Research

My research combines comparative anatomical study with computer-aided morphometric analysis and modeling of vertebrate skeletons.

My research has three major areas of focus:

  1. examining how patterns of growth, development, and scaling in the limb skeleton of sauropod dinosaurs contributed to the evolution of their gigantic size in a terrestrial environment
  2. the role of limb growth, development, and scaling in relation to body size in terrestrial mammals, dinosaur relatives (crocodylians and birds), and non-avian dinosaurs
  3. reconstructing joint cartilage in non-avian dinosaurs

My research approach is broad and integrative, and has received external funding from the National Science Foundation and National Geographic as well as smaller internal grants.  I have utilized geometric morphometric tools, such as thin-plate splines, to quantify changes in long bone anatomical landmarks associated with soft tissues across size, ontogeny, and phylogeny.  I have used three-dimensional laser scanning to capture limb joint shape in alligators and birds before and after cartilage loss.  My students and I have developed a large (>1,000 specimens) ontogenetic series of cleared-and-stained specimens to tease out how development, ontogeny, and anatomy in living dinosaur relatives and mammals informs us about dinosaur gigantism.  Some traditional paleontological fieldwork also forms part of my research program, and my involvement in productive sites in both Utah and South Africa have yielded new dinosaurs and additional data on the development and evolution of dinosaur gigantism.  In particular, I have involved students in field work at a productive, active Jurassic site in Hanksville, Utah.

I have a strong publication record, having published 15 peer-reviewed articles since 2000 in high impact journals (Proceedings of the Royal Society (4.857), Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (2.346), Anatomical Record (1.49), Paleobiology (2.80), Acta Palaeontologica Polonica (1,491)), including the announcement of two new species of dinosaur from South Africa in 2009 and 2011.  One of these dinosaurs, Aardonyx celestae, has generated over 600 articles on the web and in the media.  Moreover, four of these articles were published with five former students.  Apart from general media outlets, my research has garnered recent coverage in scientific magazines such as The New Scientist and Nature.

I have involved over 30 students in research and have encouraged their participation in scientific conferences, and several students have published peer-reviewed articles.  Moreover, ten of my students have presented peer-reviewed talks and posters at professional scientific conferences in the United States and abroad.

As an undergraduate, I had few opportunities to work with faculty directly on research or to get advice and guidance on careers in basic and applied science.  I feel one of my most important responsibilities as a scientist is to attract, inspire, and guide a new generation of scientists toward successful careers, and to provide unique opportunities to a wide diversity of students.

Find out more about Dr. Bonnan’s research:

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