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Behrensmeyer, Anna K.

Senior Research Geologist and Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology

Paleoecology of terrestrial environments, especially in the later Cenozoic of Africa and Pakistan, continental sedimentation, investigation of taphonomic processes affecting the fossil record, human paleoecology, evolution of terrestrial ecosystems.

Geographic Focus

Professional Biography

  • Anna Katherine (Kay) Behrensmeyer is a Research Curator and Senior Scientist in the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.  She is recognized as a pioneer in taphonomy, and her research is broadly aimed at understanding the evolution of terrestrial ecosystems over the past 300+ million years.  Kay’s career has been inspired by collaborative field projects in North America, Africa, and Pakistan, ranging up and down the geological time column from the Triassic to the Pleistocene.  She has explored temporal versus spatial averaging in the fossil record and contributed concepts such as “isotaphonomy” and “taphonomic control fossils.”  She designed methods for sampling paleontological sites aimed at understanding taphonomic biases, with a particular focus on how these affect the record of human evolution.  Kay’s research in modern ecosystems has advanced knowledge of taphonomic processes that alter and recycle organic remains.  Her 40+ year study of the “taphosystem” of Amboseli Park, Kenya, shows how changing ecological processes affect links between the living, the dead, the buried and fossilized. She is a leader of the Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems (ETE) Program and an active contributor to NMNH exhibits and outreach efforts, including her present role as lead scientist for the Deep Time Initiative. 

awards and honors