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Research Interests

The research interests in the Sperling Lab are Earth history and the evolution of life, and the interactions between the biosphere and the geosphere. As such this research can generally be considered paleontology, insofar as paleontology encompasses all aspects of the history of life.

Consequently, we define our research agenda by the questions we are interested in, rather than the tools used. This research incorporates multiple lines of evidence, and multiple tools, to investigate questions in the history of life. These lines of evidence include fossil data, molecular phylogenetics, sedimentary geochemistry, and ecological and physiological data from modern organisms. Ultimately, the goal is to link environmental change with organismal and ecological response through the lens of physiology.

Information on the Sedimentary Geochemistry and Paleoenvironments Project (SGP) can be found here:



In collaboration with an expert on reproducibility in the Stanford School of Medicine, we have published a perspective on study-level reproducibility in geobiology. The paper is intended for early career scientists or those less familiar with the literature on statistics and reproducibility, and uses examples from psychology, ecology, and medicine to encourage practices that will promote reproducible science within our field. The paper, published in Geobiology, can be accessed here.

Graduate student Tom Boag, in collaboration with lab members Richard Stockey and Erik Sperling and colleagues at Yale University, has published a new paper proposing an ecophysiological basis for the deep-marine origin of Ediacaran organisms. Paleontologists have long questioned why these organisms appeared when and where they did: in the deep ocean, where light and food are scarce, in a time when oxygen in Earth's atmosphere was in particularly short supply.

In collaboration with Stanford colleague Jon Payne and University of Washinton colleagues Curtis Deutsch and Justin Penn, Erik Sperling published a new paper in the journal Science investigating the causes of the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. The paper uses a physiological model (the Metabolic Index) to explore how the synergistic effects of warming and marine oxygen depletion could have driven the extinction.