Erin Saupe

2022 United Kingdom Award Finalist — Faculty

Erin Saupe

Current Position:
Associate Professor of Paleobiology

University of Oxford

Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Recognized for: Investigating interactions between life and environments over long geological time scales. By integrating fossil records and modern data, she creates models that characterize how species and communities respond, allowing her to forecast future changes to Earth’s biodiversity due to climate change.

Erin Saupe

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise:

Conservation Paleobiology, Evolution & Ecology, Biodiversity, Statistical Modeling

Previous Positions:

BA, Natural Science, College of St. Benedict, USA
MSc, Earth Sciences, University of Kansas, USA
PhD, Earth Sciences, University of Kansas, USA
Postdoctoral Research, Palaeontology, Yale University, USA

Research Summary:

Climate change is altering the planet more rapidly now than in any time in recorded history. These changes are already having a dramatic impact on Earth’s biodiversity, for both plants and animals, and include changes to flowering times, bird migration, and habitat location. It is critical to understand the effects of climate change because humans rely on Earth’s biodiversity for survival, and climate change-induced disruption to ecosystems, including the extinction of species, could impact our standard of living and ability to persist on this planet.

Erin Saupe, PhD, uses data from fossils and living organisms to understand the impact of environmental changes on the distribution and diversity of life on Earth over geologic time. To understand how a species interacts with the environment, Saupe performs statistical analyses called ecological niche modeling. Ecological niche modeling works by mathematically incorporating species biology—where a species is found—and environmental features, such as water availability, temperature, or altitude, to estimate a species’ ability to survive in a given habitat, defined as their environmental tolerance. Saupe applies ecological niche modeling to the fossil record and was the first to integrate paleontological and modern data to discover that species’ environmental tolerances remain stable across millions of years, even in the face of significant environmental change. Saupe has also created models to predict future changes in Earth’s biodiversity as a result of forecasted climate change, including the prediction that many marine mollusks may go extinct unless they can respond to global warming by migrating to suitable habitats. Her research has fostered the new and burgeoning field of conservation paleobiology.

“I’m incredibly honoured to be a Blavatnik Award Finalist. I am fascinated by the Earth’s biodiversity, both past and present. I study this biodiversity because I want to understand how and why it evolved, and, by doing so, to better protect it for generations to come.”

Key Publications:

  1. E.E. Saupe, J.R. Hendricks, R.W. Portell, H.J. Dowsett, A. Haywood, S.J. Hunter, B.S. Lieberman. Macroevolutionary Consequences of Profound Climate Change on Niche Evolution in Marine Molluscs Over the Past Three Million Years. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2014.
  2. E.E. Saupe, H. Qiao, Y. Donnadieu, A. Farnsworth, A.T. Kennedy-Asser, J.B. Ladant, D.J. Lunt, A. Pohl, P. Valdes, S. Finnegan. Extinction Intensity During Ordovician and Cenozoic Glaciations Explained by Cooling and Palaeogeography, Nat. Geosci. 2020.
  3. E.E. Saupe, C.E. Myers, A. Townsend Peterson, J. Soberón, J. Singarayer, P. Valdes, H. Qiao. Spatio-temporal Climate Change Contributes to Latitudinal Diversity Gradients. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 2019.
  4. E.E. Saupe, A. Farnsworth, D.J. Lunt, N. Sagoo, K.V. Pham, D.J. Field. Climatic Shifts Drove Major Contractions in Avian Latitudinal Distributions Throughout the Cenozoic. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 2019.

Other Honors:

2021Leverhulme Prize, Leverhulme Trust, UK, in recognition of outstanding researchers whose work has already attracted international recognition and whose future career is exceptionally promising
2021Social Impact Award, Commendation, University of Oxford, MPLS Division, for ‘Building capacity for biodiversity management in sub-Saharan Africa’
2020Hodson Award, Palaeontological Association
2018-2021Best Performing Associate Editor, Proceedings of the Royal Society B
2015Outstanding Service Award, Association for Women Geoscientists
2014Erasmus S. Haworth Distinguished Graduate Award, University of Kansas
2007Winifred Goldring Award, Association for Women Geoscientists


In the Media:

Leverhulme Prize, Leverhulme Trust

Climate change, ecological niche modeling, and the brown recluse spider

Cretaceous African life captured in amber

Tully Monster

Future modelling