Contact Information
Office Location: EE Just Hall Room 333
Office Telephone: 202-806-6941
Laboratory Location: EE Just Hall Room 340
Laboratory Telephone: 202-806-6958

B.A., Augustana College (2002)
M.S., University of Iowa (2005)
Ph.D., University of Chicago (2011)

Research Associate, Department of Geology, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL
Advisory Board Member, Center for Polar Studies, Augustana College, Rock Island, IL
Society for the Study of Evolution; American Ornithologists’ Union; Palaeontological Association
The Willi Hennig Society; Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
Society of Systematic Biologists; Paleontological Society; Geological Society of America

Evolution (340)
Evolutionary and Systematic Biology (534)

Research Interests
Evolutionary Biology
Vertebrate Paleontology
Phylogenetic Systematics

Grants and Funding Awards
NSF DEB-1145408 (07/01/12-06/30/14)
NSF ANT-0838925 (09/01/09-08/31/13)
NSF DEB-0808250 (07/01/08-06/30/11)
National Geographic Society Research and Exploration Grant (NGS CRE#08014-06 - (06/01/06-05/31/07)

Research Detailed:

Evolutionary morphology and systematics are the focus of my research. In particular, I am interested in the large-scale phenomena that have shaped the evolution and diversification of vertebrates in both space and time. I primarily utilize two study systems: 1) Triassic–Jurassic dinosaurs and 2) Cenozoic and living waterbirds, to test evolutionary patterns of character evolution, biogeography, ecology, and diversification in a phylogenetic framework. An additional area of study includes systematic research on fossil and living scleractinian corals. 

EVOLUTION OF TRIASSIC/JURASSIC DINOSAURS The origin and early diversification of dinosaurs represent the most poorly known events of Mesozoic dinosaur evolution. My field research in the western USA and Antarctica fills major geographic, temporal, and taxonomic gaps in vertebrate evolution, and includes descriptive and alpha-taxonomic studies. Primary research questions include: 1) How are vertebrate phylogeny, diversification, and biogeography affected by mass extinction events? and 2) Are patterns of faunal change observed in the fossil record due to local, regional, or global processes? 

CENOZOIC WATERBIRD EVOLUTION AND SYSTEMATICS My research on avian evolution focuses on evaluating conflict and congruence between morphological and molecular datasets, incorporating fossil data to test patterns of temporal diversification and character evolution, and using an integrative approach to understand the evolution of complex morphological character systems and novel body plans. I use the avian order Pelecaniformes, and the larger waterbird group (e.g., penguins, storks, herons), as my study system. Major questions include: 1) Do disparate types of data agree on patterns of vertebrate phylogeny, and if not, why do they differ? and 2) How have complex morphological character systems (e.g., skeletal pneumaticity, flightlessness, wing-propelled diving) evolved? 

PHYLOGENETIC COMPARATIVE METHODS IN PALEONTOLOGY My development and application of phylogenetic comparative methods to questions in paleobiology stem from a desire to deal with real-world issues of the fossil record. These include uneven and incomplete geographic sampling of faunas, uncertainty of stratigraphic ranges of fossil taxa, and working with multiple competing hypotheses of phylogenetic relationships. Primary research questions include: 1) How does the temporal and spatial heterogeneity of the fossil record affect phylogenetic and biogeographic inference? and 2) How can modern phylogenetic comparative methods be utilized to test paleobiological hypotheses, and what unique challenges do fossil data pose for these methods?

  Nate Smith: Google Scholar Page <click here>
  * denotes undergraduate author

IN PRESS. Smith, N. D., L. Grande, and J. A. Clarke A new species of Threskiornithdae-like bird (Aves, Ciconiiformes) from the Green River Formation (Eocene) of Wyoming. 53 MS pages, 9 figures, 2 tables, 1 supplementary data file. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.


2012. Budd, A. F., H. Fukami, N. D. Smith, and N. Knowlton. Classification of the reef coral family Mussidae (Cnidaria: Anthozoa: Scleractinia). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 166: 465–529.


2012. Smith, N. D. Body mass and foraging ecology predict evolutionary patterns of skeletal pneumaticity in the diverse ‘waterbird’ clade. Evolution 66(4): 1059–1078.

