Invertebrate Paleontology & Paleobotany Research

We have an active program that has had a recent focus on terrestrial ecosystems of North America. To learn more about specific research projects, click on the links below. To learn more about Smith Lab members, please visit our People page.

Some highlights of our current research:

Dena M. Smith

Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology

Dena Smith's research is broadly focused on insects in the fossil record. To study evolution, she works at multiple spatial and temporal scales--conducting both in-depth field-based research at targeted localities and large-scale literature based research across multiple geologic time intervals. She also conducts studies in modern ecosystems and in the lab in order to learn more about the specifics of plant-insect interactions and processes of fossilization.


Talia Karim
Collection Manager - Invertebrate Paleontology


Systematics and phylogenetic relationships of Lower Paleozoic trilobites, taphonomy, biostratigraphy, care and management of museum collections, museum based outreach and science education.


Evan Anderson
PhD Candidate - Department of Geological Sciences
Invertebrate Paleontology - Exceptional Preservation of Soft-Bodied Fossils




Lizzie Reinthal

MS Candidate - Museum and Field Studies Program


Friends and Recent Graduates

Lindsay Walker
MS - Museum and Field Studies Program, 2015

Diversity of Eocene Coleoptera in Colorado during a global cooling event


Erin Leckey
PhD - Department of Geological Sciences, 2014
Plant - Insect Interactions - Evolution of Querucs associations

Photo of Erin LeckeyPlant-insect interactions from the Oligocene to Recent of North America

Erin Leckey is interested in biological interactions through time, especially between plants and animals. Her research looks at specialized interactions between plants and animals in modern ecosystems, seeing how far back they can be tracked in the fossil record with a series of remarkable fossil deposits that span the last 50 million years of western North American terrestrial ecosystems.



Rick Levy
MS - Museum and Field Studies Program, 2013
Elevational Gradients and Grasshopper Life History Traits

Rick Levy


Mary Ellen Benson

Photo of Mary Ellen BensonEarly freshwater diatoms from Florissant, Colorado

Mary Ellen Benson's research on the diatoms of the Eocene Florissant lake beds of Colorado is multifaceted, beginning with the taxonomy of some of the earliest modern flora in the fossil record, examining how these taxa fit into the evolutionary continuum, and considering what the diatoms in their sedimentologic and stratigraphic context might suggest about the paleolimnology of the ancient lake.


John Hankla

Photo of John HanklaTaphonomy of vertebrate fossils collected in western harvester ant (P. occidentalis) nests

John Hankla's research involves vertebrate micro-fossils that are collected in the nests of the western harvester ant. By exploring the collecting methods of these ants, he is unraveling taphonomic factors associated with this unique type of fossil assemblage. John's field site is in an historic dinosaur quarry in the latest Cretaceous Lance Formation of Wyoming.


Jenell Thoene

Photo of Jenell ThoeneTaphonomy and Diversity of Insects from the late Eocene Florissant Fossil Beds

Jenell is interested in studying fossil insects and how their environments affect their preservation quality. She is working at the world famous Florissant Fossil Beds to study taphonomic processes and the preservation of fossil beetles, flies, wasps and true bugs.



Diane Brown
Adjoint Curator

Photo of Diane Brown's hand holding a sea anemoneCuration and study of Burgess Shale specimens and other marine invertebrates

Diane Brown's background is in veterinary clinical pathology. Her current research interests include marine invertebrates, including connections between past and present species. She is presently working with the Museum's extensive Burgess Shale collection.



Melissa Barton

Photo of Melissa BartonEocene-Oligocene climate change and floral diversity in central Colorado

Melissa Barton's thesis work focuses on late Eocene to late Oligocene fossil plants from localities in the Northern Rocky Mountains. The Eocene-Oligocene climate transition was a time of great ecological change as global climate cooled. Altered temperatures and weather patterns strongly affected both plant and animal communities. She hopes to learn more about the local timing and terrestrial effects of Eocene-Oligocene cooling in central Colorado.


Kevin Webster

Photo of Kevin WebsterTaphonomy and paleoecology of Barstow Formation arthropods

Kevin Webster is currently working on the taphonomy and paleoecology of the arthropod-bearing concretions of the Barstow Formation of southern California. Previously, he worked on taphonomy and preservation biases of cephalopods and bivalves in the Pierre Seaway of Late Cretaceous Maastrichtian North America.


Andrea Jaszlics

Post-natal allometry and its phylogenetic implications in extant Crocodylia