Natalie Wright joined the Kenyon faculty in 2017 after earning her Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico and completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Montana. She studies the evolution, ecology and anatomy of birds with a focus on flight.

Wright aims to understand how flight affects bird evolution and how ecological factors drive the evolution of flight. Her lab uses a variety of methods, including detailed studies of bird anatomy using museum specimens, phylogenetic comparative analyses across large datasets and biomechanics experiments in both the lab and field. Current work focuses on evolution toward flightlessness in island birds and understanding how baby songbirds develop the ability to fly. Wright has extensive experience studying wild birds in a variety of locales in the United States, Peru, Malaysia and Caribbean islands.

Areas of Expertise

Morphological evolution, ornithology, evolutionary ecology, biomechanics


2015 — Doctor of Philosophy from Univ New Mexico Albuquerque

2009 — Master of Science from University of Florida

2005 — Bachelor of Science from University of Florida

Courses Recently Taught

This is the first laboratory course a student takes and is a prerequisite for all upper-division laboratory courses- required for the major. Students are introduced to the processes of investigative biology and scientific writing. Laboratories cover topics presented in the core lecture courses, BIOL 115 and 116, and introduce a variety of techniques and topics, including field sampling, microscopy, PCR, gel electrophoresis, enzyme biochemistry, physiology, evolution and population biology. The course emphasizes the development of inquiry skills through active involvement in experimental design, data collection, statistical analysis, integration of results with information reported in the literature and writing in a format appropriate for publication. The year culminates in six-week student-designed investigations that reinforce the research skills developed during the year. Evaluation is based on short reports, quizzes, lab performance and scientific papers, as well as oral and written presentations based on the independent project. Prerequisite: BIOL 109Y and 115 or equivalent.

Evolution is the major unifying theory of biology. This course introduces the processes of evolution, most of which can be examined in contemporary time through experiment, theory, simulation and examination of patterns in nature. The class format combines lecture, activities and discussions. Topics include Darwinian natural selection, population genetics, adaptation, speciation, reconstructing phylogenetic history, macroevolution, sexual selection, and the consequences of evolution for conservation and human health. Examples are drawn from all levels of biology, from molecular to ecological. Students read, analyze and discuss primary literature in the evolutionary biology. This counts toward the upper-level environmental biology requirement for the major. Prerequisite: BIOL 116.

This course explores questions of how and why vertebrates came to be structured the way they are. We use both comparative and functional approaches to study how the anatomy of vertebrates has evolved and diversified over hundreds of millions of years. We examine how anatomy relates to function; for example, how do different musculoskeletal arrangements allow for different types of movement? We investigate anatomical adaptations to a variety of environments to understand how different vertebrates have solved anatomical and biomechanical problems. Each of the primary vertebrate organ systems (integument, skeleton, muscle, cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, urogenital and nervous) is covered in detail. Students read and analyze papers from the primary literature. This counts toward the upper-level organismal biology/physiology requirement for the major. Prerequisite: BIOL 116 and concurrent enrollment in BIOL 248. Generally offered every year.

This course is a hands-on exploration of the anatomy of vertebrates. Students learn to identify major components of all of the primary vertebrate organ systems (integument, skeleton, muscle, cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, urogenital and nervous). To understand patterns of vertebrate evolution, we examine and compare specimens from all major vertebrate groups, including mammals, birds, cartilaginous fishes, ray-finned fishes, amphibians and non-avian reptiles, including extinct organisms. We also perform experiments in biomechanics to understand how vertebrate form shapes function and movement. Dissections are required. Students are tested via practical quizzes and exams. This counts toward the upper-level laboratory requirement. Prerequisite: BIOL 116 and concurrent enrollment in BIOL 247. Generally offered every year.

This combined discussion and laboratory course aims to develop abilities for asking sound research questions, designing reasonable scientific approaches to answer such questions, and performing experiments to test both the design and the question. We consider how to assess difficulties and limitations in experimental strategies due to design, equipment, organism selected and so on. The course provides a detailed understanding of selected modern research equipment. Students select their own research problems in consultation with one or more biology faculty members. This course is designed both for those who plan to undertake honors research in their senior year and for those who are not pursuing honors but want practical research experience. A student can begin the course in either semester. If a year of credit is earned, it may be applied toward one laboratory requirement for the major in biology. This course is repeatable for credit. Prerequisite: BIOL 109Y–110Y and 116 and permission of instructor.

This course provides the student with the opportunity to pursue an independent investigation of a topic of special interest not covered, or not covered in depth, in the current curriculum. The investigation, designed in consultation with the chosen faculty mentor, may be designed to earn 0.25 or 0.5 unit of credit in a semester. BIOL 393 is ordinarily a library-oriented investigation. (For laboratory-oriented independent research, see BIOL 385.) Normally, students receive credit for no more than two semesters of individual study. Individual study does not fulfill the natural science diversification requirement, nor does it count toward the requirements for the major. Because students must enroll for individual studies by the end of the seventh day of classes, they should begin discussion of the proposed individual study well in advance, preferably the semester before, so that there is time to devise a syllabus and seek departmental approval.

In this capstone seminar, students explore current research topics in biology by writing a mini-review on a topic of their choice. In doing so, students analyze and integrate information from research articles that connect specific studies to broader biological questions and propose future work that refines and extends prior studies. Students communicate their insights in both oral and written formats. Assignments include short essays, student presentations, a general-audience piece and peer review. This course counts toward the upper-level lecture course requirement for the biology major. Senior standing and biology or molecular biology major.

This course continues the honors research project and gives attention to scientific writing and the mechanics of producing a thesis. A thesis is required and is defended orally to an outside examiner. The letter grade is determined by the instructor and project advisor in consultation with the department. Permission of instructor and department chair required. Prerequisite: BIOL 385 and 497.