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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department of Paleobiology

  • Meghan A. Balk
  • Peter Buck Fellow
  • Phone:   202-633-1397
  • E-mail Address:   balkm
  • Mailing Address:
    Smithsonian Institution
    PO Box 37012, MRC 121
    Washington, DC 20013-7012
  • Shipping Address:
    Smithsonian Institution
    National Museum of Natural History
    10th & Constitution NW
    Washington, DC 20560-0121


Ph.D. University of New Mexico, 2017
B.S. University of California, Davis, 2010

Research Interests

I am a macroecologist: a scientist that researches the patterns and underlying mechanisms about species and their environment across large spatial and temporal scales. This perspective is useful to identify universal patterns, and subsequent drivers, of natural phenomena. For example, the body size distribution of mammals is remarkably similar on every continent – despite different species comprising these distributions!

Specifically, my research interests include investigating how dramatic changes in climate affects body size evolution of organisms at the population, species, and community level. I seek to answer: 1) What is the degree to which animals can adapt in situ to climatic change?; 2) What is the role of body size in predator-prey relationships and how that may change as climate changes?; and 3) What is the role of large animals in regulating community structure and how that may change as the environment changes? These questions are of increasing importance as humans continue to rapidly alter landscapes across the Earth.

I accomplish my research by using the geologic record. I select time periods that may serve as analogs for future climatic and environmental change. By using analogs, my research can help inform conservation of species as humans continue to drastically modify the Earth. I use a combination of museum specimens and open-source datasets, and as well as R programming to collect and analyze data.

Related Web Sites

Recent Publications

Burger, J.R., Anderson, R.P., Balk, M.A., and Fristoe, T.S. A constraint-based model of dynamic island biogeography. Submitted, Global Ecology & Biogeography.

Smith, F.A., Payne, J.L, Heim, N.A., Balk, M.A., Finnegan, S., Kowalewski, M., Lyons, S.K.,
McClain, C.R., McShea, D.W., Novak-Gotshall, P.M., Spaeth Anich, P., and Wang, S.C. Body size across the Geozoic. Annual Reviews Earth & Planetary Science, 44:523–553.

Smith, F.A., Hammond, J.I., Balk, M.A., Elliot, S.M., Lyons, S.K., Pardi, M.I., Tomé, C.P.,
Wagner, P.J., and Westover, M.L. 2015. Exploring the influence of ancient and historic megaherbivore extirpations on the global methane budget. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(4): 874–879.

Fristoe, T.S., Burger, J.R., Balk, M.A., Khaliq, I., Hof, C., and Brown, J.H. 2015. Metabolic
heat production and thermal conductance are mass-independent adaptations to thermal environment in birds and mammals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(52): 15934–15939.

Pimiento, C. and Balk, M.A. 2015. The extinction of Carcharocles megalodon: A model for
understanding long-term microevolutionary body size trends. Paleobiology, 41(3): 479

McClain, C.R., Balk, M.A., Benfield, M.C., Branch, T.A., Chen, C., Cosgrove, J., Dove,
A.D.M., Helm, R.R., Hochberg, F.G.E., Gaskins, L.C., Lee, F.B., Marshall, A., McMurray,
S.E., Schance, C., Stone, S.N., and Thaler, A.D. 2015. Sizing Ocean Giants: Patterns of intraspecific size variation in marine megafauna. Peer J: e715.