Meet Baylor’s nationally recognized expert on historical climate change
Paleobotany, paleomagnetism and paleoclimate aren’t words often used in everyday conversation. Even as academic disciplines go, they’re not among the most commonly cited. But as Dr. Daniel Peppe shows, these rare words and disciplines help us understand how climate change over time impacts plants and animal life on Earth.
Peppe is an associate professor and graduate program director in Baylor’s Department of Geosciences, having come here in 2008 after earning his master’s and Ph.D. from Yale, and is recognized as an expert on historical climate change. More specifically, he focuses on how plant and animal communities respond to changes in climate throughout the earth’s history. His research helps answer questions about how ancient ecosystems changed as the climate around them changed — how animals adapted to such changes, and how events like mass animal extinctions impacted other plant and animal life.
How does one learn more about ancient climates? Peppe does so by digging. As a part of research teams in Africa, North America and other locations throughout the world, his methods combine paleontology, ecology and more at excavation sites that provide insight into the world that ancient creatures, plants and peoples inhabited.
Last year, we covered one of his more unique findings — a wildebeest-like creature with a unique nasal adaptation that may have sounded like a vuvuzela. Scientists took notice of the finding because the animal’s striking nose, which was similar to nasal adaptations found on some dinosaurs, showed how completely different species (across completely different eras) can evolve similar features for similar needs.
That discovery was covered extensively in national media, as were other Peppe research findings, from studies on the environment inhabited by early apes, to the “perfect storm” of events that led to dinosaur extinction, to how a massive leaf collection could help tell us more about ancient climates.
Of course, he’s not always at dig sites. Peppe also teaches a number of geology classes, meaning Baylor students get to learn about ancient earth, plant and animal life (and how events that happened thousands of years ago shape our world today) from one of the top experts in the paleo-fields.
Sic ’em, Dr. Peppe!