Evan Whiting

 Evan Whiting
Mentor: Dr. David Steadman
Florida Museum of Natural History
"I have wanted to study reptiles, both extinct and extant, for as long as I can remember. This curiosity has led me to pursue various undergraduate research opportunities at the University of Florida, including studying avian behavior, the dietary ecology of American alligators, and fossil crocodylians. I applied to the University Scholars Program to ensure my ongoing research project’s future and provide myself with a great opportunity to grow as a student, scientist, and communicator. Presentation and communication of scientific findings are essential for any modern scientist, and I hope to gain further experience in these crucial skills through this unique program."

Major

Zoology

Minor

Geology

Research Interests

  • Vertebrate Paleontology
  • Ornithology
  • Herpetology

Academic Awards

  • University Scholars Program
  • Golden Key International Honour Society
  • Florida Bright Futures Academic Scholarship
  • Dean's List (Fall 2010)

Organizations

  • Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
  • Golden Key International Honour Society

Volunteer

  • Florida Museum of Natural History (Fossil Preparator)
  • Florida Museum of Natural History (Exhibit/Event Outreach)

Hobbies and Interests

  • Hockey
  • Racquetball
  • Birdwatching
  • Hiking

Research Description

Fossil Crocodylians from the late Miocene of Florida
My current research project is focused on the systematics and paleoecology of fossil crocodylians from late Miocene Florida. These fossils, approximately 7-8 million years old, represent two distinct crocodylians that inhabited a prehistoric Florida estuary. Alligators very similar to the extant American alligator and large, longirostrine tomistomines have been collected from this fossil deposit typified by both marine and freshwater faunas. These unique circumstances have led me to two distinct lines of inquiry regarding the fossil crocodylians of this locality. My first task will be studying the morphology of the alligators preserved in this fossil deposit and conducting cladistic analyses in order to determine their specific identity. Results from these analyses will be used to address the longevity and origin of the American alligator lineage, which is clouded by a high degree of morphological similarity between the extant species and other derived members of the genus. My second inquest will be into the paleoecology of the crocodylian fauna at this locality, focused primarily on the large tomistomines. I will be testing the hypothesis that these longirostrine crocodylians inhabited and procured prey items from primarily marine environments utilizing stable isotope analyses of fossil tooth enamel. Results from these analyses will allow for a better understanding of the ecology and behavior of these large tomistomines, including how they might have partitioned resources with the alligators found in the same fossil deposits. The overall goal of my research project is to provide a more complete picture of the fossil crocodylians that inhabited this region of Florida during the late Miocene, which could offer valuable insights into modern ecosystems occupied by multiple crocodylians.