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The Palaeobiology Research Group

The Bristol Palaeobiology Research Group includes six members of academic staff, together with large numbers of research fellows, postdocts, PhD students, and Masters students. Find out about our main activities through the laboratory web pages of staff, and some thematic topics.


 The Benton laboratory

 The Donoghue laboratory

 The Pisani laboratory

 The Rayfield laboratory

 The Schmidt laboratory

 The Vinther laboratory

Key themes


From 2013, we are proud to present our new logo, representing the combination of research interests explored by the palaeobiologists in Bristol. For members of the group, email Mike Benton for access to the logo in various formats.

Invitation: If you are interested in joining our group, follow this link.
Follow the Bristol Palaeobiolopy Research Group on
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  News from the Palaeobiology Research Group



  November 2014 - Modern technology restores ancient dinosaur fossil
A rare dinosaur fossil has been restored by an international team of scientists, led by Dr Stephan Lautenschlager from the University of Bristol, using high-resolution X-ray computed tomography (CT scanning) and digital visualisation techniques. The work is described this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The focus of the study was the skull of Erlikosaurus andrewsi, a 3-4 m long therizinosaur, a herbivorous theropod, from the Cretaceous of Mongolia. This work was a key portion of Lautenschlager's PhD, in which he investigated the feeding mechanics of these enigmatic dinosaurs. Read more...



  October 2014 - How dinosaurs divided their meals at the Jurassic dinner table
In the Late Jurassic, numerous sauropod dinosaurs lived side by side, and it has not been clear how they divided the food amongst themselves. New work by PhD student David Button, using 3D digital skull models and biomechanical approaches shows how two Morrison sauropods fed differently. Camarasaurus had a robust skull and strong bite, which allowed it to feed on tough leaves and branches. The weaker bite and more delicate skull of Diplodocus restricted it to softer foods like ferns. This indicates differences in diet between the two dinosaurs, which would have allowed them to coexist. Read more...



  September 2014 - Fourth edition of Vertebrate Palaeontology just published
Mike Benton's standard textbook Vertebrate Palaeontology first appeared in 1990, and subsequent editions emerged in 1997 and 2005. Now the fourth edition has just appeared today, September 25th, and it is bigger and better than its precursors. It is larger format than before, with huge numbers of new box features reporting new research, extensive updating throughout to reflect 2013 and 2014 research, and with a collection of colour images. The book benefits from a new reconstruction of the Middle Triassic underwater scene at Luoping in South China by astonishing palaeoartist Brian Choo. Read more...



  September 2014 - Scientists report first semi-aquatic dinosaur, Spinosaurus
Scientists today unveiled what appears to be the first truly semiaquatic dinosaur, Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. New fossils of the massive Cretaceous predator reveal it adapted to life in the water some 95 million years ago. Its long snout lined with sharp teeth had long suggested Spinosaurus was a fish-eater. Added to this are the proportions of its limb bones, the long snout and retracted nostrils, and solid bone structure. The paper, published in Science, is led by Nizar Ibrahim, who graduated from Bristol with a BSc in Geology and Biology in 2006, and current MSc student, Matteo Fabbri. Read more...



  September 2014 - How good is the fossil record?
Do all the millions of fossils in museums give a balanced view of the history of life, or is the record too incomplete to be sure? Methods have been developed to correct for bias in the fossil record, but new research suggests caution. The study, led by Alex Dunhill as part of his PhD work in Bristol, explored the rich fossil record of Great Britain. Measures such the area of sedimentary rock, number of fossil collections and number of geological formations, have been used as yardsticks against which the quality of the fossil record can be assessed - but the new study casts doubt on their usefulness. Read more...



  August 2014 - Jurassic Welsh mammals were picky eaters, study finds
New analyses of tiny fossil mammals from South Wales are shedding light on the function and diets of our earliest ancestors, a team led by researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Leicester report today in the journal Nature. These shrew-sized, early Jurassic mammals were not generalized insectivores as had been thought. CT scans and finite element analysis showed that Kuehneotherium and Morganucodon had very different abilities for catching and chewing prey, evidence for specialization even at this early point in mammalian evolution. Read more...



