Paleontology at KU

The Paleontology Program

Paleontology at The University of Kansas is studied primarily in the departments of Geology and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, but some research is also underway in the department of Anthropology. Some paleontologists in these academic departments have joint appointments in the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Anthropology, or the Paleontological Institute. The Kansas Geological Survey also has a long tradition of research in paleontology. A recent report prepared by U. S. News and World Report ranked KU's program in paleontology fifth in the nation, and the Paleontological Society, in its assessment of paleontology collections, ranked KU's fifth among universities. Both MS and Ph.D. degrees are awarded. The department has been successful in placing graduates both in academia and industry. The University also has a joint agreement with Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, whereby faculty members in the KSU Department of Geology can direct the doctoral dissertation research of geology students at KU.

Paleontology at The University of Kansas includes several diverse thematic areas. Specimen based invertebrate paleontology is practiced in the Geology department. There Steve Hasiotis, Roger Kaesler, and Bruce Lieberman use the fossil record to study ecological and evolutionary patterns in the history of life. They all incorporate quantitative approaches and fieldwork in their research. Roger Kaesler studies fossil ostracodes and other microfossils and has pursued research on faunas spanning the recent to Paleozoic aimed at addressing questions related to the interface between the organism and the environment. Areas of research interest and expertise include statistics, morphometrics, and paleoecology, and he pursues currently projects related to Carboniferous paleoecology and taphonomy of various microfossil groups (including ostracodes) along with studies of the effects of pollution and other environmental stresses on modern ostracodes. He is also in charge of the Division of Invertebrate Paleontology of KU's Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center and of the Paleontological Institute; the latter edits and publishes the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology and The University of Kansas Paleontological Contributions. Steve Hasiotis focuses on ichnology, the study of trace fossils and trackways, and he uses these, in combination with detailed fieldwork, to study key evolutionary events in the history of arthropods and vertebrates. He uses fossil trackways not only to identify trace makers but also to study the ecology and evolution of behavior. Active projects include using trace fossils to understand the Cambrian radiation, studying the formation of soils, and evaluating the origins and evolution of crayfish and other groups of continental invertebrates. Bruce Lieberman's research emphasizes the study of macroevolutionary patterns and processes using phylogenetic analysis. He is particularly interested in biogeography, the study of the coevolution of the Earth and its biota with research in this area including phylogenetic approaches to biogeography and also geographic information systems (GIS). His primary focus has been on trilobites, but he has also considered the evolution of various groups of molluscs using molecular methods, and more recently he has come to focus on Cambrian Burgess Shale type faunas from Utah, Nevada, and elsewhere. Current projects include studying the tempo and mode of the Cambrian radiation, the dynamics of the Late Devonian biodiversity crisis in collaboration with a current doctoral student, the analysis of Cambrian tectonics, the analysis of diversity time series in collaboration with a former M.S. student, and topics in macroevolutionary theory.

Other important paleontological research occurs under the auspices of the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB), which has recently been ranked nationally among the top 25 departments by the National Research Council. There Tom Taylor, Edith Taylor, Larry Martin, and Leonard Krishtalka are key members of the paleontological program at KU. For example, Tom and Edith Taylor focus in detail on Paleozoic and Mesozoic paleobotany of various regions, especially Antarctica. Each has distinct interests within Paleobotany. Tom Taylor is investigating the origin of fungi, while Edith Taylor has focused on several paleoenvironmental topics. Their research programs complement each to the extent that both address key questions related to the origin and evolution of various major plant lineages. Research in vertebrate paleontology also occurs primarly in EEB, although Steve Hasiotis in Geology also has interests in vertebrate paleontology, especially in relationship to vertebrate trackways. Some degrees in vertebrate paleontology have been granted through the geology department. Larry Martin's research studies the higher vertebrates, especially dinosaurs and fossil mammals. Leonard Krishtalka also specializes in fossil mammals while contributing to growth in bioinformatics, a critical area of evolutionary research. Two other scientists in EEB, Ed Wiley and Mike Engel, also have scientific interests that overlap with part of the paleontological program. Ed Wiley uses phylogenetics to study macroevolution and biogeography, and some of his research has incorporated fossil fish. Mike Engel uses phylogenetics to study the evolution of insects, while incorporating data from the fossil record.

Museum Studies

The graduate program in Museum Studies offers preparation for professional careers in museums or historical agencies. Its curriculum provides a basic understanding of the nature of museums and historical agencies as well as specialized training administered by the American Studies Program and the Departments of Anthropology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Geology, and History. Students may also pursue a master's degree in Indigenous Nations Studies with a museum studies track. The geology track has traditionally focused on paleontology.

Research Centers in Paleontology

The Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center provides one of the most complete support bases for paleontology that can be found anywhere. It includes more than half a million invertebrate fossils and 150,000 vertebrate fossils, some very large osteological study collections of recent organisms, an important herbarium, and a large collection of fossil plants. There is also an important collection of fossil insects in the Division of Entomology. The museum offers a number of curatorial assistantships that are valuable means of educating graduate students in systematic paleontology.

The Paleontological Institute publishes the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology and The University of Kansas Paleontological Contributions. The Treatise project, founded in 1948 by the late Professor R. C. Moore, involves some 300 paleontologists worldwide and is one of the longest-running scientific enterprises in history, providing an invaluable resource for all aspects of invertebrate paleontology.

The Kansas Geological Survey employs more than 50 scientists who are assisted by about 80 full-time staff members and student employees. These scientists specialize in a variety of geological disciplines including hydrogeology, geochemistry, geophysics, stratigraphy, paleontology, mathematical geology, engineering geology, mineral economics, and computer science. The Geological Survey is housed on the campus and is an integral part of The University.

Financial Support of Students

The departments of Geology and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, the Natural History Museum, and the Kansas Geological Survey offer a number of teaching, curatorial, and research assistantships to students, and the Department of Geology annually offers at least one research fellowship that is funded by the petroleum industry. These awards are open to graduate students in paleontology, and students who apply for admission to the graduate programs will receive additional information about them. In addition, the Department of Geology and the Natural History Museum award several thousand dollars each year to support the research of graduate students, funds that are contributed by alumni, friends of The University, and industry. Students typically obtain additional support for their research from Sigma Xi, the Geological Society of America, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the Paleontological Society, and federal and state granting agencies.

The University

The University of Kansas is a major educational and research institution with some 28,000 students and more than 1,900 faculty members who are dedicated to serving the State of Kansas, the nation, and their respective disciplines. KU includes the main campus in Lawrence; the Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas; the Regents Center in Overland Park, Kansas; a clinical campus of the School of Medicine in Wichita; and educational and research facilities throughout the state. KU has 14 major academic divisions: the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School, and schools of Allied Health, Architecture and Urban Design, Business, Education, Engineering, Fine Arts, Journalism and Mass Communication, Law, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Social Welfare.

The University of Kansas is committed to providing programs and activities to all persons, regardless of race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, marital or parental status, and, to the extent covered by law, age or veteran status.


Prospective graduate student may request application forms and detailed information on any of the departments' activities, requirements, and assistantships from and of the academic departments listed below:

Director of Graduate Admissions
Department of Geology
The University of Kansas
120 Lindley Hall
1475 Jayhawk Blvd.
Lawrence, Kansas 66045

Director of Graduate Admissions
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
The University of Kansas
2045 Haworth Hall
Lawrence, Kansas 66045

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