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Adams Lab research

Research activities | Collaborations | Student research projects | Publications

About Dr Justin W Adams

Justin W. Adams, PhD is a Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Centre for Human Anatomy Education of the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology. Since 2003, Dr Adams has led fieldwork and faunal analysis at multiple sites in and around the Cradle of Humankind UNESCO World Heritage Site. His ongoing research projects and collaborations address outstanding questions on the palaeobiology of Pliocene and early Pleistocene South African mammalian faunas and the taphonomy and palaeoecology of palaeocave sites. In recent years he has expanded his research focus onto wider issues of comparative palaeontology and mammalian biology to address outstanding research areas on living and extinct Australian marsupials. His Integrated Morphology and Palaeontology lab brings together comparative methods and advanced 3D imaging resources to the study of living and fossil mammal anatomy.

Dr. Justin W. Adams has been a field palaeontologist and anatomy educator for the past 15 years. He completed his first degree in Anthropology (with Distinction) in 1999 from the University of Washington (Seattle, Washington, USA) and went on to complete his PhD at Washington University in St. Louis (USA) in 2006. Since 2001, his research has focused on the Plio-Pleistocene African fossil record and outstanding questions of human evolution in South Africa. As chief investigator and faunal analyst, he has led excavations at four different South African fossil localities in the Cradle of Humankind UNESCO World Heritage Site. His published and ongoing interdisciplinary research on South African fossil mammals and palaeoecosystems is generating the first comprehensive picture of the landscape in novel regions of South Africa during a period of significant climate change, faunal turnover, and events in human evolution. His exploration of new fossil sites and integration of new methods in his research on mammalian evolution in South Africa has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Leakey Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. Most recently he directed excavation and faunal analysis at the primate-rich Haasgat fossil site and collaborates as the lead faunal analyst with ongoing excavations at the Drimolen hominin site

In 2013, Dr. Adams joined the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology at Monash University, and is currently a Senior Lecturer and the Deputy Director of the Centre for Human Anatomy Education. He contributes to anatomy instruction across several courses, including coordination of the anatomy program of the graduate-entry medical program of the School of Rural Health. He is also a primary researcher in the Centre's 3D printing initiative that is applying this emerging technology into revolutionary teaching materials used in anatomy education. His current lab structure is focused on bridging 3D data capture and quantitative methods, from surface scanning and traditional medical imaging (CT, MRI) through microCT and Synchrotron analysis, with outstanding palaeobiological and anatomical research questions on living and extinct mammal species from Australia and around the globe.

Our research

Current projects

1. Evolving landscapes of our early South African ancestors: Palaeobiology and palaeoecology of Drimolen and Haasgat
2. Rediscovering the Thylacine: Cyberanatomy of an Australian Icon|
3. The use of 3D printing to create advanced surgical simulators for clinical training
4. The origins and evolution of southern hemisphere seals
5. Advanced imaging applications to reconstructing marsupial structural and functional anatomy
6. The palaeobiology of the enigmatic megafaunal marsupial, Palorchestes
7. Quantifying life history in Australian marsupials from tooth composition and microstructure

Visit Dr Adams’ Monash research profile to see a full listing of current projects.

Research activities

Neogene and Quarternary mammal palaeontology and evolution, Australian marsupial anatomy and evolution, South African faunal palaeoecology and taphonomy, human and comparative anatomy, comparative methods, imaging studies, biochronology.

Palaeontology and Palaeobiology of South African Plio-Pleistocene Mammals

Our research group has globally-ranging experience in analysing the palaeobiology and ecology of fossil species, with extensive experience in African mammal faunas and increasing emphasis on Australian populations.

Dr. Adams excavating deposits in the Haasgat cave system (left); a fossil colobus monkey from Haasgat (right).

In the past 15 years my fieldwork has focused on expanding the South African Plio-Pleistocene fossil record, addressing research hypotheses on the palaeobiology and palaeoecology of Plio-Pleistocene mammals in South Africa, as well as the geologic and taphonomic factors influencing the composition of fossil assemblages in the cave systems of the UNESCO Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. I have led interdisciplinary field teams in excavating and analyzing fossil assemblages at four different fossil sites in the mountainous northern portions of the Cradle, including Gondolin, Luleche, Hoogland and most recently at Haasgat and Drimolen. Haasgat is a complex site that preserves a rich mammalian fossil record of the critical time period in human evolution near 2.0 million years ago, including large samples of extinct primates, sabretooth cats and antelopes. Our ongoing research at the rich fossil hominin site Drimolen, funded via an ARC Discovery Project, is focused on resolving the complex cave system geology, understanding fossil assemblage formation at the cave and the palaeoecology of the overall Cradle region.

Evolution of fossil seals in Australasia and the palaeobiogeography of southern seal populations

An elephant seal skull during CT scanning (left); variability in living globally distributed seal species (right)

Our PhD student, James Rule, is a vertebrate palaeontology student specialising in secondarily aquatic tetrapods, and the evolution and functional morphology of sensory systems in vertebrates. He has previously worked on undergraduate projects on fossil turtles and cetaceans. His honours thesis explored the functional morphology of cranial sensory systems in dasyuromorphs (carnivorous marsupials). His current PhD research focuses on the evolution of phocids (true seals) in the Southern Ocean, investigating their dispersal, paleobiology, and eventual local extinction in Australasia. This involves describing new fossils of seals from Australia and New Zealand, which traditionally has represented a significant gap in their global record. He specialises in estimating body size, cranio-sensory predictors of ecology, 3D geometric morphometrics, and phylogenetic analysis of fossil vertebrates.

