Senior lecturer, palaeontology, Milner Centre for Evolution, University of Bath
My research focuses on using the fossil record to understand major evolutionary transitions in organisms and ecosystem. I'm interested in the origins of new kinds of organisms, including the evolution of birds from dinosaurs and the evolution of snakes from lizards, as well as major changes to the biosphere caused by geologic events, particularly the Chicxulub asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. These transitions, which are responsible for the organisms and ecosystems all around us today, can only be understood with the paleontological record: a complete understanding of the patterns and processes of evolution requires fossils. What's more, the fossil record suggests that microevolution- the generation-to-generation changes seen today- are insufficient to explain macroevolution, because over deep time, rare processes come into play.
In recent years, I’ve focused on using the Cretaceous fossil record to better understand the end-Cretaceous mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. Using vertebrate microfossils, it has been possible to show that not only did the asteroid cause the extinction of the dinosaurs, it also led to major extinctions among birds, lizards, and snakes, which then drove adaptive radiations in the aftermath. Other projects have focused on the origin of major groups of animals. Fossils of a primitive Cretaceous snake have helped shed light on the evolution of snakes from burrowing lizards, and a restudy of the Jurassic bird Archaeopteryx have revealed a surprisingly primitive wing structure, better suited for gliding than active flapping flight.
My goals are to continue work on the end-Cretaceous extinction event, and to launch new projects aimed at understanding vertebrate radiations and extinctions during the Cretaceous and Paleogene. I'm always happy to talk with prospective graduate students and postdocs.
Jul 21, 2020 14:05 pm UTC| Nature
Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid struck the Earth. The world was plunged into darkness, killing the dinosaurs and over 90% of all species alive. Today, every living thing descends from the handful of surviving...
Why did we take so long to invent civilisation? Modern Homo sapiens first evolved roughly 250,000 to 350,000 years ago. But initial steps towards civilisation harvesting, then domestication of crop plants began only...