Dr. Hans Larsson

Canada Research Chair in Vertebrate Paleontology

The theme of my lab is macroevolution. Two main axes of research traverse this interdisciplinary field of science in the lab:
1) Large scale patterns of evolution are  identified by looking at the evolution of details of skeletal anatomy and bone microstructure in vertebrate animals across time and ecological communities across time and geography. Most of our animal evolution work focuses on archosaurian reptiles (crocodiles, dinosaurs, birds, and relatives) during the Mesozoic Era (250 to 65 million years ago), although we also study fishes, amphibians, and relatively modern mammals as side projects. The evolution of communities is limited to terrestrial plants and animals within the Mesozoic Era, where we are attempting to describe how plants and animal communities are evolving at an ecosystem level using the current techniques of diversity and spatial ecology. Our contribution to datasets is primarily through fieldwork in the Canadian High Arctic.
2) The second research theme of my lab examines the process of evolutionary transformations (as much as a process can be examined) through a research programme of Developmental Evolution. This effort uses skeletal evolutionary transformations across the fin-to-limb transition of fish and amphibians and the evolution of flight from dinosaurs to birds. After characterising the evolutionary transformation, we test hypotheses of developmental changes that may explain the evolutionary transformations with embryological and molecular data. This work has steered some members of the lab to develop software to examine issues of developmental sequence evolution and modularity, while leading others to explore fruitful developments in the theory of homology and modularity.
The research breadth of the lab is not by accident. My approach to research and teaching attempts a synthetic view that all my graduate students are involved with. Disparate research (e.g. fieldwork in the arctic, experimental embryology) on large-scale themes (macroevolution) are what I see as the best training ground and intellectual growth for me and my students.


Postdoctoral Fellow

Rui Tahara, Ph.D.

My research focuses on examining the development and evolution of the cranial morphologies in birds. I am interested in soft tissues, in particular, the pneumatic tissues and its surrounding morphological structures including both soft and hard tissues. My research uses the contrast-enhanced micro and nano CT, and serial histological data. I am also interested in exploring 3D x-ray imaging for soft tissue morphologies using various contrast agents and integrating the CT data with other light microscope imaging data.

Graduate Students

Hoai-Nam Bui, B.A.

My research lies within the intersection of geology and biology. I am interested in the use of extant organisms in order to understand the fossil record and the history of life. Currently, I am focusing on avian development, comparative anatomy, and the fossil record in order to investigate the evolution of flight. 

Dirley Cortés, B.Sc.

My current research focuses on the examination of the Early Cretaceous (~130 million years ago) marine vertebrate fauna from northern South America within a stratigraphic and phylogenetic context, to understand both the taxonomic and ecological diversity of completely extinct lineages after the opening of North Atlantic and Indian oceans.

Jose Avila Cervantes, M.Sc. 

My research focuses on the evolution and ecology of Neotropical crocodiles. I use next-generation sequencing, whole genome sequencing and bioinformatics, to understand how genomes diverge during speciation. Moreover, I am investigating the importance of hybridization during adaptation. I am also interested in how natural selection and gene flow affect genome-wide patterns of divergence.

Anthony Zerafa, B.A.

I am a Biology M.Sc. student working jointly at the Redpath Museum and Lyman Entomological Museum of McGill University. I am passionate about Arctic science, and particularly the terrestrial arthropods that reside in this harsh environment. My Master’s thesis looks at microhabitat affinities of Northern arthropods, as well as how weather conditions affected terrestrial arthropod activity during the short summer season on Axel Heiberg Island, in the High Arctic of Nunavut Territory. This project represents the first time that terrestrial arthropods have been studied on Axel Heiberg Island, and also lays the foundations for a proposed long-term arthropod monitoring program (to work in conjunction with other long-term monitoring activities at the McGill Arctic Research Station), which I hope to pursue past my Master’s.

Anthony Smith, B.Sc.

I am a Ph.D. student and my research project looks at the physical constraints limiting embryological development, using 3D printed cones and motor muscle paralysis to restrict how the brain and limbs may grow. My project aims to investigate the range of morphological changes possible using physical restrictions.

alexandre.demers-potvin [at] (subject: LarssonLab%20Webpage) (Alexandre Demers-Potvin, B.Sc.)

I have always been fascinated by extinct creatures and ecosystems of all sizes and ages. Now, I am pursuing this passion into graduate research. For my Master's thesis, I aim to complete the description of a remote Cretaceous lacustrine ecosystem by using fossilized plants and insects uncovered in an abandoned iron ore mine near Schefferville. In 2018, I organized and undertook palaeontological fieldwork in the North with assistance from the Musée de paléontologie et de l'évolution. This expedition roughly quadrupled the quantity of known fossil material from one of the only Mesozoic sites known from eastern Canada and constitutes one of the largest single additions to the Redpath Museum's paleontology collections. Since then, I have been able to estimate the site's Cretaceous climate using the physiognomy of its known fossil angiosperm leaves, and I am currently describing new insect species from very well preserved specimens.


Undergraduate Students


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