Anthony Friscia


phone:  206-6011

office:  329 Hershey Hall

research interests:  Mammalian evolution in the early Cenozoic. Small-bodied carnivore ecomorphology, evolution and community structure in North America and Africa.


B.A., , Washington University 1994
M.A., , Kent State University 1997
Ph.D., , University of California, Los Angeles 2005

Research Interests

My research program has focused on the evolution of early Tertiary mammals and their diversification into modern families, using extensive anatomical and functional knowledge as a basis for comparison. Specifically I have worked on small-bodied mammalian carnivores, both extinct and extant. As a comparative base I have built a large collection of pictures and skull/dentition measurements of living small carnivorans, including members of the Procyonidae (raccoons and their relatives), Mustelidae, (weasels, badgers, otters, and their relatives), Mephitidae (skunks), Herpestidae (mongooses), and Viverridae (civets and their relatives). I use this database to study the dietary specializations of these groups and the morphological correlates of diet. These are a diverse group of animals, whose diets run the gamut from hypercarnivores, specializing only in meat (such as the weasels), to almost dedicated frugivores (such as some members of the raccoon family). I plan to expand this collection to include post-cranial measures in order to study the locomotory adaptations of these groups. Again, these taxa display a wide range of locomotion types, from terrestrial cursors (runners) to arboreal leapers to nearly fully aquatic forms. The goal is to represent the entire ecological range of these poorly studied taxa. I have used the database of living carnivores as a basis for studying the fossil record. Early mammalian carnivores (both members of the modern order Carnivora, as well as the extinct order Creodonta) are similar in body size to the modern small taxa. By understanding the morphological correlates of ecology in living taxa I can then extrapolate to investigate the lifestyles of the fossil taxa. Again, I have a database of measurements and pictures of many North American fossil carnivores which I have used to do just this. I plan to expand this collection morphologically to include post-cranial material, geographically to include taxa from other continents, and temporally to include taxa outside the range I have already examined (the early Tertiary - about 55-35 million years ago). The first thing that drew me to research was paleontological fieldwork. I plan to continue this as part of my further research and involve students in the process. I will be continuing a partnership with researchers from Midwestern University, the San Diego Museum of Natural History and Lamar University to expand some of our work collecting in the Uinta Basin in Utah. We are in the process of writing a large grant that will fund our research for a number of years. This research will include expanding our collecting area, obtaining better stratigraphic control on our localities, and examining change in the paleoecology of the Basin across time. This will also incorporate a large field school component which would involve students in both collecting and subsequent research on the uncovered specimens. In addition to field work here in the US, I have research collaborations with various colleagues doing research in Sub-Saharan Africa. My research there focuses on a key time period in the history of African animals, right at the transition from archaic groups to taxa we would recognize today. Part of this turnover was the appearance of the first true carnivorans in Africa around 20 million years ago. We have collected specimens of the very first of these taxa to reach Africa, and the question of why these particular species were the first to enter Africa, and how they fit into the endemic carnivore community, is rich in interesting research directions. One of my long-term goals is to begin to study some of the extant taxa in the wild. Many of the small-bodied modern carnivores are poorly studied, both due to their cryptic lifestyles and the attention paid to larger, 'sexier' taxa (e.g. lions and wolves). As a consequence, basic ecological data on the small taxa are lacking, including dietary information and social behavior. I would like to train students and myself to be able to go to the field and make these kinds of observations. This work will not only have implications for my ecological morphology studies, but conservation as well, as many of these taxa live in small numbers and are ecologically threatened.

Selected Publications

Gunnell, G.F., D.M. Boyer, A.R. Friscia, S. Heritage, F.K. Manthi, E.R. Miller, H.M. Sallam, N.B. Simmons, N.J. Stevens, E.R. Seiffert, "Fossil lemurs from Egypt and Kenya reveal an African origin for Madagascar's aye-aye", Nature Communications, 9 : 3193- (2018) .

Friscia, A.R, "The Origin of Higher Taxa: Palaeobiological, Developmental, and Ecological Perspectives", Quarterly Review of Biology, 92 : 189- (2017) .

Brown, C., E. Curd, A. Friscia., "An Actualistic Experiment to Determine Skeletonization and Disarticulation in the La Brea Tar Seeps", Palaios, 32 : 119-124 (2017) .

Murphey, P.C., Townsend, K.E.B., Friscia, A.R., Westgate, J., Evanoff, E., Gunnell, G.F., "Paleontology and stratigraphy of middle Eocene rock units in the southern Green River and Uinta Basins, Wyoming and Utah", Geology of the Intermountain West, 3 : 1-53 (2017) .

A. Friscia and R. Dunn., "Uintan creodonts from the Uinta Basin, with a description of the post-cranial skeleton of Oxyaenodon", Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, (2016) .

Bodony, D., L. Day, A. Friscia, L. Fusani, A. Kharon, G. Swenson, M. Wikelski, B. Schlinger., " Determination of the Wingsnap Sonation Mechanism of the Golden-Collared Manakin (Manacus vitellinus)", Journal of Experimental Biology, 219 : 1524-1534 (2016) .

A.R. Friscia, G.D. Sanin, W.R. Lindsay, L.B. Day, B.A. Schlinger, J. Tan, M.J. Fuxjager, "Adaptive evolution of a derived radius morphology in manakins (Aves, Pipridae) to support acrobatic display behavior", Journal of Morphology, 277 : 766-775 (2016) .

A. Friscia, "Ecological Trends and Replacement in the Carnivorous Mammals of Africa across the Paleogene/Neogene Boundary", Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, (2015) .

A. Friscia and C. Brown, "An actualistic experiment to examine skeletonization and disarticulation in the La Brea tar seeps", Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, (2014) .

G. Slater and A. Friscia., "Where should we expect to find early bursts of trait evolution? A case study using Carnivora", Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, (2013) .