Christine Janis

Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University

I am a biologically trained paleontologist (i.e., I study bones rather than rocks), originally from the UK, in the US for the past 30 years, and am currently a full professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. I have always been fascinated by animals (especially mammals), and bones are so informative about their behavior and ecology. It's exciting to figure out how to understand what bones can tell us about extinct animals (and also fun to convey to students how they can interpret the message of the bones).

My main focus of research has been on ungulates (hoofed mammals) --- as you can see from the photograph they also figure heavily in my non-academic life! But I became fascinated with marsupials while visiting the Estonian branch of my family in Australia, not only by the kangaroos but also by the carnivores (my colleague Borja Figueirido [from the University of Malaga in Spain) and I have already published a couple of papers about the probable predatory behavior of the thylacine). I've worked both on functional morphology (as in this paper on walking kangaroos) and also on how change in mammalian communities over time reflects (or can predict) changes in climate and environment.

Most of my research has focused on North American mammals, but more recently, with my colleague John Damuth (from the University of California Santa Barbara) we have been looking at the Australian mammalian faunas of around 23 - 15 million years ago, and interpreting the changes in those faunas in the context of environmental changes. I'm also working on similar issues with mammalian faunas [placental ones this time] of a later time period, from around 15 to 5 million years ago, with colleagues in Finland and Germany.

I will shortly be returning to England to take up a European fellowship at the University of Bristol, to investigate something else entirely, but which combines my interests in functional morphology (i.e., how anatomy reflects behavior and ecology) and in how mammalian communities reflect environmental issues. I shall be looking at the tiny mammals of the Late Cretaceous period (100 - 65 million years ago) , and investigating whether it was interaction with plants rather than dinosaurs that kept them small during this time period.

Experience

  • 1983–present
    Professor of Biology, Brown University

Education

  • 1979 
    Harvard University, PhD
  • 1973 
    University of Cambridge, BA (Natural Sciences, Zoology)

Honours

Fellow of the Paleontological Society