  August 2014 - Marine crocodilian evolution constrained by ocean temperature
Mesozoic and Cenozoic crocodilians colonised the seas during warm phases and became extinct during cold phases, according to a new study. The research, led by Dr Jeremy Martin from the Université de Lyon, France and formerly from the University of Bristol, UK, published this week in Nature Communications, presents new isotopic data of sea surface temperature from bone measurements. On four occasions in the past 200 million years, major crocodile groups entered the seas, and then became extinct. It seems that crocodiles repeatedly colonized the oceans at times of global warming. Read more...



  July 2014 - The other carbon dioxide problem
The Cabot Institute's Global Change theme lead, Dr Dani Schmidt, has been interviewed by Chemistry World and appears in an article on ocean acidification. A number of scientists, including Schmidt, are looking at fossils of organisms that were alive during past ocean acidification events to help predict how the ecosystem will react this time. They assess pH of ancient oceans using boron isotopes, and contrast the gradual changes in the past with extremely rapid change today. Some foraminifers react to increasing acidification by thickening their walls. Read more...



  July 2014 - Fossils found in Siberia suggest all dinosaurs had feathers
The first ever example of a plant-eating dinosaur with feathers and scales has been discovered in Russia. Previously only flesh-eating dinosaurs were known to have had feathers, so this new find indicates that all dinosaurs could have been feathered. The new dinosaur, named Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, is described in a paper published today in Science. Kulindadromeus has scales on its tail and shins, and short bristles on its head and back. The most astonishing discovery, however, is that it also has complex, compound feathers associated with its arms and legs. Read more...



  June 2014 - How marine life is responding to ocean acidification
A study published today in Nature Climate Change sheds light on how marine organisms are reacting to ocean acidification. Sophie McCoy (Plymouth) and Federica Ragazzola (Bristol) compared historical and recent specimens of crustose coralline algae from a location with fast acidification on the west coast of the United States. They found that the reaction to ocean acidification depends on skeleton thickness: thick-walled species halved in thickness, and thin-walled species remained approximately the same thickness but reduced total carbonate tissue by making thinner inter-filament cell walls. Read more...



  June 2014 - Newly discovered paddle prints show how ancient sea reptiles swam
Trackways formed on an ancient seabed have shed new light on how nothosaurs, Triassic marine reptiles, propelled themselves through water. The evidence is described by a team from Bristol and China in today - trackways from Luoping in Yunnan province, China. The tracks consist of slots in the mud arranged in pairs, and in long series of ten to fifty that follow straight lines and sweeping curves. The size and spacing of the paired markings indicate that they were created by the forelimbs of nothosaurs, punting through the sediment to disturb fishes and lobsters, their prey. Read more...



  May 2014 - Bristol students win all the prizes
At the recent Progressive Palaeontology meeting in Southampton, present and former students from Bristol won five of the six prizes: of current Bristol students, Luke Parry (PhD) won the 'fan choice' (voted for by the delegates) lightning talk, Nidia Alvárez Armada (MSc) won the 'fan choice' poster, and Max Stockdale (PhD) won the best poster voted by the committee. Of former Bristol students, Sam Giles (Bristol MSci, currently Oxford PhD) won the best talk voted by the committee, and Tom Fletcher (Bristol MSci, currently Leeds PhD) won the fan choice talk.



  May 2014 - Fossil avatars are transforming palaeontology
New techniques for visualizing fossils are transforming our understanding of evolutionary history according to a paper published in TREE by John Cunningham and colleagues at the University of Bristol. The introduction of X-ray tomography has revolutionized the way that fossils are studied, allowing them to be virtually extracted from the rock in a fraction of the time necessary to prepare specimens by hand and without the risk of damaging the fossil. The digital models reveal previously unknown anatomy, even in microscopically tiny fossils, and they allow objective biomechanical modelling. Read more...



