has traditionally been biased toward fossil data from the northern continents. However, Cretaceous mammal fossils (144-65 million years old) discovered on southern continents during the last 25 years, hint at a dramatically different story of early mammalian evolution. This is not entirely unexpected; as the southern continents became geographically isolated from the northern continents during the breakup of Pangaea, their continental biotas evolved independently from those in the north. To provide a more comprehensive view of early mammalian evolution, I have ongoing field projects and collaborations in Cretaceous deposits of under-explored geographic regions, like India, Baja California, and Africa (e.g., Rana and Wilson, 2003; Wilson et al., 2007).
Greg is the Director of the DIG Field School and is a Professor in the Department of Biology, Associate Director of Research and Collections and Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Burke Museum, and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington. He is also a Research Associate at the University of California Museum of Paleontology and was a Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. He has been published in a number of prestigious scientific journals including Nature, Science, Geological Society of America Special Papers, Paleobiology, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, and Scientific Reports and has appeared in on-line reporting for the Huffington Post for his work in Hell Creek, Montana as well as Nature Podcasts and Science Daily. His research has been funded by a number of organizations including the National Geographic Society, NSF, USDA Forest Service, the American Philosophical Society, and the Paleontological Society.
Greg attended Stanford University as an undergraduate and received his PhD in Integrative Biology from the University of California, Berkeley in 2004 and was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Helsinki in 2005.