Dr. Sterling J. Nesbitt


Dr. Nesbitt’s research group at Virginia Tech centers on the evolution of vertebrates, particularly reptiles, over the last 300 million years. He is interested in influences of Earth processes on macroevolutionary events (mass extinction and adaptive radiations), morphological and taxonomic diversity, the consequence of latitudinal differences on an organism’s biogeography, comparative methods in phylogenetics, developmental influences on convergent evolution, and faunal evolution. A specialist on the reptile group that includes dinosaurs, birds, and crocodylians, Dr. Nesbitt is particularly interested in the rise of the living reptile fauna from its roots 230 million years ago. Most recently, he has started to incorporate questions focused on morphological change in invasive reptiles in Florida into his research program.

Dr. Nesbitt teaches undergraduate courses focused on Earth History (Earth and Life Through Time, GEOS 1014) and team-teaches an intense First Year Experience course for new Geosciences majors. At the Graduate level, he teaches Vertebrate Evolution (GEOS G5234) and has taught a seminar on mass extinctions through time.

Dr. Nesbitt is academically well traveled; undergraduate degree in Integrative Biology from the University of California, Berkeley; a PhD from Columbia University in Geosciences; a postdoctoral fellowship (NSF sponsored) from The University of Texas at Austin in Geosciences; a postdoctoral fellowship (NSF sponsored) at the University of Washington in Biology; and a postdoctoral fellowship (Meeker) at the Field Museum of Natural History. Currently, Dr. Nesbitt is an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Virginia Tech and is a research associate/affiliate of the American Museum of Natural History, the Vertebrate Paleontology Lab at The University of Texas at Austin, the Virginia Museum of Natural History, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and the National Museum of Natural History. His fieldwork has taken him to Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, Madagascar, Argentina, Mongolia, and all over the United States. Dr. Nesbitt has published more than 75 peer-reviewed contributions on subjects ranging from the evolution of individual bones in reptiles (e.g., the furcula of birds, the eye “bone” of crocodylians) to macroevolutionary patterns of early dinosaurs.

Email         Research Website          Virginia Tech Paleobiology


Recent Relevant Publications

NESBITT, S.J., FLYNN, J.J., PRITCHARD, A.C., PARRISH, J.M., RANIVOHARIMANANA, L. and WYSS, A.R. 2015. Postcranial osteology of Azendohsaurus madagaskarensis (?Middle to Upper Triassic, Isalo Group, Madagascar) and its systematic position among stem archosaur reptiles. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.

WHITESIDE, J.H., DUNLAVEY, M., LINDSTROM, S., IRMIS, R.B., KASPRAK, A., GLASSPOOL, I.J., NESBITT, S.J., SMITH, N.D. and TURNER, A.H. 2015. Ecosystem instability during the Late Triassic rise of dinosaurs in North America.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112:  7909-7913.

SMITH, A., CHIAPPE, L.M., CLARKE, J.A., EDWARDS, S.V., KSEPKA, D.T., NESBITT, S.J., NORELL, M.A., STIDHAM, T.A., TURNER, A.H., VAN TUINEN, M., VINTHER, J. and XU, X. 2015. Rhetoric vs. Reality: a commentary on “Bird Origins Anew” by A. Feduccia, Auk. The Auk, 132:  467-480.

DRUMHELLER, S.K., STOCKER, M.R. and NESBITT, S.J. 2014. Direct evidence of trophic interactions among apex predators in the Late Triassic of western North America. Naturwissenschaften. DOI 10.1007/s00114-014-1238-3


NESBITT, S.J., PEECOOK, B.R., STEYER, J.S., SMITH, R.M.H. and TSUJI, L.A. 2013. Provincialization of terrestrial faunas following the end-Permian mass extinction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110:  8129-8133.

NESBITT, S.J., BARRETT, P., WERNING, S., SIDOR, C.A. and CHARIG, A. 2012. The oldest dinosaur? A Middle Triassic dinosauriform from Tanzania. Biology Letters.

NESBITT, S.J., KSEPKA, D.T. and CLARKE, J.A. 2011. Podargiform affinities of the enigmatic Fluvioviridavis platyrhamphus and the early diversification of Strisores (“Caprimulgiformes” + Apodiformes). PLoS ONE 6(11): e26350. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026350

NESBITT, S.J. 2011. The early evolution of archosaurs: Relationships and the

origin of major clades. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 352: 1-292.


R.M.H., and TSUJI, L.A. 2010. Ecologically distinct dinosaurian sister-group shows early diversification of Ornithodira. Nature, 464: 95-98.


NORELL, M.A. 2009. A complete skeleton of a Late Triassic saurischian and the early evolution of dinosaurs. Science, 326: 1530-1533.