  May 2014 - Davide Foffa, Bristol MSc student reports pliosaur snout internal structure
CT scanning is giving scientists an unprecedented look at pliosaurs, the dominant marine reptiles of the Jurassic, some of which reached lengths of over 10 metres. University of Bristol researcher Davide Foffa, who completed the Palaeobiology MSc in 2012, collated 2,000 individual scans of a fossilised pliosaur's skull and discovered that its snout contained an intricate nerve system similar to that found in crocodiles. This is part of Davide's MSc thesis, published this month in Naturwissenschaften, and the remainder, a full biomechanical study of pliosaur feeding, is published next month in Journal of Anatomy. See the video...



  May 2014 - Former MSc student publishes book on dinosaurs of Mexico
Hector Rivera Sylva, who completed the MSc in Palaeobiology in 2003, and now works at the Museo del Desierto in Mexico, is lead editor of a new book, just published by University of Indiana Press on the Dinosaurs and Other Reptiles from the Mesozoic of Mexico. The book summarizes research on turtles, lepidosauromorphs, plesiosaurs, crocodyliforms, pterosaurs, and dinosaurs. In addition, chapters focus on trackways and other trace fossils and on K/P boundary (the Chicxulub crater, beneath the Gulf of Mexico, has been hypothesized as the site of the boloid impact that killed off the dinosaurs). Read more...



  May 2014 - New study sheds light on dinosaur claw function
How claw form and function changed during the evolution from dinosaurs to birds is explored by a new study into the claws of a group of theropod dinosaurs known as therizinosaurs. Dr Stephan Lautenschlager from Bristol's School of Earth Sciences studied the differences in claw shape and function across all theropods. Therizinosaurs were very large animals, up to 7m tall, with claws more than 50cm long on their forelimbs, elongated necks and a coat of primitive, down-like feathers along their bodies. But in spite of their bizarre appearance, therizinosaurs were peaceful herbivores. Read more...



  May 2014 - New Fellow of the Royal Society
Michael Benton, Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology, has achieved the rare distinction of being elected Fellow of the world's most eminent and oldest scientific academy in continuous existence: the Royal Society, founded in 1660. He joins a Fellowship of some 1,400 outstanding individuals: a global scientific network of the highest calibre. Professor Benton has made fundamental contributions to understanding the history of life, particularly biodiversity through time, the roles of mass extinctions and recovery phases in the history of life, dating the tree of life, and the quality of the fossil record. Read more...



  March 2014 - Ancient sea creatures filtered food like modern whales
Ancient, giant marine animals used bizarre facial appendages to filter food from the ocean, according to new fossils discovered in northern Greenland. The new study, led by the University of Bristol and published today in Nature, describes how the new anomalocarid arthropod Tamisiocaris used these huge, specialized appendages to filter plankton, similar to the way modern blue whales feed today. The animals lived 520 million years ago during the Early Cambrian, and were part of the 'Cambrian Explosion' in which all the major animal groups and complex ecosystems suddenly appeared. Read more...



  February 2014 - Jaw mechanics shed new light on early tetrapod feeding habits
James Neenan, who completed the MSc in Palaeobiology in Bristol in 2009, has published his Masters research in the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In this, he and colleagues in Bristol and elsewhere, present a study of the jaws of Acanthostega and its relatives. The researchers developed innovative new numerical, biomechanical methods to infer the feeding mechanism of Acanthostega, one of the earliest and most primitive tetrapods, and several of its relatives. They find that Acanthostega was more geared towards feeding under water than on land. Read more...



  January 2014 - New insights into the origin of birds
The key characteristics of birds which allow them to fly - their wings and their small size - arose much earlier than previously thought, according to research by Mark Puttick and colleagues into the Paraves, the first birds and their closest dinosaurian relatives which lived 160 to 120 million years ago. In order to fly, hulking meat-eating dinosaurs had to shrink in size and grow much longer arms to support their feathered wings, but this happened long before Archaeopteryx, the first bird, and heralded a time of diversification of paravians that parachuted, glided, and flew. Read more...



  December 2013 - More scientific publications by Bristol MSc students
With nine further publications in 2013, Bristol's Masters students have now published 104 papers in all since the MSc in Palaeobiology began. The 100th paper is a phylogenetic study of trilobites by Javier Hernández-Ortega, currently a Research fellow in Cambridge, and David Legg, currently a postdoc in Oxford, both of them prolific authors on fossil arthropods. The Bristol Palaeobiology Research group overall published a total of 80 papers in 2013, of which the contribution by Masters students is 11 percent. Read more...