  2012. Parham, J. F., P. C. J. Donoghue, C. J. Bell, T. D. Calway, J. J. Head, P. A. Holroyd, J. G. Inoue, R. B. Irmis, W. G. Joyce, D. T. Ksepka, J. S. L. Patané, N. D. Smith, J. E. Tarver, M. van Tuinen, Z. Yang, K. D. Angielczyk, J. Greenwood, C. A. Hipsley, L. Jacobs, P. J. Makovicky, J. Müller, K. T. Smith, J. M. Theodor, R. C. M. Warnock, M. J. Benton. Best practices for justifying fossil calibrations. Systematic Biology 61(2): 346–359.

2011. Smith, N. D., J. R. Crandall*, S. M. Hellert*, W. R. Hammer, and P. J. Makovicky. Anatomy and affinities of large archosauromorphs from the lower Fremouw Formation (Early Triassic) of Antarctica. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 31(4): 784-797.


2010.  Budd, A. F., S. L. Romano, N. D. Smith, and M. S. Barbeitos. Rethinking the phylogeny of scleractinian corals: A review of morphologic and molecular data. Integrative and Comparative Biology 50(3): 411-427.

  2010.  Smith, N. D. Phylogenetic analysis of Pelecaniformes (Aves) based on osteological data: Implications for waterbird phylogeny and fossil calibration studies. PLoS ONE 5(10): e13354. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013354

2010.  Li, D., M. A. Norell, K. Gao, N. D. Smith, and P. J. Makovicky. A longirostrine tyrannosaurid from the Early Cretaceous of China. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B 277: 183-190.

  2009.  Nesbitt, S. J., N. D. Smith, R. B. Irmis, A. H. Turner, A. Downs, and M. A. Norell. A complete skeleton of a Late Triassic saurischian and the early evolution of dinosaurs. Science 326(5959): 1530-1533

2009.  A. H. Turner, N. D. Smith, and J. A. Callery. Gauging the effects of sampling failure in biogeography. Journal of Biogeography 36: 612-625.


2009.   Nesbitt, S. J., R. B. Irmis, W. G. Parker, N. D. Smith, A. H. Turner, and T. Rowe. Hindlimb osteology and distribution of basal dinosauromorphs from the Late Triassic of North America. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29(2): 498-516.


2008.   Smith, N. D., P. J. Makovicky, F. Agnolin, M. Ezcurra, D. Pais, and S. Salisbury. A Megaraptor-like theropod (Dinosauria: Tetanurae) in Australia: support for faunal exchange across eastern and western Gondwana in the mid-Cretaceous. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B 275: 2085-2093.


2008.   Hammer, W. R., and N. D. Smith. A tritylodont postcanine from the Hanson Formation of Antarctica. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 28(1): 269-273.


2007.   Smith, N. D., and D. Pol. Anatomy of a basal sauropodomorph dinosaur from the Early Jurassic Hanson Formation of Antarctica.  Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 52(4): 657-674.


2007.   Smith, N. D., P. J. Makovicky, W. R. Hammer, and P. J. Currie. Osteology of Cryolophosaurus ellioti (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Early Jurassic of Antarctica and implications for early theropod evolution. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 151(2): 377-421.


2007.   Irmis, R. B., S. J. Nesbitt, K. Padian, D. Woody, N. D.Smith, A. H. Turner, and A. Downs. A Late Triassic dinosauromorph assemblage from New Mexico and the rise of dinosaurs. Science 317(5836): 358-361.


2005.   Budd, A. F., and N. D. Smith. Diversification of a new Atlantic clade of scleractinian reef corals: Insights from phylogenetic analysis of morphologic and molecular data. Pp. 103-128 in B. Lieberman ed. Paleobiogeography: Generating New Insights into the Coevolution of the Earth and its Biota. Paleontological Society Short Course, Salt Lake City, UT GSA Oct. 16-19, 2005.


2005.   Smith, N. D., and A. H. Turner. Morphology’s role in phylogeny reconstruction: Perspectives from paleontology. Systematic Biology 54(1): 166-173.