The Zanno Lab has a broad research scope using trait-based data from extinct and extant vertebrates to address ecological and evolutionary patterns in deep time, with a focus on Mesozoic Archosauria. Zanno Lab students and postdoctoral researchers work at all scales from alpha taxonomy to macroevolutionary trends. All projects in the lab are specimen-based, directly accessing data from biological and paleontological collections. Our currently active projects can be coarsely organized into the following themes: ecomorphology, sexual/social display structures and weaponry; comparative growth dynamics; paleopathology; paleobiogeography; alpha-taxonomy; and phylogenetic systematics. Our methodological expertise is equally broad and encompasses: advanced visualization technology (high-resolution surface scanning, computed tomography, 3-D printing), paleohistology, and quantitative approaches such as comparative phylogenetic methods. The lab’s field-focused research works to enhance our understanding of Mesozoic biodiversity and biogeography, specifically patterns of extinction, speciation, and faunal succession within the Western Interior Basin. You can explore our field program at our companion website www.expeditionlive.org.
Some of the Zanno Lab’s current projects include:
Theropod Dinosaur Evolution: Theropods–the group of dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus rex, Velociraptor, and living birds–are the only lineage of dinosaurs to survive the mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous. Many of the highly specialized and unique characteristics of living birds such as feathers, foldable wrists, complex lungs, diverse diets, and reproductive strategies actually evolved deep in the theropod family tree. The Zanno Lab works to reconstruct the ancestry of living dinosaurs by studying the evolution of diet, reproduction, sexual selection, and other key novelties that define theropod evolution.
3D Visualization: The Zanno Lab is using next-generation visualization approaches including computed tomography (CT) and 3D surface scanning and printing to advance the study of fossils. A new and cutting-edge way to incorporate 3D into evolutionary studies, this approach helps the team develop new protocols for analyzing anatomical and fossil data using 3D metrics. By further developing this technology, the Zanno Lab seeks to better understand sexual selection and phenotypic variation in extinct species.
Ecosystem Change through Time: Zanno Lab field research tackles life on a changing planet during the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods. Each year the team spends several months on expedition discovering and describing ancient biodiversity and piecing together regional climate and paleobiogeographic trends. Through these efforts, the lab investigates how dinosaur speciation and extinction patterns correlate with ecosystem change. The team regularly finds and describes new species of dinosaurs previously unknown to science.