Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences
Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences

Anatomy and Vertebrate Paleontology

Julia B. McHugh, Ph.D.
Senior Research Assistant
Vertebrate Paleontology Volunteer Coordinator

918.561.1429 office / 918.561.5798 fax

Research Interests | Outreach | Education | Professional Experience
Professional Societies | Reviewing Activity | Grants Awarded | Publications

Research Interests

My research is focused on the evolution and skeletal ontogeny of temnospondyl amphibians, as well as the continental ecosystem response to the end-Paleozoic mass extinction (252 million years ago). This is the largest mass extinction in the fossil record, and as putative indicator taxa, amphibians are essential to understanding how continental ecosystems changed during this event. I combine quantitative phylogenetic systematics, gross osteological anatomy and osteological development, paleohistology, biostratigraphy, rates of speciation and extinction, taphonomy and sedimentary processes, and cladistic biogeography to assess the evolutionary history of Temnospondyli and the clade’s response to environmental changes in deep time.

Current Projects

Incorporating life history into phylogenetic analyses using morphological characters [in prep].

Changes in bone microstructure of amphibian and amniote groups across the Permian-Triassic boundary in the Karoo Basin of South Africa – International collaboration with Dr. Jennifer Botha-Brink, Dr. Adam K. Huttenlocker, Dr. Kenneth D. Angielczyk, and Dr. Roger M. H. Smith.

Taxonomy and biogeography of Late Cretaceous (Campanian) multituberculates of the San Juan Basin in New Mexico – Collaboration with Dr. Anne Weil.

Taxonomy and paleohistology of turtle shells from the Jurassic Morrison Formation of Oklahoma – Collaboration with Dr. Anne Weil.



I developed and now manage our vertebrate paleontology volunteer program. This program is designed to allow community members, medical students, graduate students, and undergraduates to volunteer their time and work alongside OSU-CHS paleontologists in the OSU-CHS research labs. I provide training and instruction over lab safety, lab techniques, and concepts in paleontological research. Volunteers work on a variety of research projects from assessing ancient ecosystem compositions, ecosystem response to climate change, determining effective sampling techniques, and mapping the stratigraphic and geographic distributions of extinct species.

I am also an instructor for the OSU Tulsa Chapter of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). I have developed and taught courses on paleontology (Ancient Life in Oklahoma – Fall 2012) and natural disasters (Natural Disasters – Fall 2013). These courses are designed to bring the most current scientific information to seniors and retirees in the greater Tulsa community.



Ph.D., 2012 (Department of Geoscience)
The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA

M.S., 2003 (Department of Geosciences)
Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID

B.A., 2001 (Department of Geology)
Hanover College, Hanover, IN


Professional Experience

2012-Present, Senior Research Assistant
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology
Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences
Tulsa, OK

2012-Present, Research Associate
Department of Vertebrate Paleontology
Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History
Norman, OK

2012-Present, Instructor
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
Oklahoma State University Tulsa
Tulsa, OK


Professional Societies

Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
Geological Society of America, Rocky Mountain Division


Reviewing Activity

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology


Grants Awarded

Submitted, National Science Foundation, Sedimentary Geology and Paleobiology NSF 12-608 Track 1, $108,534.
Phylogenetic and Biogeographic Analysis of the Effects and Biological Response of Temnospondyl Amphibians to the end-Paleozoic Mass Extinction.

2010-2011, Evolving Earth Foundation, Evolving Earth Grant, $3000
Temnospondyli (Vertebrata: Choanata) Ontogeny and Phylogeny as a Window to Terrestrial Ecosystems During the Permian-Triassic Mass Extinction.

2009-2010, The University of Iowa Graduate College, T. Anne Cleary International Dissertation Research Fellowship, $5,000.
Temnospondyli (Vertebrata: Choanata) Ontogeny and Phylogeny as a Window to Terrestrial Ecosystems During the Permian-Triassic Mass Extinction.



Peer Reviewed Articles

McHugh, J.B., Paleohistology of Micropholis stowi (Dissorophoidea) and Lydekkerina huxleyi (Lydekkerinidae) humeri from the Karoo Basin of South Africa, and implications for bone microstructure evolution in temnospondyl amphibians. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology [In Revision].

McHugh, J.B. 2014. Paleohistology and histovariability of the Permian stereospondyl Rhinesuchus. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 34(1).

Published Abstracts

McHugh, J. 2013. Incorporating life history traits as discrete morphological characters in phylogeny reconstruction. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology Programs and Abstracts:175.

McHugh, J. B. 2013. Paleohistology and histovariability within the postcranial skeleton of the Permian stereospondyl Rhinesuchus. International Symposium on Paleohistology, Programs & Abstracts 2:67.

McHugh, J. 2012. Ontogeny and phylogeny of temnospondyl amphibians, a window into terrestrial ecosystems during the Permo-Triassic Mass Extinction. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology Programs and Abstracts:139.

McHugh, J. 2011. Assessing rate and scale in temnospondyl evolution. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 31(Supplement 2):156A.

McHugh, J. B. 2011. Middle Permian-Middle Triassic amphibian evolution and immigration in the Karoo Basin, South Africa. Ameghiniana 48(4(R)):R182.

McHugh, J. 2010. A species-level phylogenetic analysis of Temnospondyli (Vertebrata: Choanata). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 30(Supplement 2):132A.

McHugh, J. B. 2009. Rapid diversification in the Karoo: life flourishing during the South African Permo-Triassic event? What the therapsids aren't telling you. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29(Supplement 1):146A.

McHugh, J. 2003. Microfaunal succession and stratigraphy of the Renova Formation at McCarty's Mountain and Mantle Ranch, southwest Montana. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs 35:11.


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