Sterling Nesbitt

Assistant Professor

 

My research focuses on the evolution of Mesozoic terrestrial vertebrate assemblages through major Earth events (e.g., climate change, extinctions) with a keen interest in reptile evolution. To examine events like the origin of dinosaurs and the evolution of faunas in the Triassic Period (252 - 202 Ma), I have concentrated on the origin and early evolution of archosaurs, a large group of vertebrates that includes crocodylians, dinosaurs, birds, and all their close relatives.

Particularly, I am interested in the evolution of character systems (e.g., hindlimb evolution), growth dynamics (e.g., tracking changes in ontogeny), and reconstructing phylogenetic relationships of reptiles from the Triassic. Our diverse vertebrate evolution research group (lab) looks at preservation, axial systems, and growth and how all three of these factors influences interpretations of morphology, convergent evolution, and phylogeny. To answer our questions, we travel to museums around the world and conduct fieldwork in Zambia, Tanzania, Argentina, Arizona, and New Mexico. I teach courses on the evolution of life, vertebrates, and Earth.

Education

Ph.D. Geosciences, Columbia University, 2009

B.A. Integrative Biology, University of California at Berkeley, 2004

Our research focuses on the evolution of Mesozoic terrestrial vertebrate assemblages through major Earth events (e.g., climate change, extinctions). We concentrate on the origin and early evolution of archosaurs, a large group of vertebrates that includes crocodylians, dinosaurs, birds, and all their close relatives. As a goal, we try to answer the following questions with archosaurs and other close relatives: What causes major diversification events in Earth History? What is the tempo and mode of diversification? How does paleoenvironment effect vertebrate distributions? We are just a component of a larger, very active research group here at Viriginia Tech.

To learn more, please visit our main research page here: http://www.paleo.geos.vt.edu/index.html

Graduate Students

  • Caitlin Colleary (PhD program) - Endogenous biomolecules and mechanisms for preservation in terrestrial vertebrates in deep time
  • Christopher Griffin (PhD program) - The influence of development on evolutionary patterns and trends
  • Candice Stefanic (Master's program) - The evolution and distribution of intervertebral articulations of the trunk region in archosaurs
  • Kiersten Formoso (Master’s student)

Undergrauduate Students

  • Emily Lessner (Undergraduate Researcher) - A new rauisuchid from Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
  • Colin Sweeny (Undergraduate Researcher) - The anatomy of the skull of the rhynchosaur Stenaulorhynchus from the Triassic Period of Africa
  • Alex Bradley (Undergraduate Researcher) - The anatomy of a small diapsid from the Triassic Period of Africa
  • LINDSTRÖM, S., IRMIS, R.B., WHITESIDE, J.H., SMITH, N.D., NESBITT, S.J. and TURNER, A.H. 2015. Palynology of the upper Chinle Formation in northern New Mexico, U.S.A.: implications for biostratigraphy and terrestrial ecosystem change during the Late Triassic (Norian-Rhaetian). Review of Paleobotany and Palynology. 225: 106-131.
  • NESBITT, S.J., FLYNN, J.J., PRITCHARD, A.C., PARRISH, J.M., RANIVOHARIMANANA, L. and WYSS, A.R. 2015. Postcranial osteology of Azendohsaurus madagaskarensis (?Middle to Upper Triassic, Isalo Group, Madagascar) and its systematic position among stem archosaur reptiles. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 899: 1-126.

EARTH AND LIFE THROUGH TIME (GEOS 1014)

EARTHS DYNAMIC SYSTEMS (GEOS, undergraduate)

INTRODUCTION TO PALEOBIOLOGY: YOUR INNER FISH (GEOS 2984)

EVOLUTION OF THE VERTEBRATES (GEOS 4984, undergraduate, 6304, graduate)

UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH (GEOS 4994)

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Our group is very involved in out reach across campus and beyond and examples of our activities include: exhibit design and construction in the Museum of Geosciences; participating in the annual Tech or Treat at Halloween; the annual Virginia Science festival; a “Paleo unpack” party where the public helps us organize fossils collected from fieldtrips.

 

Additionally, we operate a volunteer program in our fossil preparation laboratory. We currently have five full time volunteers working to help clean fossils from all over the world.

 

Personally, I am involved in radio shows (e.g., Pulse of the Planet, With Good Reason), the American Museum of Natural History Shelf life series, public talks, and am a research associate of many local and nationally renowned research museums and institutions (e.g., American Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian, Virginia Museum of Natural History).

Sterling Nesbitt