Anna K. ("Kay") Behrensmeyer

Paleobiologist/Geologist

Portrait of Anna K. ("Kay") Behrensmeyer.

Kay Behrensmeyer is Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology in the NMNH Department of Paleobiology and co-director of the Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems Program.  She is an associate of the Human Origins Program and has collaborated for many years with Rick Potts and other colleagues at Olorgesailie, where she has been leading research on the geological context since 1986.   She works at the interfaces between the recent and the ancient and between the disciplines of anthropology, geology, paleobiology, evolutionary biology, and ecology.  She is known for her pioneering research in taphonomy, the study of how organic remains become fossilized and biases that result from this process.   Taphonomy is essential for understanding information contained in the fossil record, providing guidelines for ecological inferences about ancient animals and environments including early humans.  Much of Kay’s career has involved paleontological and geological field research on the ecological context of human evolution in the later Cenozoic of East Africa.  Currently, she is working on human origins-related projects in Kenya - the Olorgesailie Basin and East Turkana - as well as continuing her 35-year study of modern taphonomy in Amboseli National Park.   Other projects include analysis of paleoecological data from the Miocene Pakistan Siwalik sequence and a project on early mammal taphonomy and ecology in Arizona (Upper Triassic – Lower Jurassic).  She is also building a taphonomic reference collection of fossil and modern bones at the National Museum of Natural History. Kay was selected as one of 50 most important women scientists by Discover Magazine in 2002.

Publications: 

Behrensmeyer, A. K. 1970. Preliminary geological interpretation of a new hominid site in the Lake Rudolf Basin. Nature 226 (5242):225-226.

Isaac, G., Leakey, R., Behrensmeyer, A. 1971. Archeological traces of early hominid activities east of Lake Rudolf, Kenya. Science 173:1129-1134.

Behrensmeyer, A. K. 1975. The Taphonomy and Paleoecology of Plio-Pleistocene Vertebrate Assemblages East of Lake Rudolf, Kenya. Bulletin MCZ 145 (10):473-574. (Ph.D. Dissertation)

Behrensmeyer, A. K. 1978. The habitat of Plio-Pleistocene hominids in East Africa: taphonomic and microstratigraphic guidance. In: C. Jolly (ed.), Early Hominids of Africa (Duckworth: London), pp. 165-189.

Behrensmeyer, A. K., Hill A. (Editors). 1980. Fossils in the Making: Vertebrate Paleoecology and Taphonomy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). 338 pp.

Behrensmeyer, A. K., Laporte, L.F. 1981. Footprints of a Pleistocene Hominid in Northern Kenya. Nature 289: 167-169.

Behrensmeyer, A. K. 1985. Taphonomy and the paleoecologic reconstruction of hominid habitats in the Koobi Fora Formation. In: Coppens, Y., Ed., L'environment des hominides au Plio-Pleistocene. (Paris: Foundation Singer-Polignac). Pp. 309-324.

Behrensmeyer, A. K., Gordon, K. D., Yanagi, G. T. l986. Trampling as a cause of bone surface damage and pseudo-cutmarks. Nature 319:768-771.

Behrensmeyer, A. K. 1991. Terrestrial Vertebrate Accumulations. Pp. 291-335 in Allison, P. and Briggs, D. E. G. Taphonomy: Releasing the Data Locked in the Fossil Record. New York: Plenum.

Behrensmeyer, A. K. Hook, R.W. 1992. Paleoenvironmental contexts and taphonomic modes in the terrestrial fossil record. In: Behrensmeyer, A. K., Damuth, J. D., DiMichele, W. A., Potts, R., Sues, H.-D., Wing, S.L. Terrestrial Ecosystems Through Time, pp. 15-136. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Behrensmeyer, A. K., Potts, R., Plummer, T., Tauxe, L., Opdyke, N., Jorstad, T. 1995. Stratigraphy, chronology, and paleoenvironments of the Pleistocene locality of Kanjera, western Kenya. Journal of Human Evolution 29: 247-274.

Isaac, G. L., Behrensmeyer, A. K. 1997. Chapter 2: Geological Context and Paleoenvironments. Pp. 12-53. In: Koobi Fora Research Project Volume 5: Plio-Pleistocene Archaeology. Glynn L. Isaac and B. Isaac, Eds. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 556 pp.

Behrensmeyer, A. K., Todd, N.E., Potts, R., McBrinn, G.E. 1997. Late Pliocene faunal turnover in the Turkana Basin, Kenya and Ethiopia. Science 278:1589-1594.

Potts, R., Behrensmeyer, A.K., Ditchfield, P. 1999. Paleolandscape variation and early Pleistocene hominid activities: Members 1 and 7, Olorgesailie Formation. Journal of Human Evolution 37:747-788.

Behrensmeyer, A. K., Potts, R., Deino, A., Ditchfield, P. 2002. Olorgesailie, Kenya: A million years in the life of a rift basin. In: Sedimentation in Continental Rifts, Renaut, R.W. and Ashley, G.M, Eds.) SEPM Special Publication 73: 97-106.

Bobe, René, Behrensmeyer, A.K. 2004. The expansion of grassland ecosystems in Africa in relation to mammalian evolution and the origin of the genus Homo. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 207: 399-420.

Potts, R., Behrensmeyer, A.K., Deino, A., Ditchfield, P., Clark, J. 2004. Small mid-Pleistocene hominin associated with East African Acheulean technology. Science 305: 75-78.

Behrensmeyer, A. K. 2006. Climate change and human evolution. Science 311:476-478.

Behrensmeyer, A. K. 2008. Paleoenvironmental context of the Pliocene A.L. 333 “First Family” Hominin Locality, Denen Dora Member, Hadar Formation, Ethiopia. GSA Special Paper 446: The Geology of Early Humans in the Horn of Africa, edited by Jay Quade and Jonathan Wynn, pp. 203-214.

Western, D., Behrensmeyer, A.K. 2009. Bones track community structure over four decades of ecological change. Science 324: 1061-1064.