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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department of Paleobiology

  • Neil Kelley
  • Peter Buck Fellow
  • Phone:   202-633-1366
  • Fax:   202-786-2832
  • E-mail Address:   kelleynpat SI dot edu
  • 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 California, Davis, 2012
B.A. Oberlin College, 2003

Research Interests

My primary research focus is the evolution and paleoecology of animals descended from land-dwelling ancestors that have repeatedly readapted to marine life over the past 250 million years. Familiar living examples include whales, seals and sea turtles. The ecological roles of these modern animals were preceded by several extinct groups of marine reptiles during the Mesozoic such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. These repeated invasions of the sea by land vertebrates provide a series of evolutionary ‘experiments’ helping to reveal the mechanisms that allow different organisms to achieve dramatic shifts in anatomy and ecology. Because these animals occupied a variety of ecological roles, from herbivores to apex predators, they also provide an important index of changes in global marine ecosystems over many millions of years. I investigate these patterns using bones and fossils in museum collections to compare the anatomy and ecology of living and extinct species. I also pursue fieldwork, primarily in Triassic aged rocks in western North America, to collect additional fossil material and better understand the geological and paleoenvironmental context of these fossils.

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Recent Publications

Kelley, N. and Motani. R. Trophic convergence drives morphological convergence in marine tetrapods. Biology Letters in press

Kelley, N., Motani, R., Rieppel, O., Jiang, D., Schmitz, L. 2014 Selective extinction of Triassic marine reptiles during long-term sea level changes illuminated by seawater strontium isotopes. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 400:9–16  doi: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2012.07.026

Pyenson, N., Kelley, N., Parham, J. 2014 Marine tetrapod macroevolution: Physical and biological drivers on 250 Ma of invasions and evolution in ocean ecosystems Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 400:1–8. doi: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2014.02.018

Druckenmiller, P. S., Kelley, N., Whalen, M. T., Mcroberts, C., & Carter, J. G. 2014. An Upper Triassic (Norian) ichthyosaur (Reptilia, Ichthyopterygia) from northern Alaska and dietary insight based on gut contents. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 34(6), 1460-1465. doi:10.1080/02724634.2014.866573

Liu, J., Hu, S., Rieppel, O., Jiang, D-y, Benton, M., Kelley, N., Aitchison, Zhou, C-y., Wen, W., Huan, J-y., Xie, T., Lv, T.  2014. A gigantic nothosaur (Reptilia: Sauropterygia) from the Middle Triassic of SW China and its implication for the Triassic biotic recovery. Scientific reports, 4:7142 doi:10.1038/srep07142

Motani, R., Ji, C., Tomita, T., Kelley, N., Maxwell, E., Jiang, D., Sander, P.M. 2013 Absence of Suction Feeding Ichthyosaurs and Its Implications for Triassic Mesopelagic Paleoecology.” PLoS ONE 8(12): e66075. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066075