Gregory James Smith, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow
Vanderbilt University, Peabody College
Center for Science Outreach
060 Wyatt Center
Nashville, TN 37235

Research Interests

My research focuses on inferring the paleoecology of extinct organisms and comparing it with the ecology of modern taxa. I am interested in understanding the evolutionary forces that shape ecosystems, including both abiotic and biotic factors, and in interpreting those forces through a modern perspective. I believe that feedback between Earth's spheres of influence directly impact faunal dynamics, and only through interpreting the present in light of the past can we begin to understand the way our world works. To that end, my work draws heavily from the disparate fields of conservation paleobiology, modern ecology, stratigraphic paleobiology, and analytical paleobiology. My dissertation work focuses on the Proboscideans, a group of organisms that today is represented by the Asian and African elephant, but which in the past was more highly diverse. Please visit my research page to learn more about some of the projects I am involved with.


August 2019: I began a postdoctoral appointment at the Center for Science Outreach at Vanderbilt University. In this role, I work as the resident scientist for the Interdisciplinary Science and Research Program at John Overton High School in Nashville, TN. I leverage my expertise in geology and paleontology to develop engaging earth science curricula for 9th - 12th grade students, teaching them scientific habits of mind and building their technical skills in preparation for college courses.

July 2019: I taught a 3-week course for the Vanderbilt Summer Academy, entitled Geology in the 21st Century. You can find lesson plans, PowerPoints, and student presentations at the GitHub page for the course.

May 2019: I successfully defended my Ph.D., fulfilling my childhood dream to become a professional paleontologist! I'm a doctor!

March 2019: My co-authors and I named the first new species of mastodon in North America since 1799. Meet Mammut pacificus - the Pacific Mastodon! This species is distinguishable from Mammut americanum in having long, narrow molars, stouter limbs, and more sacral vertebrae. All Californian mastodons are hereby referred to M. pacificus!

August 2018: On August 2 at 7 PM, after a week of data collection, I will be delivering a presentation on my PhD research at the Western Science Center. The talk will focus on the paleoecology of the Diamond Valley Lake megafauna and introduce the audience to mesowear and microwear, two dietary proxies I utilize in my work.

July 2018: I begin a year-long appointment as a Graduate Teaching Fellow for the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching. As a GTF, I will lead a section of the Certificate in College Teaching program, consult with graduate students in teaching observations, design and facilitate workshops for graduate students at TA Orientation and during the semester, and assist the Center for Teaching senior staff in various ongoing and short term projects, including the creation of various online resources for the Vanderbilt teaching community. More information about the Graduate Teaching Fellows Program can be found here

June 2018I just completed teaching two courses for the Vanderbilt Summer Academy - a residential academic program for gifted rising 7th - 12th grade students that introduces them to accelerated coursework taught by content experts. I was fortunate to teach a one week course on Conservation Paleobiology and a two week course on Ecological Statistics. You can read about my proposed courses, as well as the other courses offered by VSA in 2018, here!

February 2018SeGSA 2018 - I am a co-author of two oral presentations at the Southeastern Section Meeting of the Geological Society of America, both on Thursday morning. First, at 10:40 AM I will be presenting the second chapter of my PhD Dissertation. Then, at 11:20 AM my primary research adviser will be presenting on a collaborative project using modern kangaroos to understand the past

January 2018: Larisa R.G. DeSantis and I have a new paper out in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, "Dietary ecology of Pleistocene mammoths and mastodons as inferred from dental microwear textures." [pdf]

November 2017: Neat short communication about our Mastodon DMTA paper can be found here!

October 2017GSA 2017 - I will be giving two presentations at the annual Geological Society of America Meeting. On Sunday afternoon, I have a poster using serial sampling of stable oxygen and carbon isotopes in a mastodon specimen from western Tennessee. On Monday morning, I will be giving a talk presenting initial results of bulk isotopic sampling on Texas and Florida gomphothere specimens spanning 16 million years. Come check both presentations out!

September 2017: My co-authors and I have a new paper out in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, "Regional variation in the browsing diet of Pleistocene Mammut americanum (Mammalia, Proboscidea) as recorded by dental microwear textures." [pdf]

August 2017: I was fortunate to be invited to the Valley of the Mastodons workshop and symposium held at the Western Science Center in Hemet, CA. It was a great opportunity for my fellow researchers and I to promote citizen science and effective scientific communication, while building new opportunities to collaborate in the future! Check out some pictures from the trip here and read about the symposium from Brian Switek, Jeanne Timmons (part 1, part 2, pictures, and final), and  Dr. Bernard Means!

July 2017: I am honored to announce that my undergraduate senior thesis was part of a compendium of proboscidean papers honoring the late Dr. Larry D. Agenbroad. You can find the compendium online here, and my paper available here: [pdf]

Note (10/1/2019):

Website Under Construction - Check Back Often!

I am currently in the process of teaching myself how to design a website using RMarkdown to free myself from the constraints of using web services such as Wix. Check back often as I figure this out, and please email me if you have any questions or want to chat! Much of this website is out of date and I am changing it to reflect my interests as a post-PhD scientist.

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