Faculty Spotlight

David Jacobs

My research combines paleontological studies and geology with molecular approaches to understand the early evolution of animal life. We are pursuing this work as part of the "Advent of Complex Life"-NASA Astrobiology group, combining studies of the geologic and geochemical context of this early evolution with studies of the phylogeny, genomics and metabolic processes of relevant modern organisms. My student David Gold and I were just in Newfoundland looking at the wonderfully preserved enigmatic Ediacaran fauna that precede the Cambrian Radiation, the rapid appearance of most animal body plans a little over 500 million years ago. In our lab we use molecular approaches to examine the development and evolution of sensory and neural organization of early branching animals such as jellyfish to better understand this early evolution of animal complexity. Another research theme in my lab explores the differentiation and speciation of marine organisms along the west coast in the context of their geologic history. Our work shows that the fauna of the California coast-perhaps the most diverse temperate coastal marine fauna in the world-is a relict of a burst of speciation that took place 12 to 5 million years ago when upwelling of nutrient rich waters and biotic productivity was far higher than today. Our work has conservation implications. Understanding the processes that form coastal habitats such as estuaries, and the ecology of the many endangered species that evolved and live in them, is essential for making informed management decision as we confront the dual challenges of development and climate change along the California and Gulf of California coastlines.

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