Karen E. Samonds

Research Interests

My research integrates comparative anatomy, systematics, and biogeography with field paleontology to address topics in vertebrate evolution. My paleontological field research aims to shed light on the origin and evolutionary history of Madagascar's modern fauna, one of the most unique and endemic on the planet. How, when, and from where the island's animals came from has remained largely unknown due to a 65 million year gap in the fossil record that occurs during the time when the modern animals are thought to have arrived. By traveling to remote and previously unexplored regions of the island, I have started to elucidate this unknown period of Madagascar's history by collecting and describing the first fossils from this time period.

In addition to studying extinct animals, my research has also examined dental development, life history and growth in non-human primates. My colleagues and I have also used new tools to examine life-history variation among extinct primates (including electron microscopy and ontogenetic studies of dental eruption and root formation). Finally, I work on a collaborative project examining morphometrics (including somatic growth and development) in the endangered lemur Propithecus diadema, and investigating the impacts of forest degradation on development and physiologic health.

In association with my research, in 2008 I co-founded the NGO Sadabe to help promote the coexistence of people and wildlife in Madagascar. Sadabe is currently initiating and expanding education, conservation and development activities, as well as the creation of a protected area at Tsinjoarivo, Madagascar.

Representative Publications

Irwin MT, Glander KE, Raharison JL, Samonds KE, Sutherland MR, Godfrey LR (2019). Morphometric signals of population decline in diademed sifakas occupying degraded rainforest habitat in Madagascar. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 8776. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-45426-2.

Samonds KE, Crowley BE, Rasolofomanana TRN, Andriambelomanana MC, Andrianavalona HT, Ramihangihajason TN, Rakotozandry RB, Nomenjanahary ZB, Irwin MT, Wells NA and Godfrey LR (2019). New late Pleistocene subfossil site (Tsaramody, Sambaina basin, central Madagascar) with implications for the chronology of habitat and megafaunal community change on Madagascar’s central plateau. Journal of African Earth Sciences, doi:10.1002/jqs.3096.

Samonds KE, Ernat RA, Andrianavalona T and Domning DP (2019). New Miocene sirenians from the island of Nosy Makamby, northwestern Madagascar. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 39:1, DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2019.1570223.

Samonds KE, Andrianavalona HT, Wallet LA, Zalmout IS and Ward DJ (2019). A Middle Eocene neoselachian assemblage from nearshore marine deposits, Mahajanga Basin, northwestern Madagascar. PLoS ONE 14(2): e0211789. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0211789.

Samonds KE and Fordyce E (2019). The first pre-Pleistocene cetacean from Madagascar, western Indian Ocean. Journal of African Earth Sciences 151: 184-188.

Gottfried MD, Samonds KE, Ostrowski SA, Andrianavalona TH, Ramihangihajason TN (2017). New evidence indicates the presence of barracuda (Sphyraenidae) and supports a tropical marine environment in the Miocene of Madagascar. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0176553. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176553.

Crowley BE, Godfrey LR, Bankoff RJ, Perry GH, Gulleton BJ, Kennett DJ, Sutherland MR, Samonds KE and Burney DA (2017). Island-wide aridity did not trigger megafaunal extinctions in Madagascar. Ecography 40: 901-912.

Persino PR, Olson DR, Jenkins M, Samonds KE (2016). The novel use of diaelectric gel for central nervous system encapsulation in anatomical sciences education. Journal of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society 20(4): 91-95.

Mathews JC and Samonds KE (2016). A juvenile subfossil crocodilian from Anjohibe Cave, Northwestern Madagascar. PeerJ 4:e2296; DOI 10.7717/peerj.2296.

Ohba M, Samonds KE, LaFleur M, Ali JR, and Godfrey LR (2016). Madagascar's climate at the K/P boundary. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 441: 688–695.

Andrianavalona TH, Ramihangihajason TN, Rasoamiaramanana A, Ward DJ, Ali JR, and Samonds KE (2015). Miocene shark fauna from Nosy Makamby (Mahajanga Basin, Northwestern Madagascar) PLoS ONE 10(6): e0129444. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0129444

Ramihangihajason TN, Andrianavalona TH, Razafimbelo R, Ali JR, Rahantarisoa L and Samonds KE (2014). Miocene Foraminifera from Nosy Mahakamby and Amparafaka, Mahajanga Basin, Madagascar. Journal of African Earth Sciences 100:409-417.

Irwin MT, Blanco M, Raharison J-L and Samonds KE (2013). Anjozorobe–Angavo and Tsinjoarivo. Schwitzer C, Mittermeier RA, Davies N, Johnson S, Ratsimbazafy J, Razafindramanana J, Louis EE and Rajaobelina S (eds.), Lemurs of Madagascar: A strategy for their conservation. Pp 83-85.

Samonds KE, Godfrey LR, Ali JR, Goodman SM, Vences M, Sutherland MR, Irwin MT, and Krause DW (2013). Imperfect isolation: factors and filters shaping Madagascar's extant vertebrate fauna. PLoS ONE 8(4): e62086.

