Paleobiology at USC involves a diverse variety of research on the evolution and paleoecology of life on Earth. In the Bottjer lab, students focus on two major problems, the evolution and ecology of early animals, and the causes and consequences of mid-Phanerozoic mass extinctions at the end of the Permian and the end of the Triassic. To investigate these major problems a variety of organisms, from embryos to adults, are used, including molluscs, cnidarians, echinoderms, and bryozoans. Links to environment and ecology are enhanced through investigations of trace fossils and microbialites. Integration of genomics and paleobiological data in the new field of paleogenomics is being developed through several of these studies.
The paleobiology of fossil vertebrates, particularly birds, mammals and dinosaurs, is studied in conjunction with Luis Chiappe and Xiaoming Wang of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, who are also both adjunct professors in Earth Sciences. A new collaborative effort between the Natural History Museum and USC, the Center for Chinese Fossil Discoveries, has been established to enhance the pursuit of paleobiological studies using Chinese fossil material, by students and faculty. Strong links also exist with the Integrative Evolutionary Biology graduate program in the Department of Biological Sciences at USC.