AMNH Trilobite Research

Melanie Hopkins, Ph.D.
Assistant Curator, Invertebrate Paleontology, Division of Paleontology 
Assistant Professor, Richard Gilder Graduate School
Melanie Hopkins Profile Image

Research Interests

Dr. Hopkins’s research focuses on the study of morphological evolution in the fossil record. She combines species-level phylogenetic analysis with high-resolution biostratigraphy in order to create frameworks for testing hypotheses about the role of geographic variation, ontogenetic variation, and modularity in the evolution of different clades. She also studies the interaction between different measures of diversity and the circumstances under which morphological, taxonomic, and functional diversity are decoupled. She has dabbled in global change biology and paleoecology and remains interested in niche evolution, particularly in its potential association with morphological evolution and speciation. Other recent projects demonstrated pervasive mosaic evolution throughout the fossil record, and explored how decisions made by scientists regarding what traits to measure influence the study of rates and modes of evolution.
Dr. Hopkins’s taxonomic interest lies with arthropods. Most of her research focuses on the paleobiology and early evolutionary history of trilobites, but she has also studied variation in extant fiddler crabs. Her research makes use of a variety of quantitative methods, most notably geometric morphometrics. Many projects are specimen based and rely on the extensive use of museum and new field collections. Other projects have made use of community databases, such as the Paleobiology Database. She is active in field work, particularly the Great Basin of the western U.S.


Hopkins, M.J., 2016, Magnitude versus direction of change and the contribution of macroevolutionary trends to morphological disparity. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. doi: 10.1111/bij.12759.

Hopkins, M. J., and Lidgard, S., 2016, Gradualism, in Losos, J. B., ed., Oxford Bibliographies on Evolutionary Biology: New York, Oxford University Press. In press.

Hunt, G, Hopkins, M.J., and Lidgard, S., 2015, Simple versus complex models of trait evolution, and stasis as a response to environmental change, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, v. 112, no. 16, p. 4885-4890.

Hopkins, M. J., and Smith, A. B., 2015, Dynamic evolutionary change in post-Paleozoic echinoids, and the importance of scale when interpreting rates of evolution: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, v. 112, no. 2, p. 3758-3763.

Lidgard, S., and Hopkins, M. J., 2015, Stasis, in Losos, J. B., ed., Oxford Bibliographies on Evolutionary Biology: New York, Oxford University Press. Doi:10.1093/OBO/9780199941728-0067.

Hopkins, M.J., and Lidgard, S., in press, Fossil species lineages and their defining traits—taxonomic usefulness and evolutionary modes. In Allmon, W.D., and Yacobucci, M.M. (eds.), Species and Speciation in the Fossil Record

Hopkins, M.J., 2014, Environmental patterning of trilobite morphological disparity. Paleobiology 40:352-373.

Hopkins, M.J., Simpson, C., and Kiessling, W., 2014, Differential niche dynamics among major marine invertebrate clades, Ecology Letters 17: 314-323. doi:10.1111/ele.12232.

Hampton, K.R. Hopkins, M.J., McNamara, J.C., Thurman, C.L., 2014, Intraspecific variation in carapace morphology among eight Species of Fiddler Crabs (Genus Uca) from the  Atlantic coast of Brazil. Aquatic Biology 20: 53-67. doi:10.3354/ab00545.

Seddon, A.W.R., +68 others, including Hopkins, M.J., 2014, Looking forward through the past. Identification of fifty priority research questions in palaeoecology. Journal of Ecology 102: 256-267. doi:10.1111/1365-2745.12195.

Wieman, A.C., Berendzen, P.B., Hampton, K., Jang, J., Thurman, C.L., Hopkins, M.J., Jurgeson, J., McNamara, J.C., 2014, Panmictic fiddler crabs along the coast of Brazil? Investigating the effects of divergent ocean currents and planktonic larvae on the genetic and morphological variation in Uca maracoani. Marine Biology 161: 173-185. doi:10.1007/s00227-013-2327-0.

Hopkins, M.J., 2013, Decoupling of taxomonic diversity and morphological disparity during decline of the Cambrian trilobite family Pterocephaliidae. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 26: 1665-1676. doi:10.1111/jeb.12164.

Korn, D., Hopkins, M.J., and Walton, S.A., 2013, Extinction space—a method for the quantification and classification of changes in morphospace across extinction boundaries. Evolution 67: 2795-2810.

Hopkins, M.J., and Lidgard, S., 2012, Evolutionary mode varies amongst morphological traits in fossil species lineages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 109, p. 20520-20525.

Hopkins, M.J., 2011, How species longevity, intraspecific morphological variation, and geographic range size are related: a comparison using late Cambrian trilobites. Evolution, v. 65, p. 3252-3273.

Gerber, S., and Hopkins, M.J., 2011, Mosaic heterochrony and evolutionary modularity: The trilobite genus Zacanthopsis as a case study. Evolution, v. 65, p. 3241-3252.

Hopkins, M.J., 2011, Species-level phylogenetic analysis of the Pterocephaliidae (Trilobita) from the Great Basin, western USA.  Journal of Paleontology, v. 85, p. 1128-1153.

Hopkins, M.J., and Thurman, C.L., 2010, The geographic structure of morphological variation in eight species of fiddler crabs (Ocypodidae: genus Uca) from the eastern United States and Mexico. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, v. 100, p. 248-270.