CLAS Supplementary Start-up Funds: Laura Stroik
My primary research interest lies in understanding the ecological mechanisms that drove changes in community composition and structure throughout mammalian, specifically primate, evolution. In other words, I am interested in determining “why” and “how” mammal groups arose, diversified, and went extinct by studying their interactions with their physical environment and with one another. In mammals, one of the most impactful species interactions is competition, and those species most likely to compete with one another are those who occupy the same ecological niche, or “role” in the community. In the fossil record, ecological niches can only be examined using the anatomical features preserved in fossil specimens, namely teeth and bones. As teeth are the point of contact between a mammal and its food, I use fossil teeth to reconstruct the dietary niches, and ultimately pattern of dietary competition, of mammals living in North America between 65 and 40 million years ago.
Currently, our lab is engaged in projects related to dental specimen preparation, identification of fossil species, dietary reconstructions of fossil mammals using the dentitions of living mammals, and the evolution of dietary niches within fossil communities, among others. Because the quantification of dental anatomy is at the center of all of these projects, students working in my lab are involved in dental molding, casting and curation; processing digital microCT scans; and three-dimensional data collection using medical imaging software. Finally, research students also have the opportunity to conduct paleontological fieldwork in Utah. If interested in conducting research in our lab, please contact Dr. Laura Stroik (firstname.lastname@example.org) to set up a meeting.