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Research Interests

The research interests in the Sperling Lab are Earth history and the evolution of life, and the interactions between the biosphere and the geosphere. As such this research can generally be considered paleontology, insofar as paleontology encompasses all aspects of the history of life.

Consequently, we define our research agenda by the questions we are interested in, rather than the tools used. This research incorporates multiple lines of evidence, and multiple tools, to investigate questions in the history of life. These lines of evidence include fossil data, molecular phylogenetics, sedimentary geochemistry, and ecological and physiological data from modern organisms. Ultimately, the goal is to link environmental change with organismal and ecological response through the lens of physiology. This work across multiple time scales, from ancient to modern global change. 

Information on the Sedimentary Geochemistry and Paleoenvironments Project (SGP) can be found here:



Huge congratulations to Judi Sclafani, who was awarded an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship to move to UC Davis to work on Paleozoic brachiopod evolution and ecology. Congratulations also to Richard Stockey for being awarded our department's Cenntenial TA Teaching Award (based on his work over many years designing labs and working as head TA for Introduction to Geology) and to Sam Ritzer for being awarded the Harriet Benson award. 

In collaboration with Lizzy Trower (Univ. of Colorado; who led the paper), Justin Strauss (Dartmouth), and Woody Fischer (Caltech), we have published a paper investigating silica levels in early Paleozoic oceans. The paper studied samples collected from the Road River Group in Yukon, Canada, and used SIMS analysis of silicon isotopes from co-eval radiolarians and sponge spicules to infer dissolved silicon levels.

Historical Geobiology graduate students Tom Boag and Rich Stockey, along with Payne group member Will Gearty (all co-first authors) have published a paper in Current Biology looking at the relationship between global temperatures and the latitudinal diversity gradient. A news article on the paper can be found here. In the modern ocean, the highest diversity is found in the tropics.