When it comes to finding fossils, Karen Samonds isn’t afraid to get a little dirt under her fingernails. The work of the internationally acclaimed researcher and NIU biology professor has shed light on the origin and evolutionary history of Madagascar’s modern wildlife – and closed a 65-million-year gap in the fossil record.
In more than 20 years of researching vertebrate species native to Madagascar, Samonds has discovered more than 30 fossil-producing sites and found the remains of fish, sharks, crocodiles, turtles and even the first marine fossil mammal from the period. Her team is also finding land-dwelling animals, such as bats and lizards.
In addition to studying extinct animals, Samonds’ research has examined dental development, life history and growth in non-human primates.
While her work is being funded by a U.S. Fulbright Scholars Research Award and three National Geographic Research and Exploration grants, Samonds’ research has drawn the attention of film crews. She has been featured on several documentaries for media outlets like the BBC, Discovery Channel and Smithsonian.com.
At NIU, Samonds directs the master’s program in anatomical sciences and teaches a number of anatomy courses. Samonds earned two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Massachusetts and a master’s and doctorate degree from Stony Brook University. In 2008, she co-founded the non-governmental organization (NGO) Sadabe to help promote the coexistence of people and wildlife in Madagascar. Sadabe is currently initiating and expanding education, conservation and development activities, as well as the creation of a protected area at Tsinjoarivo, Madagascar.
Biogeography; anatomy; evolution; paleontology; Madagascar; skeletal biology; paleobiogeography