  December 2013 - Life-size model of the Bristol Dinosaur unveiled
A full-size replica of the Bristol dinosaur Thecodontosaurus was unveiled at the University of Bristol on December 13th. The model is the work of local artist Robert Nicholls and University lab technician Pedro Viegas. It was constructed at M Shed during October and November, with more than 50,000 visitors dropping in to see it. The model is now on permanent display in the main entrance hall of the Wills Memorial Building. The whole processof building the dinosaur was the last step in a highly successful, major programme of research and engagement, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Read more...



  December 2013 - Former Masters students publish in Nature
Two graduates of the Bristol MSc in Palaeobiology have recently led teams that published their new discoveries in Nature. First, Vivian Allen, who graduated in 2005, published a paper in May, 2013 that offers new insights into the origins of flight, and functional linkages between forelimb and hindlimb evolution in theropod dinosaurs and birds. Second, Emma Schachner, who also graduated in 2005, has just published a paper that shows unidirectional airflow in the lungs of Savannah monitor lizards. This was unexpected, as unidirectional airflow was known before only in birds.



  December 2013 - New light on the functional importance of dinosaur beaks
Why beaks evolved in some theropod dinosaurs and what their function might have been is the subject of new research published this week in PNAS. Employing high-resolution X-ray computed tomography (CT scanning) and computer simulations, Stephan Lautenschlager and Emily Rayfield, with colleagues from Mongolia and the USA, used digital models to take a closer look at these dinosaur beaks. This new study reveals that keratinous beaks played an important role in stabilizing the skeletal structure during feeding, making the skull less susceptible to bending and deformation. Read more...



  December 2013 - Five new researchers funded by the EU Marie Curie scheme
The new research fellows are: Professor Christine Janis (Mesozoic mammalian evolution and adaptation to Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystems); Albert Prieto-Marquez (The origin of novelties and the evolution of biodiversity during the radiation of birds); David Wacey (Remarkable preservation of Precambrian organic material); Monique Welten (Evolution of jaws and teeth - new insights into key innovations and the origin of gnathostomes); Raquel López-Antoñanzas (Of mice and rats: a new molecular palaeobiological approach and best practice in divergence time estimation).



  October 2013 - The Bristol dinosaur build begins
Bristol's dinosaur Thecodontosaurus will be brought to life throughout October when local artist Robert Nicholls and Pedro Viegas from the University of Bristol build a full-size replica. This is the culmination of a 3-year project run by the University of Bristol and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The build begins on Tuesday 1 October at M Shed, and will run until the end of November 2013. Members of the public are welcome to drop in and observe the reconstruction of the life-sized Thecodontosaurus and see the dinosaur come to life, from October 1st; admission free. Read more about all the events...



  September 2013 - Crocodiles in the age of dinosaurs
New research, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B has revealed the hidden past of crocodiles. While most modern crocodiles live in freshwater habitats and feed on mammals and fish, their ancient relatives were extremely diverse - with some built for running around like dogs on land and others adapting to life in the open ocean, imitating the feeding behaviour of today's killer whales. The study of morphological and functional disparity in Mesozoic crocodylomorphs was part of Tom Stubbs' MSc project, together with Emily Rayfield, Stephanie Pierce, and Phil Anderson. Read more...



  September 2013 - Mike Benton on the Life Scientific
In 'The Life Scientific', Professor Jim Al-Khalili interviews working scientists about what they do, what motivates them, how they began in their career, and how they do what they do. Mike Benton was the subject of the programme on September 10th. Professor Jim Al-Khalili talks to leading scientists about their life and work, finding out what inspires and motivates them and asking what their discoveries might do for mankind. Mike Benton talks about his fascination with ancient life on the planet and his work on the Bristol Dinosaur Project. Hear Mike's programme on iPlayer..



