At the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, the paleontological research conducted spans diverse subject areas including paleobiology, paleoecology, taphonomy, biostratigraphy, biogeography, and phylogenetics. Faculty and students combine field research in both modern and ancient settings with museum studies and laboratory analyses to reconstruct past paleoenvironmental conditions and reveal their ecological and evolutionary consequences through geologic time. Collectively, research is focused on four key paleontological questions:

  • How do organisms respond to environmental changes and adapt to different environments?
  • How is biological diversity distributed across space and time?
  • How are paleontologic resources best used and conserved for scientific study?
  • How do modern processes drive fossil formation and preservation in different environments?

Understanding the relationships between organisms and their environments is important for interpreting the evolutionary history of the biosphere and for predicting future biotic responses to climate change.

Current study systems include:

  • Modern and fossil bone geochemistry and diagenesis;
  • Microbial interactions with vertebrates and bones in modern systems;
  • Modern freshwater and coastal biomes of tropical America;
  • Neogene sequences rich in microfossils and invertebrates from the Western Atlantic Ocean;
  • Cenozoic terrestrial deposits with rich mammalian faunas;
  • Cretaceous marine deposits from the Western Interior Seaway.

The close association with the South Dakota Mines Museum of Geology and Martin Paleontology Research Laboratory gives researchers access to research collections built over the last century.


  • Nathaniel Fox
    Quaternary paleoecology, small mammals, geometric morphometrics
  • Kayleigh Johnson
    Invertebrate and vertebrate fossil preparation
  • Sarah Keenan
    Vertebrate taphonomy, Low-temperature geochemistry, Geomicrobiology
  • Darrin Pagnac
    Mammalian paleontology, Paleoecology, paleontology of the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway

Emeritus Faculty

  • James Fox
    Stratigraphy, Sedimentology, Petroleum geology
  • James Martin
    Vertebrate Paleontology, Biostratigraphy  

Research Focus Areas