Wanek School of Natural Sciences

Heather Ahrens

My research addresses mammalian anatomy, diversity, and evolution through the Cenozoic era (66 Mya – present). I am interested in understanding the relationship between morphological variation and functional and ecological factors, what evolutionary processes are acting on a given clade, and how changes in diversity and evolutionary rates are related to ecology and adaptation.

Research projects include:

(1)   Anatomy of the limbs and locomotion in Carnivora. Dissection of the limbs of carnivorous mammals allows for better characterization of the locomotor function and ecology of extinct carnivores. For this project students will dissect and describe the limb musculature, as well as compile quantitative data for large-scale comparative studies on the muscles and limb function of carnivores.

(2)   Diversity and ecology of Creodonta, an extinct group of carnivorous mammals. In order to better understand the diversification carnivorous mammals and the causes of extinction within the carnivore guild, my lab examines multiple aspects of creodont and carnivoran biology. Projects include analyzing dental, postcranial, and neuroanatomical variation to assess diet, locomotion, and behavior.

(3)   Ecology and evolution of mammals in the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. Field work conducted in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming allows for examination of how mammalian faunas and lineages respond to climatic events and biotic interactions. Specific projects can investigate a wide variety of ecological and evolutionary questions over extended time scales.

Methods utilized for my research include soft-tissue dissection, comparative anatomy, functional morphology, morphometrics, and phylogenetics.

ResearchGate Profile:


Rose KD, Holbrook LT, Rana RS, Kumar K, Jones KE, Ahrens HE, Missiaen P, Sahni A, and Smith T. 2014. Early Eocene Fossils Suggest the Mammalian Order Perissodactyla Originated in India. Nature Communications 5: 5570. DOI:10.1038/ncomms6570

Ahrens HE. 2014. Morphometric study of phylogenetic and ecologic signals in procyonid (Mammalia: Carnivora) endocasts. The Anatomical Record 297: 2318–2330. DOI: 10.1002/ar.22996


Biology at HPU


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