Chris Organ (PI & Director of the Honors Interdisciplinary Degree)
Curriculum vitae
I have a broad background in comparative and evolutionary biology with specific training in paleobiology and phylogenetic comparative methods. My Ph.D. was earned under the guidance of dinosaur paleontologist Jack Horner. After my doctoral studies, I won an NIH postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard to work with Scott Edwards on genome evolution. My research expanded throughout my fellowship to include work on sex chromosomes and human evolution. This research was driven by phylogenetic comparative methods I helped develop with Dr. Mark Pagel and Dr. Andrew Meade (University Reading, UK). After my postdoc, I joined the Department of Genetics and Genomics at Biogen Idec. My work there focused on viral-host interactions and multiple sclerosis GWAS.  In 2013, I accepted a position at Montana State University in the Department of Earth Sciences and the WIMU Regional Program in Veterinary Medicine. Since 2017, I also serve as the Director of the Directed Interdisciplinary Studies Program in the Honors College.


Jacob Gardner (Ph.D. Student)
Curriculum vitae
I am currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Earth Sciences at Montana State University. My research interests involve the quantification of biomechanical evolution. The biomechanics of animals plays a critical role in the selection of heritable traits. By parameterizing the evolutionary dynamics (such as tempo and rate) of biomechanical change through time, we can better understand the key transitions that had shaped the biology of various animal groups. It also sheds light on how different evolutionary pressures vary between animal groups depending on their physiology; such as gait and posture. This provides an excellent opportunity to apply the most recently-developed statistical phylogenetic comparative methods to the evolution of biomechanical systems.



Kevin Surya (Undergraduate Research Assistant)
I am an undergraduate student from Indonesia in the Directed Interdisciplinary Studies program under the Honors College at Montana State University. My primary interest is the evolutionary transitions from non-avian- to avian dinosaurs, particularly how modern birds acquired their unique anatomical features. Currently, Dr. Dana Rashid and I, along with our collaborators, are studying tail shortening and fusion in the avian lineage through chicken tail development. Furthermore, I am conducting research under the mentorship of Dr. David J. Varricchio and Dr. Chris Organ on how sexual selection affects dimorphism in the avian pelvis.




Isabelle Brenes (Undergraduate Research Assistant)
I am an undergraduate student at Montana State University in the Department of Earth Science. My research interests include non-avian and avian dinosaur evolution, as well as how developmental patterns may influence evolutionary mechanisms. I have conducted research under the mentorship of Dr. Aki Watanabe that focused on the size and shape changes that occurred in the avian brain along developmental and evolutionary timelines. Currently, I am working with Kevin Surya and Lázaro W. Viñola-López on a project that is looking at sexual dimorphism of the avian pelvis.




Carolyn Kocken (Undergraduate Research Assistant)
I am interested in paleontology and phylogeny. My current research project aims to determine if using morphology to make a phylogenetic tree is less accurate than a genetic-based one. The results of this will lead to a better understanding of how accurate trees are of animals we have little to no DNA from, like dinosaurs.





Rudy Hummel (Undergraduate Research Assistant)
I’m an undergraduate studying paleontology and museum studies at MSU on a Presidential Scholarship. Like many paleontologists and students in paleontology, my interest in fossil life began shortly after I could walk. I’m especially interested in the behavior of extinct animals, and I hope to explore this topic with phylogenetics. My current project with Dr. Organ revolves around sexual selection in dinosaurs.





Thomas LaBarge (Undergraduate Research Assistant)
I am an undergraduate at Montana State University majoring in paleontology.  My research interests involve comparative and evolutionary biology, specifically paleozoology and exploring evolutionary trends in animal behavior. Currently, I am helping to conduct research into Sexual Selection and Display in modern vertebrates.





 Jack Wilson (Undergrad Research Assistant)
I am interested in discerning evolutionary trends in dinosaurs using biostratigraphy and the other components of Unified Frames of Reference. This carries an emphasis on technical, research-based field work and preparation. Such trends connect the dots of dinosaur taxonomy and offer much more in terms of a wide-angle look at ecology and paleobiology. Field and fossil-based research can also offer information on dinosaur lives and behavior. I am additionally interested in integrating technology such as photogrammetry into research.




Kevin Jones (Undergraduate Research Assistant)
I am an undergraduate at Montana State University majoring in Organismal Biology, with a minor in Astrobiology. I am a McNair scholar, and I am currently conducting undergraduate research in human evolution with the help of my mentor, Dr. Chris Organ. My research interests are in human evolution, in particular, the interrelationships between hominin behavior and evolutionary adaptations.





Past Lab Members

Holley Flora (Undergrad Research Assistant)

Mikayla Struble (Undergrad Research Assistant)



1 Comment

  1. About My Research – Holley Flora
    May 3, 2018

    […] to their spine. This project was with Chris Organ, Jacob Gardner, and Jack Wilson at Montana State ( and Jack Horner and Cary Woodruff at the Museum of the […]