Blaire                         Van Valkenburgh

Blaire Van Valkenburgh


phone:  (310) 794-9398
office:  TLSB 2163

Recent Courses

EE BIOL 194B - Research Group or Internship Seminars: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
GE CLST 70B - Evolution of Cosmos and Life
GE CLST 70CW - Evolution of the Cosmos and Life: Special Topics in Life Sciences

Research Interests

As a vertebrate paleobiologist, my focus is the evolution of form, function and ecology in organisms, both living and extinct. I study living species as a key to understanding extinct species and am drawn to the fossil record because of its unique attributes. First, it provides the only record of long-term evolutionary change in form, matched perhaps in magnitude only by the history of genetic change preserved in the genome. Second, it provides a window into life and ecosystems prior to the alterations and biases engendered by anthropogenic forces and recent Pleistocene extinctions. Third, it presents us with species and morphologies that are no longer present, such as dinosaurs and sabertooth cats, and thereby expands our understanding of life?s potentials beyond what we can observe today.

Much of my research has focused on large predatory mammals. Large predators on land and sea are receiving much attention among ecologists because they act as major drivers within their ecosystems and many are threatened with extinction. As top-down regulators, they are pivotal players in trophic cascades that affect both plant and animal distributions and abundance. Modern species evolved within much more diverse and complex guilds of large predators that included species such as short-faced bears, sabertooth cats, and dire wolves. To better understand both the dynamics of extant predator communities and the adaptations of individual species, I have explored the fossil record of carnivores from both ecological and evolutionary perspectives, sometimes focusing on guilds of species in distinct time horizons, and other times focusing on the evolutionary trajectories of species over millions of years. Below I list four recent areas of research that exemplify the work in my lab.

1. Parallels between past and present predator guilds

2. Evolution of feeding adaptations

3. Function and evolution of mammalian turbinates

4. Molecular and morphological evolution within the Carnivora.

Selected Publications

Curtis, A.A., Lai, G., Wei, F., and Van Valkenburgh, B., "Repeated loss of frontal sinuses in arctoid carnivorans", Journal of Morphology, - (2014) .

Winegard, T., Herr, J., Mena, C., Lee, B., Dinov, I., Bird, D., Bernards Jr., M., Hobel, S., Van Valkenburgh, B., Toga, A. & Fudge, D., "Coiling and maturation of a high performance fibre in hagfish slime gland thread cells", Nature Communications, 5 : 3534- (2014) .

O?Keefe, F.R., Binder, W.J., Frost, S.R., Sadlier R.W., and Van Valkenburgh. B., "Cranial morphometrics of the dire wolf, Canis dirus, at Rancho La Brea: temporal variability and its links to nutrient stress and climate", Palaeontologica Electronica, 17 (1): 17A- (2014) .

Green, P., Van Valkenburgh, B., Pang, B., Bird, D., Rowe, T., and Curtis, A., "Respiratory and olfactory turbinal size in canid and arctoid carnivorans", J. Anatomy, 17 (1): - (2012) .

MacDonald, G., Beilman, D.W., Kuzmin, Y.V., Orlova, L.A., Kremenetski, K.V., Shapiro, B., Wayne, R.K., and Van Valkenburgh, B., "Pattern of extinction of the woolly mammoth in Beringia", Nature Communications, 17 (1): - (2012) .

Van Valkenburgh, B., Curtis, A., Samuels J.X., Bird, D., Fulkerson, B., Meachen-Samuels, J., and G.Slater, "Aquatic adaptations in the nose of carnivorans: Evidence from the turbinates", Journal of Anatomy, 218 : 298-310 (2011) .

Slater, G.J., B. Figueirido, L. Louis, P. Yang, and B.Van Valkenburgh, "Biomechanical consequences of rapid evolution in the polar bear lineage", PLoS ONE, 5 (11): e13870- (2010) .

Van Valkenburgh, B. and R.K. Wayne, "Primer: Carnivores", Current Biology, 20 : 915-919 (2010) .

Meachen-Samuels, J. and Van Valkenburgh, B., "Radiographs reveal exceptional forelimb strength in the sabertooth cat, Smilodon fatalis", PLoS ONE, 5 (7): e11412- (2010) .

Ripple W.J., Van Valkenburgh, B., "Linking top-down forces to the Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions", Bioscience, 60 : 516-526 (2010) .