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

Anatomy and Vertebrate Paleontology

GignacPaul M. Gignac, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Anatomy



Education | Professional Experience | Professional Societies
| Publications | Outreach and Press


Dr. Gignac is an evolutionary biomechanist and vertebrate paleontologist. His focus is on how highly integrated phenotypes, which must work together to execute their function, are capable of evolutionary changes without compromising that function. To address this longstanding issue, he studies the musculoskeletal and dental function of the diverse feeding systems of reptiles in developmental and evolutionary contexts.

Crocodilians are the largest reptilian predators alive today with some undergoing up to a 15,000-fold increase in body mass during their development. In addition, many taxa can generate thousands of pounds of bite force as adults, far eclipsing the known capacities of other living predators. How they accomplish this anatomically is not well understood. Dr. Gignac’s research addresses the musculoskeletal biomechanics of force generation, jaw kinematics, and muscle physiology among crocodilians through anatomical dissection, mathematical modeling, comparative methods, and histochemical techniques to better understand how these systems change during feeding niche shifts and at cladogenic events. He pairs these data with studies of crocodilian dental anatomy using geometric morphometrics and finite element analyses to understand how the major anatomical modules of the vertebrate feeding system (cranial skeleton, jaw musculature, and dentition) interact to facilitate prey capture and subjugation. Understanding how these components function in living systems, Dr. Gignac then turns to the fossil record with living crocodilians as a model system to address the paleobiology and feeding biomechanics of their fossil relatives as well as their evolutionary cousins, non-avian theropod dinosaurs.


Instructional Activities

  • Evolutionary Biomechanics – Graduate
  • Gross and Developmental Anatomy – MS-I and Graduate
  • Vertebrate Paleontology – Graduate



Ph.D. (Biological Science)
Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL

B.S. (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology)
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT


Professional Experience

Assistant Professor, Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences (OSU-CHS), Tulsa, OK

Affiliated Research Associate in Vertebrate Paleontology, Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, Norman, OK

Research Associate in Vertebrate Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York

Research Associate in Geology, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois

Instructor of Research for Anatomical Sciences, Department of Anatomy, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY


Professional Societies

2009–present    Sigma Xi, The Research Society
2004–present    Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
2003–present    Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
2004–present    American Association for the Advancement of Science


Exemplar Publications

Balanoff, A. M., G. S. Bever, M. W. Colbert, S. Walsh, R. Ridgely, D. Field, D. Ksepka, B. S. Bhullar, C. Torres, N. A. Smith, P. M. Gignac, and L. Witmer. In press. “Best practices for digitally constructing endocranial casts: Examples from birds and their dinosaurian relatives.” Journal of Anatomy (special Brain Edition).

Gignac, P. M. and G. M. Erickson. 2015. “The ontogeny of dental form and tooth pressures in the American Alligator facilitate developmental niche shifts with increasing body size.” Journal of Zoology, 295: 132–142.

Erickson, G. M., P. M. Gignac, A. K. Lappin, K. A. Vliet, G. J. W. Webb. 2014. “A comparative analysis of ontogenetic bite-force scaling among Crocodylia.” Journal of Zoology, 292(1):48–55.

Gignac, P. M. and N. J. Kley. 2014. “Iodine-enhanced micro-CT imaging: methodological refinements for the study of soft-tissue anatomy of post-embryonic vertebrates. Journal of Experimental Zoology (Mol. Dev. Evol.), 322B: 166–176.

Erickson, G. M., P. M. Gignac, S. A. Steppan, A. K. Lappin, B. D. Inouye, K. A. Vliet, J. A. Brueggen, G. J. W. Webb. 2012. Comparative bite forces and tooth pressures of crocodilians: insights into the feeding biomechanics and evolutionary ecology of the most successful predatory reptiles. PLoS ONE 7, e31781.

Pfaller, J. B., P. M. Gignac, and G. M. Erickson. 2011. Ontogenetic changes in jaw-muscle architecture facilitate durophagy in the turtle Sternotherus minor. Journal of Experimental Biology 214:1655–1667.

Gignac, P.M., P.J. Makovicky, G. M. Erickson, and R. P. Walsh. 2010. “A description of Deinonychus antirrhopus bite marks and estimates of bite force using tooth indentation simulations.” Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 30(4):1169–1177.

Pfaller, J. B., N. D. Herrera, P. M. Gignac, and G. M. Erickson. 2010. “Ontogenetic scaling of cranial morphology and bite-force generation in the loggerhead musk turtle.” Journal of Zoology, 280:280–289.

Outreach and Press

Listen to Dr. Gignac and his colleagues talk about the Anatomy and Vertebrate Paleontology track on Tulsa’s KRMG, 102.3 FM.

Read about Dr. Gignac’s Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Symposium (here) and its Scientific Conferences Opportunities Program (here)

Visit the online home of Dr. Gignac’s 3-D soft-tissue visualization initiative, diffusible iodine-based contrast enhanced computed tomography (diceCT): here

See Dr. Gignac in the field in, Expedition Alaska: Dinosaurs Film and Exhibit Preview

See Dr. Gignac in the news: here

See Dr. Gignac discuss his research on crocs on Science on Tap here and here. Read about it from the Center for Communicating Science here.

Link here for the New York Times article on Dr. Gignac’s recent research.

Watch Dr. Gignac present on his research at the University of California at Berkeley.

See his interview as a JASON Project STEM Role Model here.

Follow the entire OSU-CHS Vertebrate Paleontology Research Group on Twitter.

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