Larisa DeSantis


Dr. Larisa R.G. DeSantis is a vertebrate paleontologist in the Department of Biological Sciences and Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt University. She earned degrees from the University of California, Berkeley (B.S.), Yale University (M.E.M.), and the University of Florida (Ph.D.). Through the study of fossil mammals, she determines how they responded to ancient climate change, potential reasons why they went extinct, and the long-term consequences of both climate change and large animal extinctions on a diversity of plants and animals—including saber-tooth cats, killer wombats, and Tasmanian wolves. DeSantis is the recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, conducts research on all continents except Antarctica, and the majority of her work is explicitly aimed at helping conservationists better understand ecosystems—past and present. When DeSantis is not in the laboratory, field, or classroom, she is involved in scientific and public outreach in her local community and as the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) Distinguished Lecturer for North America and member-at-large of the Executive Committee. DeSantis has published more than 50 papers and book chapters, and her work has been featured on Curiosity Stream (Saber-tooth Brawl), National Geographic Wild (Future Cats), the Discovery Channel, numerous radio shows, and has received global news coverage.


Sabertooth cats, dire wolves, and even killer wombats are some of the Pleistocene’s most notorious predators. These predators can only survive by being effective hunters and adequately provisioning their
young with prey. Animals essentially eat to live, with diet influencing an animal’s foraging or hunting behavior, habitat, movement patterns, and even reproduction. The DeSantis DREAM (Dietary Reconstructions and Ecological Assessments of Mammals) lab’s research program is aimed at clarifying how past climate change has affected mammalian communities and their environments—through the lenses of animal diets. We aim to ask questions of relevance to conservation biologist and answer those
questions by integrating ecological, macroecological, geochemical, dental microwear, and morphological tools used to study deeper-time records than normally available to modern day ecologists. With a focus on the Late Pleistocene, DeSantis will decode the hunting behavior and prey preferences of ancient predators, including examining impacts of megafaunal extinctions on surviving predators. Why don’t we see sabertooth cats in our backyards today, in contrast to coyotes and cougars? How did some of the most notorious predators on the landscape hunt and even care for each other during periods of dramatic climate change? Embark on a scientific journal to clarify mammalian responses to climate change and provide cautionary lessons of relevance to modern conservation—including today’s apex predators.

DeSanti pf 2
La Brea predation scene final version