Prof. Susan Kidwell studies how fossil records are formed—what factors influence how many skeletons and shells are preserved, how representative a record is, and how data may be biased. She has pioneered the field of conservation paleobiology, which seeks to pinpoint how and when human activities have altered ecological communities. Her work has extended the reach of ecological research from only 50 years in the past to centuries or even millennia. For example, Prof. Kidwell’s team discovered the destruction of a marine ecosystem that had flourished for thousands of years near modern Los Angeles, and connected its loss to the introduction and uncontrolled expansion of open-range livestock by Spanish missionaries and other settlers starting in 1769.
A member of the UChicago Committee for Evolutionary Biology, Prof. Kidwell has authored or co-authored nearly 100 publications. Her many honors include the 2016 Moore Medal from the Society for Sedimentary Geology, the 2015 Mary Clark Thompson Medal from the US National Academy of Sciences, the 1996 Charles Schuchert Award from the Paleontological Society, and a species of fossil bryozoans named after her. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Paleontological Society.