Degree Name

MS (Master of Science)



Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Joshua X. Samuels

Committee Members

Blaine W. Schubert, Chris C. Widga


Turtles are important components of ecosystems around the world, with diverse ecological niches and adaptations. However, there are few detailed studies of how turtle community structure reflects local environments. This project applied techniques of community structure analysis to sites across the United States to infer past ecosystem and environmental conditions of the early Pliocene Gray Fossil Site (GFS) in northeastern Tennessee based on the ancient turtle community. Results indicate extant turtle community structure closely reflects environmental conditions, and that ancient turtle communities can be used to infer climate and habitat conditions of past ecosystems. Application to the GFS turtle community shows similarity to modern communities of the southern Gulf Coast and subtropical southeastern United States. These findings are consistent with previous interpretations of the GFS environment as warmer and wetter than the southern Appalachian climate of today, and demonstrate the utility of fossil turtle assemblage data in determining past environmental conditions.

Document Type

Thesis - embargo


Copyright by the authors.