Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Behrensmeyer, Anna K.
Location Smithsonian Institution
Primary Field Anthropology
Secondary Field Geology
 Research Interests
Anna K. ("Kay") Behrensmeyer's research uses geological, paleontological, and ecological approaches to interpret information about evolution and ecology that is preserved in the geological and fossil record. Through experiments and observations in both modern and ancient environments, she has been a leader in taphonomy, the study of processes that affect organic remains and lead either to recycling or fossilization. Kay's research in East African human evolution influenced the growth of taphonomy in anthropology, vertebrate paleontology, and forensic science. She uses sedimentary geology and isotope geochemistry to reconstruct the physical environments of fossil-bearing deposits, and her field research in Permian to Pleistocene age rock sequences has revealed patterns of animal and plant fossil preservation that are predictable rather than random. Developing standardized paleontological sampling methods and advocating for the importance of spatial and temporal scale have figured prominently in her research agenda. A 40+ year study of modern taphonomy in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, documents the interaction of environmental change, vertebrate populations, and ecological recycling processes, with implications for what we can and cannot know from the fossil record. Much of Kay's work has been collaborative and focused on synergizing team efforts to build new understanding of ecosystem-scale changes in land environments through geological time.

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