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Current Research

My broad questions are on the evolutionary mechanisms which facilitate and enable major functional transitions, particularly the changes in and controls of locomotory function in moving from one medium to another (water to land, land to water, land to air and all variations in between). I am currently using marine and semi-aquatic tetrapods as models and the land to water transition to test my hypotheses.

USC has a plethora of paleontological resources within the university and nearby. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLA) is across the street and the USC Paleosciences Research Consortium is comprised of 28 researchers and 25 graduate students across the Keck Medical School, Dornsife College of Arts and Sciences, and NHMLA.


Mosasaur Swimming

PhD minor project

Broadly studying mosasauroid swimming kinematics, fluid dynamics, and performance throughout the course of their evolution from small inefficient swimmers to giant pelagic forms. This work constitutes my minor project and should result in 1-2 papers during my PhD studies.

How terrestrial locomotion controls secondary aquatic transitions

Dissertation work

Researching how existing terrestrial locomotor functions facilitate or constrain the evolution of certain types of aquatic locomotion. Also the degree to which exaptation occurs in certain land-to-water lineages. My broad question is: do existing functional features may make some lineages more transitionally evolvable than others?

Other Vertebrate Paleontology Collaboration 

Side and previously started projects

Currently collaborating on 3 projects that are external to my PhD:

1) Thalattosuchian collaboration.

2) Mosasaur teeth and ecology.

3) Comprehensive assessment of Spinosaurus' swimming ability.

Past Graduate Research

Virginia Tech Paleobiology and Geobiology Research Group

Long-Necked Tanystropheids of the Southwest United States

Publication: Formoso, Kiersten K., Nesbitt, Sterling J., Pritchard, Adam C., Stocker, Michelle R., and Parker, William G. 2019. A long-necked tanystropheid from the Middle Triassic Moenkopi Formation (Anisian) provides insights into the ecology and biogeography of tanystropheids. Palaeontologia Electronica 22.3.73. 1–15.

Ontogenetic Maturity Assessment in Saurian Reptiles

Publication: Griffin, C.T., Stocker, M.R., Colleary, C., Stefanic, C.M., Lessner, E.J., Riegler, M., Formoso, K., Koeller, K. and Nesbitt, S.J. (2021), Assessing ontogenetic maturity in extinct saurian reptiles. Biol Rev.

Undergraduate Research

Organizing and Spatially Comparing Fossil Locations in the Lothagam Paleontolgoical Formation (2015-16)

Rutgers Paleoenvironmental Research Laboratory, Aresty Undergraduate Research Fellowship

My senior project in the Paleoenvironmental Research Lab involved organizing and interpreting a fossil data sheet corresponding to several fossil collections gathered over several years of field work in the Lothagam Paleontological Formation in Kenya.  I interpreted the data, over 2000 rows worth, based on the abundance of various Miocene taxa from the region and performed spatial and distribution statistics on the fossil coordinates. This work culminated into a poster presented at the annual Aresty Research Center's Undergraduate Research Symposium.

DNA Extraction, Amplification, & Tree Building (2013-15)

Rutgers Insect Phylogenetics Lab 

I conducted DNA based work in Insect Phylogenetics for nearly two years. It was my task to take specimens of caddisflies (both dry and preserved in ethanol) and gather DNA from them which could then be amplified. Under a microscope I held the specimen in one tweezer and pulled off a leg by the coxa with the other. I properly mixed the chemicals for DNA extraction, PCR, and gel electrophoresis to ensure that DNA had been successfully extracted. I learned molecular lab techniques, and contributed to the creation of phylogenetic trees using the sequences of specimens whose DNA I extracted and amplified.

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