  September 2013 - Building the Bristol dinosaur
Bristol's own dinosaur Thecodontosaurus will be brought to life on the city's Harbourside this autumn when local artist Robert Nicholls and Pedro Viegas from the University of Bristol build a full-size replica of the beast. This is the culmination of a 3-year project run by the University of Bristol and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The build begins on Tuesday 1 October at M Shed, and will run until the end of November 2013. Members of the public are welcome to drop in and observe the reconstruction of the life-sized Thecodontosaurus and see the dinosaur come to life; admission free. Read more...



  August 2013 - Why Earth's greatest mass extinction was the making of modern mammals
The ancient closest relatives of mammals, the cynodonts, not only survived the greatest mass extinction of all time, 252 million years ago, but thrived in the aftermath, according to research published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The first mammals arose in the Triassic, marking the beginning of our lineage. They had differentiated teeth (incisors, canines, molars) and large brains and were probably warm-blooded and covered in fur - but these features were acquired over a long span of time, and did not mark a huge leap forward in comparison to the rest of Triassic cynodont evolution. Read more...



  August 2013 - Fossil fishes come to life in Ilminster
A collection of important fossil specimens are coming back to their home town in Somerset for an outreach open day, thanks to a partnership between Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (BRLSI) and the University of Bristol. The project has been led by James Fleming, a fourth-year undergraduate in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. The JESBI (Jurassic Ecosystem of Strawberry Bank Ilminster) project is opening an exhibit on Friday 23 August in the Minster Rooms, Ilminster to showcase the beautiful fossils found in the area. Members of the project will also be giving talks. Read more...



  August 2013 - Ancient mammal relatives cast light on recovery after mass extinction
In the aftermath of the largest mass extinction in Earth history, anomodonts did not evolve any fundamentally new features, according to new research published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. This suggests that the evolutionary bottleneck they passed through during the extinction constrained their evolution during the recovery. These findings are surprising as much research so far suggests that the survivors of mass extinctions are often presented with new ecological opportunities. However, it turns out that not all survivors respond in the same way. Read more...



  August 2013 - Bristol research seen by tens of thousands at Asia's biggest science fair
World-leading research being carried out in Bristol to identify the colour of prehistoric animals is being showcased at the largest science and technology fair in Asia, attracting some 1.2 million visitors each year. Seven researchers and PhD students from the University of Bristol are showcasing their research into determining colour from ancient fossils at the National Science and Technology Fair 2013, taking place in Bangkok until 21 August. British Council Thailand was asked to arrange a stand to showcase UK science at the annual event, and this is one of only two British exhibits. Read more...



  July 2013 - Largest bony fish ever lived during the age of dinosaurs
Giant fish that could grow up to 16 m long roamed the seas 165 million years ago, new research suggests. These giant plankton-eating were wiped out by the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, and then replaced by plankton-eating sharks and whales. The question is: just how big did these giant fishes get? New work suggests between 12 and 16 m long. The estimate comes from detailed anatomical work on growth patterns in bones and scales of the giant Leedsichthys from the British Late Jurassic by Jeff Liston of Kunming and Bristol. Read more...



  July 2013 - Prehistoric colour
From July 1-8, Bristol palaeobiologists exhibited at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, the leading public engagement event of the year. Our exhibit is about structural evidence for the colour of feathers in fossil birds and dinosaurs, as well as iridescence in insects, and the effects of burial on those colours. We have spoken to hundreds of enthusiastic school children, teachers, fellows of the Royal Society, peers of the realm, and members of the Royal family. Our slide show was the front-page item on the BBC web site earlier in the week. Read more on our blog and the Royal Society web page.



  June 2013 - Exploring dinosaur growth
Tracking the growth of dinosaurs and how they changed as they grew is difficult. Using a combination of biomechanical analysis and bone histology, palaeontologists from Beijing, Bristol, and Bonn have shown how one of the best-known dinosaurs switched from four feet to two as it grew. As part of his PhD thesis on Psittacosaurus at the University of Bristol, Qi Zhao, now on the staff of the Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology in Beijing, carried out the intricate study on bones of babies, juveniles and adults. The paper is published today in Nature Communications. Read more...



