Daniel Ksepka

National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)


Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

North Carolina State University

Daniel T. Ksepka

PhD: Columbia University, 2007

BS: Rutgers University, 2002

Email: ksepka (at) nescent.org

Office: (919)-668-4074

Fax: (919) 668-9198

Blog: March of the Fossil Penguins

Twitter: @Ksepkalab

My research combines data from the fossil record and extant organisms to answer questions about major evolutionary events. Current projects include:

NSF DEB 0949897 Wings to Flippers: Phylogenetics, Character Acquisition & Feather Biomechanics in the Evolution of Wing-Propelled Diving

Reconstructing the transition to flightlessness and diving in penguins offers many opportunities to gain insight into how these remarkable birds evolved over time.

National Evolutionary Synthesis Center Working Group: Synthesizing and Databasing Fossil Calibrations, Divergence Dating and Beyond 

Our group is exploring the interface between the fossil record and molecular divergence dating, and developing an open access Fossil Calibrations Database.

Svelte Fossil Penguins

Two new species of elegantly proportioned penguins are covered in our latest article in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. These species lived in New Zealand about 27 million years ago during a time of high sea level, and were among the largest penguins ever to evolve, well over a foot taller than modern Emperor Penguins.

Live television interview on BBC World News.

My own blog coverage at March of the Fossil Penguins.

More coverage from BBC, National Geographic, Wired ScienceUS News & World Report, Scientific American, Discovery, CBC’s Quirks and Quarks and the official NCSU Press release.

Rise and Fall of African Penguins

Penguins have a complicated history in Africa. During the Pliocene, roughly five million years ago, four species occupied the Cape region.  In previous work, Daniel Thomas and I demonstrated that these species arrived separately, taking advantage of the South Atlantic Gyre to disperse from South America.  In a new study, we report Miocene African fauna over ten million years in age.  These fossils show another interval of high penguin diversity and point to sea level change as a cause of their eventual decline.  Only a single species lives in Africa today.

See coverage at Scientific American, Live Science, and Discovery News.

Blog coverage at March of the Fossil Penguins and Illuminating Fossils.

Recent Research News

Feather Evolution in Swifts and Hummingbirds

The Green River Formation is one of the most important fossil Lagerstätten worldwide.  One of the most recent fossil birds described from the Green River is Eocypselus rowei, a primitive member of the lineage that leads to today’s hummingbirds and swifts. In a recent paper in, my co-authors and I reported details of the preserved feathers of this remarkable tiny bird.

Coverage available at Science, Nature World News, Science News, CalAcademy News, and Discover.

Read the paper at Proceedings of the Royal Society B