The Committee on Evolutionary Biology (CEB) is a unique interdepartmental and inter-institutional graduate student training program dedicated to the study of Evolutionary Biology. Faculty and students in the program are engaged in interdisciplinary studies at time scales that range from single generations to the entire history of life and at organizational scales from the molecular to the global.
Jon Mitchell studies how ecological processes observed in the modern world have influenced the history of life. Most of his research has looked at the ecological radiation of birds, and how food web dynamics can predict extinction. He has collected data on fossil birds from China, Germany, and Belgium, while collecting information on modern birds from collections at the American Museum, Smithsonian Institution and especially the excellent collections at the Field Museum in Chicago. His results show how to best reconstruct the diet and habits of long extinct birds, how a bird’s habitat choice influences the probability of preservation, and that birds diversified ecologically much faster than would be expected if modern birds alone were considered. His food web research has focused on testing models used by conservation biologists meant to predict extinctions, and applying them to the fossil record where we know what the actual extinctions were. By fitting models to the ecosystems present in one layer of rock, and seeing how well those models predict what species make it to the next layer of rock, he is working to further our understanding of how to predict extinctions and understand ancient environments.Read More about Jon Mitchell or visit the Spotlight Archive.