Akinobu (Aki) Watanabe

Resident Research Associate



  • PhD Comparative Biology Richard Gilder Graduate School at the AMNH. Thesis: "Reconciling evolutionary transformations & intraspecific variation along dinosaur-bird transition", 2016 (expected)
  • 2012 MSc Biological Science Florida State University. Thesis: "The ontogeny of cranial morphology in extant crocodilians & its phylogenetic utility: a geometric morphometric approach", 2012
  • 2009 BA Biological Sciences Geophysical Sciences; Music Minor University of Chicago, 2009

Research Interests

Vertebrate evolution is replete with great transformations in bauplan accompanied by acquisitions of novel traits. However, identifying key drivers of these evolutionary changes remains challenging due to complex interactions among various sources of phenotypic variation including allometry, ontogeny, and phylogenetic inertia. To construct a holistic perspective on the evolutionary history of these traits, I employ a suite of techniques to accurately and precisely characterize morphological variation of both extant and extinct groups. Among vertebrates, archosaurs (crocodylians, dinosaurs, birds) form an excellent system to study phenotypic variation due to their current taxonomic diversity that supersedes other amniote groups, their rich fossil record, and the occurrence of numerous key adaptations (e.g., powered flight, hollow bones). In fact, birds share many important features with mammals, including highly encephalized brain, endothermy, and rapid
growth, that make understanding archosaur evolution relevant to our own deep history. Using this powerful system, my research has three major objectives: (1) identifying the mode and tempo of key adaptations in archosaurs, particularly along the dinosaur-bird transition; (2) elucidate the complex interplay between developmental and evolutionary morphological transformations; and (3) evaluate both theoretical and practical issues in phylogenetics and geometric morphometric methods. To pursue answers to these broad questions, I combine a diverse set of techniques, including histology, microscopy, computed-tomography imaging, geometric morphometrics, and computational biology.


Twitter: akiopteryx



In review

  • Watanabe, A., M.E.L. Gold, S.L. Brusatte, R.B.J. Benson, J. Choiniere, A. Davidson, M.A. Norell. Vertebral pneumaticity in the ornithomimosaur Archaeornithomimus (Dinosauria: Theropoda) revealed by computed tomography imaging and reappraisal of axial pneumaticity in Ornithomimosauria. PLoS ONE.
  • Marugan-Lobon, J., A. Watanabe, S. Kawabe. Studying encephalization using geometric morphometrics. Journal of Anatomy. Invited Submission.


  • Watanabe, A. The impact of poor sampling of polymorphisms on cladistic analysis. Cladistics. doi: 10.1111/cla.12130


  • Watanabe, A., D.E. Slice. The utility of cranial ontogeny for phylogenetic inference: a case study in crocodylians using geometric morphometrics. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 27: 1078-1092. doi: 10.1111/jeb.12382


  • Brusatte, S.L., M. Vremir, Z. Csiki, M.A. Norell, A.H. Turner, A.Watanabe, G.M. Erickson. The osteology of Balaur bondoc, an island-dwelling dromaeosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Late Cretaceous of Romania. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 374:1-100. http://hdl.handle.net/2246/6419
  • Watanabe, A., G.M. Erickson, P.S. Druckenmiller. An ornithomimosaur from the Upper Cretaceous Prince Creek Formation of Alaska. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 33:1169-1175. doi: 10.1080/02724634.2013.770750
  • Brusatte, S.L., M. Vremir, A. Watanabe, Z. Csiki-Sava, D. Naish, G. Dyke, G.M. Erickson, M.A. Norell. An infant ornithopod dinosaur tibia from the late Cretaceous of Sebeù, Romania. Terra Sebus: Acta Musei Sabesiensis 5:627-644. PDF

In prep.

Watanabe, A. R2D3 and C3PO: companion tool for assessing the delity of two-dimensional geometric morphometric data of three-dimensional structures.
Watanabe, A. How many landmarks are enough to characterize shape and size?
Barta, D.E., A. Watanabe, M. Vremir, R. Totoianu, M.A. Norell. The rst dinosaur eggs from a new vertebrate locality in the Upper Cretaceous Sebeù Formation, Romania
Mallison, H., M. Pittman, A. Watanabe. The range of motion and musculature of the tail of Citipati osmolskae (Theropoda: Oviraptorosauria).

Teaching Experience


  • 2014- Mentor, Isabelle Brenes, Saint Francis Preparatory School, Fresh Meadows, NY.


  • 2015 Invited Lecturer, Geometric Morphometrics, NY Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology
  • 2015 Invited Lecturer, Geometric Morphometrics, Richard Gilder Graduate School
  • 2014 Invited Lecturer, Systematics & Biogeography, Richard Gilder Graduate School
  • 2013 Lab Instructor, Systematics & Biogeography, Richard Gilder Graduate School
  • 2011 Lab Instructor, Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy, Florida State University
  • 2011 Lab Instructor, Human Anatomy & Physiology I, Florida State University
  • 2010 Lab Instructor, Vertebrate Structure & Function, University of Chicago
  • 2010 Teaching Assistant, Dinosaur Science, University of Chicago



  • 2015 (expected) *geomorph R package Workshop, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Meeting, Dallas, TX
  • 2015 Scientific Teaching Workshop, American Museum of Natural History
  • 2011 *NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Workshop, Florida State University
  • 2010 Teaching Workshop, Florida State University