  June 2013 - Genome of 700,000-year-old horse sequenced
The oldest genome so far has been sequenced by an international team, led by scientists from the Natural History Museum of Denmark. The team, which included Dr Jakob Vinther of the University of Bristol, sequenced short pieces of DNA molecules preserved in bone from a horse frozen for the last 700,000 years in the permafrost of Yukon, Canada. By tracking the genomic changes that transformed prehistoric wild horses into domestic breeds, the researchers have revealed the genetic make-up of modern horses with unprecedented detail. Their findings are published today in Nature. Read more...



  May 2013 - Unexpected effects of ocean acidification on deep-sea organisms
About 55.5 million years ago, geologically rapid emission of a large volume of greenhouse gases at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary (PETM) led to global warming of about 5oC, severe ocean acidification, and widespread extinction of foraminifera. Dr Laura Foster and Dr Dani Schmidt of the School of Earth Sciences, together with visiting professor Ellen Thomas from Yale University, have shown that survivors of the extinction increased the thickness of their shells during ocean acidification, with organisms living buried within the sediment able to survive better than forms living on the sediment surface. Read more...



  May 2013 - Fossil brain teaser
Stephan Lautenschlager from Bristol's School of Earth Sciences, together with Tom Hübner from the Niedersächsische Landesmuseum in Hannover, Germany, studied the reconstructed brain of the Jurassic dinosaur Dysalotosaurus lettowvorbecki in two specimens, a very young (juvenile) individual of approximately three years of age and a fully grown specimen of more than 12 years of age. The brain underwent considerable changes during growth - most likely as a response to environmental and metabolic requirements. Read more...



  May 2013 - Cooling ocean temperature could buy more time for coral reefs
Limiting the amount of warming experienced by the world's oceans in the future could buy some time for tropical coral reefs. The study, published by the journal Geophysical Research Letters, used computer models to investigate how shallow-water tropical coral reef habitats may respond to climate change over the coming decades. Dr Elena Couce and colleagues found that restricting greenhouse warming to three watts per square metre is needed in order to avoid large-scale reductions in reef habitat occurring in the future. Read more...



  March 2013 - How do we know what colour dinosaur feathers were?
An international research team, led by Dr Maria McNamara from the School of Earth Sciences, has shown that the original colour of fossil feathers may have been tainted by the extreme geological processes deep below the earth's surface. The results, published in the journal Biology Letters, suggest that some previous reconstructions may be flawed. Melanosomes, the organelles in feathers that contain melanin and so give some feather colours, may change shape subtly after burial. Because melanosome shape is a guide to the original colour of a feather, this could affect assumptions. Read more...



  February 2013 - Palaeontologists reveal insects' colourful past
An international research team led by Dr Maria McNamara has explained the preservation of colours in fossil insects for the first time. The paper has just been published online in the journal Geology. The research will also be showcased at this year's prestigious Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London, from 1 to 7 July. The study used a novel experimental technique to simulate high pressures and temperatures that are found deep under the Earth's surface, and so the researchers could follow colour change and colour loss during mock fossilisation conditions. Read more...



  February 2013 - Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit award to Phil Donoghue
The Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit scheme aims to provide universities with additional support to enable them to attract science talent from overseas and retain respected UK scientists of outstanding achievement and potential. Professor Donoghue receives the award for his work in the emerging field of molecular paleobiology. Professor Donoghue sees this as an opportunity for palaeontologists to integrate molecular biology's dataset, techniques and experimental approach with the insight into events in Deep Time that palaeontology uniquely provides. Read more...



  January 2013 - New research highlights influence of intraspecific variability on biodiversity studies
A study of around 100 newly collected specimens of early ammonoids suggests that the number of species they belong to might have been over-estimated. Dr Kenneth De Baets of the University of Bristol, with Dr Christian Klug (University of Zürich) and Dr Claude Monnet (University of Lille), studied the intraspecific variability through ontogeny (development of an organism) in early ammonoids, which has rarely been attempted before. Ammonoids are ideal for this type of study as they hold a record of growth from embryo to adult in their accretionary shell. Read more...



