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Current Research

My broad questions relate to the functional mechanisms which facilitate, enable, or constrain major evolutionary transitions, particularly the controls of locomotory functional morphology in moving from land to water. To answer my questions, I am currently using a large dataset of marine and semi-aquatic mammals and reptiles.

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 School of Medicine of USC, USC Dornsife College of Arts and Sciences, and the NHMLA.


Mosasaur Swimming

PhD minor project

Broadly studying mosasauroid swimming 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.

How terrestrial locomotion controls secondary aquatic transitions

Primary Dissertation work

I am 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 Collaborations 

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

1) Terrestrial and Marine Ecospace occupation across the Triassic-Jurassic Boundary as impacted by the End-Triassic Extinction.

2) Collaboration on Thalattosuchian collaboration.

3) Comprehensive assessment of Spinosaurus' swimming ability.



Kiersten K Formoso, Michael B Habib, Jorge Velez-Juarbe (Accepted, 2023) The role of locomotory ancestry on secondarily aquatic transitions, Integrative and Comparative Biology.


Paul C Sereno, Nathan Myhrvold, Donald M Henderson, Frank E Fish, Daniel Vidal, Stephanie L Baumgart, Tyler M Keillor, Kiersten K Formoso, Lauren L Conroy (2022) Spinosaurus is not an aquatic dinosaur, eLife 11:e80092.

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.


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.

Past Graduate Research

Virginia Tech Paleobiology and Geobiology Research Group (2016-17)

Long-Necked Tanystropheids of the Southwest United States

Ontogenetic Maturity Assessment in Saurian Reptiles

Undergraduate Research

Rutgers Paleoenvironmental Research Laboratory, Aresty Undergraduate Research Fellowship (2015-16)

Organizing and Spatially Comparing Fossil Locations in the Lothagam Paleontological Formation

Rutgers Insect Phylogenetics Lab (2013-15)

DNA Extraction, Amplification, & Tree Building 

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