Daniel Luna


Office Hours

Tuesdays and Thursdays 11-1 PM

Office Location

Noble Hall "Annex" 1011


Areas of Research/Interests:
Vertebrate paleontology


Duke University (2002–2006): B.S. in Biology and B.A. in Religion

UC Santa Barbara (2008–2015): Ph.D. in Earth Science


I received my Ph.D. here at UCSB, gaining research experience both on and off campus. I’ve helped explore new fossil localities in Madagascar and in the Andes of Chile, and also worked extensively at the American Museum of Natural History (NYC), examining important collections and learning the basics of fossil preparation. In 2011 I received a Fulbright Fellowship to study extensive fossils collections in Argentinawork that proved foundational for my dissertation (and ongoing research).

As a graduate student I also developed a strong passion for teaching. I was a teaching assistant for nine courses and eventually became a graduate student Teaching Associate (instructor of record) for two courses. For high school students, I've planned and taught a five-week short-course in paleontology, and also participated in research mentorship. In an effort to hone my craft as an educator, I’ve been highly involved with the Summer Teaching Institute for Associatesfirst as a participant, then a graduate student facilitator, and more recently as a guest speaker and teaching mentor. In conjunction with my Ph.D., I also received UCSB's Certificate for College and University Teaching.

After finishing my dissertation, I've remained at UCSB as a lecturer, teaching classes focused on paleontology, evolution, and geology. I also serve as the Earth Science Department's educational outreach coordinator. Having received a B.A. in religious studies, I’ve maintained an active interest in the dialogue between science and religion, especially in critically addressing the conflict between evolution and creationism/intelligent design. Towards that end, I have designed courses and participated in a wide array of seminars that explore these ideas with nuance and respect.


My research focuses on describing several newly discovered species of mammals that lived ~1520 million years ago in the Andes of Chile. The fossil mammals of South America include many peculiar forms that diversified while the continent was a large island. The land bridge between North and South America formed “only” 3 million years ago, which resulted in a dramatic faunal turnover and the extinction of many interesting groups, some of which paleontologists occasionally dig up and identify. 

The fossils I study from the Chilean Andes are unique in that (1) they were preserved in actively volcanic regions, which have helped provide a robust stratigraphic and geochronologic framework for research; (2) they range in age from about 1520 million years old, thus representing a continuous fossil sequence with evolutionary and biogeographic implications; and 3) these fossils include many new species known only to this region. This unexpectedly high degree of endemism in the Andes helps us better understand the ancient diversity of South American mammals (until recently, our knowledge of mammalian evolution in South America has been biased by large collections from Patagonian lowlands). I investigate the taxonomy, biogeography, and evolutionary relationships of some of these groups of ancient mammals.


  • Luna, D.A. 2015. Miocene ungulates from Laguna del Laja, Chile, and an assessment of the Laguna del Laja faunas. Ph.D. dissertation. Department of Earth Science, University of California, Santa Barbara. 278 pp.
  • Luna, D., Flynn, J., Croft, D., Wyss, A. 2013. Taxonomy, Biogeography, and Phylogeny of Miocene Endemic South American Ungulates (Mammalia) from the Laguna del Laja Region, Andean Main Range, Central Chile. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Program and Abstracts, 2013, 166.
  • Luna, D.A., J.J. Flynn, D.A. Croft, and A.R. Wyss. 2012. Endemic South American Ungulate (Mammalia) Fossils from the Laguna del Laja Region, Andean Main Range, Central Chile. Ameghiniana 48 (suppl. 4) R126.


Lecturer (and graduate student Teaching Associate before S15):

  • EARTH 7: Dinosaurs, M13/F13/M14/F14/S15/F15/W16/S16/M16/F16/W17/S17/M17/F17/W18/S18/F18/W19/S19
  • EARTH 20:  Geological Catastrophes, M12/S13/S15/F17/S18/F18/S19
  • EARTH 194DL: Creationsim, Intelligent Design, and Evoltuion, W16/W17/W18/W19
  • EARTH 18: Field Studies, F18/S19

Teaching Assistant:

  • BIO 124: Molecular Evolution, S06 (Duke University)
  • EEMB 108: Vertebrate Evolutionary Morphology, F08/F12
  • EARTH 148: Vertebrate Paleontology, S09/W13
  • EARTH 30: History of Life, M09
  • EARTH 2: Physical Geology, F09/F10/W12/M12
  • EEMB 131 / EARTH 121: Principles of Evolution, W10
  • EARTH 20:  Geological Catastrophes, M10/S12/W13
  • EARTH 7: Dinosaurs, S10/S14
  • EARTH 111L / EEMB 136L:  Principles of Paleontology Lab, W11/W14

  • EARTH 149: Mammal History, S14