Associate Professor Robin O’Keefe

OKeefeDr. O’Keefe came to Marshall in the fall of 2006, and has been an associate professor since 2010. Since joining the faculty, he has published 10 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals, many co-authored with graduate and undergraduate students.

Dr. O’Keefe is known internationally for his work as a paleobiologist and most recently for a discovery that earned him publication in the esteemed journal Science. He is an acknowledged world expert on Mesozoic marine reptile paleontology and also has published research on primitive reptiles, Pleistocene mammals and extinction and evolutionary theory.

In August 2011, Dr. O’Keefe was the lead author on a paper on plesiosaur reproductive biology published in Science. His work with co-author Luis Chiappe of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is a significant advance in the understanding of these animals. Headlined “Sea Monster Had a Bun in the Oven,” the article about his research received widespread coverage in the popular press. A multitude of media outlets interviewed Dr. O’Keefe about his research, which was on display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in California in August 2011. The BBC, CNN, local and statewide news organizations, National Geographic and U.S. News & World Report, as well as various international press, covered the publication of his research.

Education

B.S. (Biology, Honors), Stanford University
Ph.D. (Evolutionary Biology), University of Chicago Committee on Evolutionary Biology

About Dr. F. Robin O’Keefe

Research
Dr. O’Keefe is an Associate Professor of Biology. His research primarilly focuses on the movement of vertebrate lineages in morphospace. Evolution is change over time, and an important index of change is change in shape; the shape of an animal’s skeleton can give deep insights into locomotion, feeding, and other aspects of function, thereby documenting how a lineage responds to physical and biotic constraints. Access to time is the other critical component in the study of large-scale evolution, and shape has the added advantage of being recoverable on geologic time scales via the fossil record. That record is profoundly limited, however, and nowhere more so than for vertebrates. But if one is careful one can choose groups and time periods where preservation is high above the norm, and the complexity of the vertebrate skeleton yields fossils of high information content and correspondingly robust phylogeny estimates. Therefore there are instances where the large-scale evolution of vertebrate lineages over geologic time can be studied quantitatively.

Dr. O’Keefe will be using his Fellowship to launch a research effort in Chile. You can learn more about Dr. O’Keefes various research projects in his research statement.

Teaching
Dr. O’Keefe teaches human anatomy, introductory biology, comparative vertebrate anatomy and various graduate seminars and is chair of the Graduate Program Committee for the Department of Biological Sciences. He has advised five successful master’s candidates and currently has four graduate students working in his lab.