KillingsworthIn March 2024, through support from the Florida Museum of Natural History and UF’s Department of Geological Sciences, new Ph.D. student, Stephanie Killingsworth, visited the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) to explore the world’s largest and most comprehensive fossil horse collection. The goal of the trip was to better understand horse evolution and to begin thinking about scientific questions that have yet to be explored. The trip was a rite of passage for any vertebrate paleontologist interested in working with fossil horses. In fact, the collection is so vast and historically significant, it takes up the entire third floor of the AMNH.

KillingsworthKillingsworth worked her way through cabinets starting with the oldest known horse from the Eocene, Hyracotherium (previously known as Eohippus), collected from the Wind River and Big Horn Basins of Wyoming back in the early 1900s.

Over the course of the week, moving forward in geologic time, she came to fully appreciate many of the textbook examples of horse evolution she learned while being a middle school teacher.

Of particular interest to her is the origin of modern Equus. Viewing the dramatic changes in dental morphology through time, led to a project idea that could harness tools and specialty resources at the University of Florida, like digitization and artificial intelligence.

The large sample sets of individual upper and lower molars will be the basis for eventually building and training a machine learning model to quantify the proportion of more primitive and more advanced traits on the chewing (occlusal) surface of the teeth.

In all, the experience was pivotal for helping Killingsworth fully appreciate the evolutionary history of horses and the incredible resource that museum collections provide.

The 2024 Spring Student Travel Awards are supported by the FLMNH Department of Natural History, including funds from the Gapenski Endowment. If you would like to help support this fund for future student awards, please go to:

Louis C. and Jane Gapenski Endowed Fellowship