Crowley BE and Samonds KE (2013). Stable carbon isotope values confirm a recent increase in grasslands in Northwestern Madagascar. The Holocene. doi: 10.1177/0959683613484675.

Godfrey LR, Schwartz GT, Jungers WL, Catlett KK, Samonds KE, King SJ, Muldoon KM, Irwin MT, Burney DA (2013) Anthropoid analogues? Life history variation in Madagascar's giant extinct lemurs. J. Masters, M. Gamba, and F. Genin (eds.), Leaping Ahead: Advances in Prosimian Biology, Springer. Pp. 51-60.

Samonds KE, Godfrey LR, Ali JR, Goodman SM, Vences M, Sutherland MR, Irwin MT, Krause DW (2012). Spatial and temporal arrival patterns of Madagascar's vertebrate fauna explained by distance, ocean currents, and ancestor type. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 109, 5352-5357.

Samonds KE, Parent SN, Muldoon KM, Crowley BE, and Godfrey LR (2010). Rock matrix surrounding subfossil lemur skull yields diverse collection of mammalian subfossils: Implications for reconstructing Madagascar's paleoenvironments. Malagasy Nature 4, 1-16.

Irwin MT, Junge RE, Raharison JL, Samonds KE (2010). Variation in physiological health of diademed sifakas across intact and fragmented forest at Tsinjoarivo, eastern Madagascar. American Journal of Primatology 72, 1013-1025. (featured article)

Samonds KE, Zalmout I, Irwin MT, Krause DW, Rogers RR and Raharivony LL (2009). Eotheroides lambondrano, new Middle Eocene seacow (Mammalia, Sirenia) from the Mahajanga Basin, Northwestern Madagascar. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29, 1233-1243.

Blanco MB, Godfrey LR, Rakotondratsima M, Samonds KE, Raharison JL, Irwin MT (2009). Discovery of sympatric dwarf lemur species in the high-altitude rainforest of Tsinjoarivo, eastern Madagascar: Implications for biogeography and conservation. Folia Primatologica 80, 1-17.

Samonds, KE (2007). Late Pleistocene bat fossils from Anjohibe Cave, northwestern Madagascar. Acta Chiropterologica 9, 39–65.

Godfrey LR, Schwartz GT, Samonds KE, Jungers WL, and Catlett K (2006). The secrets of lemur teeth. Evolutionary Anthropology 15, 142-154.

Heesy, CP, Stevens NJ, and Samonds KE (2006). Biogeographic origins of primate higher taxa. In (JG Fleagle and S Lehman eds.). Primate Biogeography.Springer Press, New York. Pp. 419-438.

Krause DW, O'Connor PM, Rasoamiaramanana AH, Buckley GA, Chatrath PS, Burney DA, Carrano MT, Flynn JJ, Forster CA, Godfrey LR, Jungers WL, Rogers RR, Samonds KE, Simons EL, and Wyss AR (2006). Preserving Madagascar's natural heritage: The importance of keeping the islands' fossils in the public domain. Madagascar Conservation and Development 1, 43-47.

Godfrey LR, Samonds KE, Wright PC and King SJ (2005). Schultz's unruly rule: dental developmental sequences and schedules in small-bodied folivorous lemurs. Folia Primatologica 76, 77-99.

Irwin MT, Samonds KE, Wright PC and Raharison J-L (2004). Lemur latrines: Observations of latrine behavior in wild primates and possible ecological significance. Journal of Mammalogy 85, 420-427.

Godfrey LR, Samonds KE, Jungers WL, Sutherland MR and Irwin MT (2004). Ontogenetic correlates of diet in Malagasy lemurs. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 123, 250-276.

Schwartz GT, Samonds KE, Godfrey LR, Jungers WL and Simons EL (2002). Dental microstructure and life history in subfossil lemurs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99, 6124-6129.

Irwin MT and Samonds KE (2002). Range extension of the Madagascar Red Owl (Tyto soumagnei) in Madagascar: The case of a rare, widespread species? Ibis 144, 680-683.

Schwartz GT, Samonds KE, Godfrey LR, Jungers WL and Simons EL (2002). Dental microstructure and life history in subfossil lemurs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99(9):6124-6129.

Irwin MT, Samonds KE, and Raharison JL (2001). A biological inventory of the lemur community of Réserve Spéciale de Kalambatritra, south-central Madagascar. Lemur News 6:24-28.

Godfrey LR, Samonds KE, Jungers WL and Sutherland MR (2001). Teeth, brains, and primate life histories. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 114:192-214.


Karen E. Samonds

Karen E. Samonds
Department of Biological Sciences
Office/Lab: MO 434
815-753-0461 (fax)

Curriculum Vitae
Samonds Lab Website
Sadabe website


  • Ph.D. Anatomical Sciences, 2006, Stony Brook University
  • M.Phil. Health Sciences, 2002, Stony Brook University
  • M.S. Anatomical Sciences 2002, Stony Brook University
  • B.S. Biology 1996, University of Massachusetts
  • B.A. Anthropology, 1996, University of Massachusetts