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Anna K. ("Kay") Behrensmeyer

Portrait photo of Anna K. ("Kay") Behrensmeyer holding a fossil bone

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 40+-year study of modern taphonomy in Amboseli National Park. Other projects include contributions to a book on the Miocene Siwalik sequence of Pakistan, taphonomic analysis of the A.L.333 “First Family” site in Ethiopia, and a project on early mammal taphonomy and ecology in Arizona (Upper Triassic – Lower Jurassic). She also is building a taphonomic reference collection of fossil and modern bones at the National Museum of Natural History. Kay was elected to the National Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011 and received the R. C. Moore Medal for excellence in Paleontology from the Society for Sedimentary Geology in 2016. Kay has been involved in efforts to promote women in science, including The Bearded Lady Project, and TrowelBlazers,


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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-PleistoceneVertebrate 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 HomoPalaeogeography, 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.

Owen, R. Bernhart, R. W. Renaut, J. J. Scott, R. Potts, and A. K. Behrensmeyer, 2009.  Wetland sedimentation and associated diatoms in the Pleistocene Olorgesailie Basin, southern Kenya Rift Valley.  Sedimentary Geology 222:124–137. 

Deocampo, D. M., A. K. Behrensmeyer, and R. Potts. 2010.  Ultrafine Clay Minerals of the Pleistocene Olorgesailie Formation, Southern Kenya Rift: Diagenesis and Paleoenvironments of Early Hominins. Clays and Clay Minerals 58 (3): 294–310.

Owen, R.B., R. Renaut, R. Potts, A.K. Behrensmeyer. 2011.  The Pleistocene Olorgesailie Formation, southern Kenya Rift Valley, a sedimentological, geochemical and diatom stratigraphy.  Quaternary Research 76 (2011) 167–179. 

Levin, N. E., F. H. Brown, A. K. Behrensmeyer, R. Bobe and T. E. Cerling. 2011.  Paleosol carbonates from the Omo Group: isotopic records of local and regional environmental change in East Africa.  Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 307:75-89.

Behrensmeyer, A. K. 2012. Conversations with Glynn’s Ghost: The Evolution of Paleolandscape Research at East Turkana. Pp. 21-40 In: Sept, J. and D. Pilbeam, Eds, Casting the Net Wide: Papers in Honor of Glynn Isaac and His Approach to Human Origins Research. American School of Prehistoric Research, Harvard University, Oxford and Oakville: Oxbow Books.

Behrensmeyer, A.K. and J.H. Miller. 2012.  Building links between ecology and palaeontology using taphonomic studies of recent vertebrate communities. In: J. Louys, Ed., Palaeontology in Ecology and Conservation, pp. 69-91.  (New York: Springer)

Behrensmeyer, A. K., Reed, K. E., 2013.  Reconstructing the paleoecology of Australopithecus: site taphonomy, paleoenvironments, and faunas.  In: K. Reed, J. G. Fleagle and R. E. Leakey, Eds., The Paleobiology of Australopithecus, pp. 41-60. (New York: Springer)

Barry, J. C., C. Badgley, A.K. Behrensmeyer, L.J. Flynn, H. Peltonen, I.U. Cheema, D. Pilbeam, S. Mahmood Raza, A.R. Rajpar,  M.E Morgan.  The Neogene Siwaliks of the Potwar Plateau and other Regions of Pakistan.  2013. Ch. 15 (pp. 373-399) in:  Xiao-ming Wang, L. J. Flynn, M. Fortelius, Editors, Fossil Mammals of Asia: Neogene Biostratigraphy and Chronology.  New York: Columbia University Press. 373. 

Faith, J.T. and A. K. Behrensmeyer. 2013.  Climate Change and Mammalian Evolution: Testing the Mechanics of the Turnover-Pulse Hypothesis with High Resolution African Fossil Data.   Paleobiology 39(4): 609-627. 

Lee, R.K.L., R.B. Owen, R.W. Renaut, A.K. Behrensmeyer, R. Potts, and W. D. Sharp.  2013. Facies, geochemistry and diatoms of late Pleistocene Olorgesailie tufas, southern Kenya Rift. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 374: 197-217.

