Aaron O’Dea

Staff Scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama


I am interested in revealing the drivers of biological change through major events in the history of life, the most recent being the arrival and pervasive impacts of humans.

I use the marine fossil record to explore two principal questions:

(1) How does environmental change drive evolutionary and ecological change over deep time? I use the marine fossil record of Tropical America to explore how faunal members and their life histories change in response to changing climates, what makes an animal susceptible to extinction, and how processes like extinction play out in ecological and environmental contexts.

(2) What were tropical seas like before humans? What was their natural variability in structure and when and why did they degrade? My group combines the fossil record of coral skeletons, mollusk shells, fish otoliths, shark dermal denticles, and the spicules of sponges with archeological and modern collections to reconstruct ancient coral reefs and other tropical ecosystems.

I write popular books about paleontology and natural history  A History of Life in 100 fossils and La Historia Natural del Istmo de Panama

Until July 2020 I will be on sabbatical at the University of Bologna, hosted by Laura Airoldi at the BiGeA department.