Despite 230 million years of global warming and cooling, sea-level rise and fall, drifting continents, and cataclysmic extinction, dinosaurs still reign as the most speciose group of terrestrial vertebrates. The Zanno lab uses comparative phylogenetic methods coupled with next-generation visualization approaches to reconstruct the “ecoevolutionary” cradle of living dinosaurs—birds. We synthesize a rich fossil record with observations from extant species to tackle complex transitions in dietary ecology, social/sexual selective forces, and key novelties in theropod dinosaur evolution.
The lab has an active field program aimed at identifying ancient biodiversity, patterns of extinction and speciation, and biogeography in ancient terrestrial ecosystems. Currently, we are gathering data on faunal dynamics during two particularly turbulent periods in the Cretaceous of western North America—the mid-Cretaceous, a time of interchange and turnover that may be associated with the initial establishment of a transarctic land bridge, and the Campano-Maastrichtian, a time of remarkably high dinosaur diversity linked to tectonic evolution of the Western Interior Basin.
The Zanno Lab, staff, students, and volunteers are divided between our home base The Paleontology & Geology Research Lab in the newly constructed Nature Research Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the Department of Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University. The on-exhibit lab serves as a new model for 21st century museum science, synthesizing active paleontological research and fieldwork, with graduate and undergraduate student training, K-12 education, teacher treks, active citizen science programs, and science communication efforts including the lab’s real-time social media platform—Expedition Live!. You can follow along with our fieldwork at www.expeditionlive.org or @Expeditionlive.