Tóth, Anikó, Lyons, S. Kathleen, Behrensmeyer, A. K. 2014. Changes in mammal community structure in Kenya over the last 100 years.  PLOS-One 9(4):e93092:1-13.

Tóth, Anikó B., Lyons, S. Kathleen and Behrensmeyer, A. K.  2014. Mammals of Kenya's protected areas from 1888 to 2013. Ecology, June, Vol. 95, No. 6: 1711-1711. (doi: 10.1890/13-2118.1)

Miller, J.H., A.K. Behrensmeyer, A. Du, S.K. Lyons, D. Patterson, A. Tóth, A. Villaseñor, E. Kanga, D. Reed, 2014.  Ecological fidelity of functional traits based on species presence-absence in a modern mammalian bone assemblage. Paleobiology 40: 560-583. 

Owen, R. B., R. W. Renaut, A. K. Behrensmeyer and R. Potts, 2014. Quaternary geochemical stratigraphy of the Kedong-Olorgesailie section of the southern Kenya Rift valley. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 396:194-212.  

Lyons, S. Kathleen, Amatangelo, Kathryn L, Behrensmeyer, Anna K., Bercovici, Antoine, Blois, Jessica L., Davis, Matthew, DiMichele, W. A., Du, Andrew, Eronen, Jussi T., Faith, J. Tyler, Graves, Gary R., Jud, Nathan, Labandeira, Conrad, Looy, Cynthia, McGill, Brian, Miller, Joshua H. Patterson, David, Pineda-Munoz, Siliva, Potts, Richard, Riddle, Brett, Terry, Rebecca, Tóth, Anikó, Ulrich, Werner, Villaseñor, Amelia, Williams, John W., Wing, Scott, Anderson, Heidi, Anderson, John, Waller, Donald and Gotelli, Nicholas J., 2016.  Holocene shifts in the assembly of plant and animal communities implicate human impacts.  Nature 529:80-83; doi:10.1038/nature16447

Roach, N.T., Hatala, K.G., Ostrofsky, K.R., Villmoare, B., Reeves, J.S., Du, A., Braun, D.R., Harris, J.W.K., Behrensmeyer, A.K., and Richmond, B.G.  Pleistocene footprints show intensive use of lake margin habitats by Homo erectus groups.  Nature: Scientific Reports |6:26374|DOI:10.1038/srep26374: pp. 1-9. (May 20, 2016)

Žliobaitė, Indrė, Rinne, Janne, Tóth, Anikó B., Mechenich, Michael, Liu, Li-Ping, Behrensmeyer, Anna K., and Fortelius, Mikael.  2016.   Modeling local climatic and environmental parameters using dental traits of mammalian herbivores in 13 Kenyan national parks.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi:10.1073/pnas.1609409113.

Brooks, A.S., Yellen, J.E., Potts, R., Behrensmeyer, A.K., Deino, A.L., Leslie, D.E., Ambrose, S.H., Ferguson, J., d’Errico, F. Zipkin, A.M., Whittaker, S., Post, J., Veatch, E.G., Foecke, K., Clark, J.B., 2018. Long-distance stone transport and pigment use in the earliest Middle Stone Age, Science

Potts, R., Behrensmeyer, A.K., Faith, J.T., Tryon, C.A., Brooks, A.S., Yellen, J.E., Deino, A.L., Kinyanjui, R., Clark, J.B., Haradon, C., Levin, N.E., Meijer, H.J.M., Veatch, E.G., Owen, R.B., Renaut, R.W., 2018. Environmental dynamics during the onset of the Middle Stone Age in eastern Africa, Science 

Deino, A.L., Behrensmeyer, A.K., Brooks, A.S., Yellen, J.E., Sharp, W.D., Potts, R., 2018. Chronology of the Acheulean to Middle Stone Age Transition in Eastern Africa, Science

Anna K. Behrensmeyer, Richard Potts, Alan Deino; The Oltulelei Formation of the southern Kenyan Rift Valley: A chronicle of rapid landscape transformation over the last 500 k.y.. GSA Bulletin doi: