AMNH Trilobite Research

Melanie Jane Hopkins

Division of Paleontology

American Museum of Natural History

Central Park West at 79th Street

New York, NY, 10024


+1 212 769 5558

[email protected]


Outdoor photo of a woman, Melanie Hopkins, smiling at the camera, wearing a blue windbreaker, with a dry rocky surface in the background.

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.


Chair, Division of Paleontology, AMNH

Curator-in-Charge, Fossil Invertebrates, Division of Paleontology, AMNH 

Associate Professor, Richard Gilder Graduate School, AMNH

Dissertation Sponsor, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University 

Science Faculty, Masters in the Arts of Teaching Program, AMNH



2021 Charles Schuchert Award, Paleontological Society



2010     Ph.D., paleontology, Dept. of the Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago

Title of dissertation: “Intraspecific variation, its geographic structure, and the relationship between variation and duration, with examples from Cambrian trilobites and Recent fiddler crabs”. Advisor: Mark Webster

2002     B.Sci., geology, Dept. of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, CA




FUNDING HISTORY (last 10 years)

2019-2024        PI, “CAREER: A comparative study of two trilobite diversification events to advance understanding of early animal evolution”. National Science Foundation GEO/EAR/SGP Program

2019-2026        Co-PI, “Investigating teacher retention, persistence, and effective teaching in high-needs schools: and exploratory cross-program study”. National Science Foundation (Noyce program) 

2019-2026        Co-PI, “Earth science teacher urban residency program: a partnership between a museum and secondary schools”. National Science Foundation (Noyce Program)

2017                 Collaborator, Australian Research Council grant, “A new universal mechanism controlling body and appendage proportions in animals”.

2015                 PI, “Diversification and evolution of Ordovician trilobites from unusually diverse offshore deposits in Spitsbergen, Svalbard”. Niarchos Foundation Expedition grant

2015                 Collaborator, IMLS, “Curation and conservation of the Mapes collection at the American Museum of Natural History”




2021-present     Editorial Board, Eastern Paleontologist

2019-present     Advisory Board, Paleosynthesis Center, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

2018-present     Associate Editor, Paleobiology

2018-present     Executive Committee, MorphoBank

2017-present     Managing Board, PCI Paleo

2016-present     Executive Committee, Paleobiology Database




David Wright (2018-2020) Selina Cole (2018-2020) James Lamsdell (2016)


As primary advisor: Mark Nikolic (PhD, expected 2025), Ernesto Vargas-Parra (PhD, expected 2023), Alexandra Buczek, (PhD, conferred 2020)

As committee member: Katherine Jordan (PhD, University of Nebraska Lincoln, expected 2024), Amelia Zietlow (PhD, AMNH, expected 2024), James Napoli, (PhD, AMNH, expected 2022), Tobit Liyandja, (PhD, AMNH, expected 2022), Johannes Neumann, (PhD, AMNH, expected 2022), Anna Holden (PhD, AMNH, graduated 2018), Danny Barta (PhD, AMNH, graduated 2018)

Undergraduate (often co-advised with colleagues!)

Sandy Cui (2021) Rebecca To (2020), Jonas Mondschein (2020), Esteban López Murillo (2019), Opal Perron-Feller (2018), Reid Alber (2018), Paige Funkhouser (2016-2017),Margaret Rubin (2016), Kelsey Barnhill (2016) J. Kirk Pearson (2015), Katharyn Padavano (2014), Katharine Thomas, (2014), Kelsey Hampton (2013), Amanda Brase (2013)



Invited academic seminar series at: University of Northern Iowa, Stony Brook University, Stanford University, Texas A&M, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Harvard University, Yale University, University of California Berkeley, University of Iowa, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Swarthmore College, Smithsonian, St. Lawrence University, University of Texas Austin, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, University of Northern Iowa

Invited talks for broad audiences at: Rochester Academy of Science, New York Paleontological Society, Society for Ethical Culture, Folk Art Museum

Invited talks as part of academic thematic workshops: Biosphere 2 (Arizona), Royal Society (Milton Keyes, UK), Northwest University (Xi-an, China), Joint NSF- and NSFC-sponsored (Ghangzhou, China), Linnean Society of LondonUniversity of Michigan 

Regular conference presentations, including invited keynotes at: Geological Society of American Annual Meeting, Palaeontological Association Annual Meeting, Paläontologische Gesellshaft Annual Meeting, North American Paleontological Congress Symposium, Crustacean Society Meeting, International Palaeontological Conference, International Conference on Trilobites and their Relatives, Society for the Study of Evolution Annual Meeting, Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Annual Meeting


Online (AMNH):



Western U.S. (Nevada, Idaho, Utah, California)

Eastern U.S. (New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey)

Anticosti Island (Quebec, Canada)

Spitsbergen (Svalbard)

Gotland (Sweden)

Alaska (Alaska Range, Talkeetna Mountains)