Functional ecological adaptations of the recently extinct thylacine

An example of simple landmark-based 3D geometric morphometrics of a thylacine skull (left); examples of the cranial changes occurring during thylacine ontogeny (right).

Douglass Rovinsky (PhD Student) is examining the ecological niche of the recently extinct thylacine by studying its functional morphology. This is done with the use of 3D surface and CT scanning, 3D geometric morphometrics (3DGM), comparative anatomy studies, zoological data. He has a prior background in African mammal palaeontology in South Africa and is interested in various topics and involved in various other projects ranging from the palaeobiology of South African sabertoothed cats to brain complexity in modern crocodylians.

Quantitative anatomy and adaptations of living and recently extinct marsupial species

We approach a wide range of living and extinct species and research questions using quantitative comparative methods – from small dasyurids to extinct Australian megafauna – using a wide array of imaging techniques from surface scanning to the Australian Synchrotron.

Alexander McDonald (PhD Student) has spent the past three years gaining experience in Australian marsupial anatomy, specializing in the use of 3D imaging based techniques. Previously, Alex worked on examining the locomotor anatomy of the enigmatic pig-footed bandicoot, Chaeropus ecaudatus. This honours project involved CT & MRI scanning one of the only ten alcohol preserved specimens that exist in museum collections, and virtually segmenting the muscles of the forelimb. For his PhD, he is examining the adaptive radiation of Australian marsupials and whether their developmental biology is constraining the functional shape of their forelimbs relative to their hindlimbs. This will be achieved through the combination of three-dimensional geometric morphometrics and evolutionary modelling techniques.

Hazel Richards (PhD student supervised by Assoc Prof Al Evans and Justin W. Adams) is a comparative anatomist fascinated by the interplay between form and function in the mammalian musculoskeletal system. Her Honours research investigated how the limb proportions of kangaroos and wallabies respond to sexual selection at different body sizes under various mating strategies. She been a collaborator on a broad range of projects, from exploring the evolution of flipper anatomy in seals, to examining how curvature develops within limb bones. For her PhD she is describing, reconstructing and analysing the postcranial skeleton of the extinct giant marsupial Palorchestes to understand how it lived, moved and fed in Australia’s Pleistocene environment. Her current work combines traditional soft tissue dissection with CT imaging, 3D printing, geometric morphometrics and virtual biomechanical analyses explore what the lifestyle and anatomy of modern marsupials can tell us about the functional adaptations of their fossil relatives.

William Parker (PhD student supervised by Assoc Prof Al Evans and Justin W. Adams) is a vertebrate palaeontology PhD student whose current research focuses on determining life history and palaeobiology from mineralised tissues. In collaboration with Museums Victoria and the Australian Synchrotron, his project aims to quantify the life histories of extinct Australian marsupial megafauna. These aims are achieved through analysis of tooth microstructure and composition. He specialises in histology (thin-section preparation, SEM, light microscopy), compositional analyses (synchrotron X-ray Fluorescence Microscopy) and tooth morphology.

3D Printing in Anatomy Education and Research

We are world-leaders in 3D printing anatomical materials for education and research, with both academic and commercial engagement.

Dr. Justin W. Adams also leads research in the 3D Printing Laboratory within the Centre for Human Anatomy Education alongside Prof Paul McMenamin. Since 2013, the 3D Printing Lab has been at the forefront of advancing practical applications of this emerging technology within anatomical education.


  • Faunal, Palaeoecological, and Taphonomic Analysis of Fossil Mammals
  • Statistical and Two Dimensional (2D)/Three Dimensional (3D) Morphometric Analysis
  • Wet Specimen Dissection and Skeleton Preparation Techniques
  • Computerized Tomography (CT), microCT and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Data Acquisition, Analysis, and Visualisation
  • Stable Light Isotope Reconstruction of Palaeodiet and Palaeoecology
  • Synchrotron Analysis (XFM) of Heavy Isotopes in Dental and Geological Samples
  • 3D Printing and 3D Print-guided Moulding and Casting of Medical and Clinical Training Tools


We collaborate with many scientists and research organisations around the world. Some of our more significant national and international collaborators are listed below. Click on the map to see the details for each of these collaborators (dive into specific publications and outputs by clicking on the dots).

  • Dr. Matthew McCurry (Australian Museum)
  • Dr. Andrew I.R. Herries (La Trobe University, VIC, Australia)
  • Dr. Anthony D.T. Kegley (Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids MI, USA)
  • Dr. David Fink (ANSTO, NSW, Australia)
  • Dr. Renaud Joannas-Boyau (Southern Cross University, Australia)
  • Dr. Robert Anemone (Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo MI, USA)
  • Dr. Paul Manger (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa)
  • Dr. Jason Hemingway (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa)
  • Ms. Stephany Potze (Los Angeles County Museum La Brea, USA)
  • Mr. Lazarus Kgasi (Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, Pretoria, South Africa)
  • Dr. Jason Hemingway (University of the Witwatersrand Medical School, RSA)
  • Mr. Lazarus Kgasi (Ditsong National Museum of Natural History)
  • Dr. Lissa Tallman (Grand Valley State University, USA)
  • Dr. Michelle Singleton (Midwestern University, USA)
  • Dr. Frank Sénégas (CNRS, France)

Student research projects

The Adams Lab offers a variety of Honours, Masters and PhD projects for students interested in joining our group. There are also a number of short term research opportunities available.

Please visit Supervisor Connect to explore the projects currently available in the Adams Lab.