  January 2013 - Multicellularity, a key event in the evolution of life
Multicellularity in cyanobacteria originated before 2.4 billion years ago and is associated with the accumulation of atmospheric oxygen, subsequently enabling the evolution of aerobic life, as we know it today, according to a new study from the University of Zurich involving researchers now at the University of Bristol, and Gothenburg. The research, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, applied phylogenetic tree reconstruction methods to the study of oxygen-producing bacteria, so-called cyanobacteria. Read more...



  January 2013 - A citation classic in molecular evolution
In a survey of papers published in the leading journal 'Molecular Biology & Evolution' from 1983 to the present day, a paper by Mike Benton and Phil Donoghue ( Paleontological evidence to date the tree of life), published in 2007, has been identified as one of the 1% most cited papers ever from that journal, a 'citation classic', with nearly 400 citations in six years. The paper presented a new rationale for ensuring phylogenetic trees are correctly dated, focusing on exact phylogenetic placement of calibration fossils and use of appropriate, asymmetric probability distributions on their ages. Read more...



  January 2013 - Dr Jakob Vinther awarded Hodson Prize
Dr Jakob Vinther of both the School of Earth Sciences and the School of Biological Sciences has been awarded The Hodson Prize Fund by the Palaeontological Association at its Annual Meeting in Dublin in late December. The Association is one of the world's leading professional societies of palaeontologists and The Hodson Fund is awarded to a palaeontologist under the age of 35 and who has made a notable early contribution to the science. The award honours Jakob's work on origins of basal groups of animals and on colour in fossils, including dinosaur feathers. Read more...



  December 2012 - Inside the head of a dinosaur
A new study of the brain anatomy of therizinosaurs, plant-eating Cretaceous theropod dinosaurs, has revealed interesting links with their meat-eating relatives. A team from Bristol and Ohio, including PhD student Stephan Lautenschlager and Dr Emily Rayfield of the University of Bristol, found that the senses of smell, hearing and balance were well developed in therizinosaurs and might have affected or benefited from an enlarged forebrain. These findings came as a surprise as exceptional sensory abilities would be expected from predatory and not necessarily from plant-eating animals. Read more...



  December 2012 - Bringing fossils to life
A new way to learn about ancient life that harnesses some of the cutting edge techniques used by palaeontologists to study fossils, is being pioneered by researchers at the University of Bristol. CT scanning and 3D printing allow palaeontologists to see fossils in ways they never could before, to study delicate bones and other ancient remains in great detail without destroying the precious specimens themselves. Now Dr Imran Rahman has brought these marvels of 'virtual palaeontology' to the public in an exhibition in Birmingham, and in an article in Evolution: Education and Outreach. Read more...



  November 2012 - New evidence of dinosaurs' role in the evolution of bird flight
A new study looking at the structure of feathers in bird-like dinosaurs has shed light on one of nature's most remarkable inventions - how flight might have evolved. Academics at the Universities of Bristol, Yale and Calgary have shown that prehistoric birds had a much more primitive version of the wings we see today, with rigid layers of feathers acting as simple airfoils for gliding. Close examination of the earliest theropod dinosaurs suggests that feathers were initially developed for insulation, arranged in multiple layers to preserve heat, before their shape evolved for display and camouflage. Read more...



  November 2012 - Best PhD thesis in Faculty
Congratulations to Dr Jen Bright, now a postdoc in the PBRG. She has just been awarded the Science Faculty prize for the best PhD thesis from the Faculty in 2012. Her thesis, entitled 'Validation of finite element models and the implications for palaeontology' focuses on ground-truthing finite element analytical techniques. Her thesis has yielded four published papers and she is currently a postdoc in Bristol. Jen is one of three palaeobiology PhD candidates to be awarded a Faculty commendation in 2012. Read more...



  October 2012 - New study sheds light on how and when vision evolved
Opsins, the light-sensitive proteins that are key to vision, may have evolved earlier and undergone fewer genetic changes than previously believed, according to a new study from the National University of Ireland Maynooth and the University of Bristol published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr Davide Pisani of Bristol's Schools of Biological Sciences and Earth Sciences and colleagues at NUI Maynooth performed a computational analysis to test every hypothesis of opsin evolution proposed to date. Read more...



  September 2012 - The evolutionary origins of our pretty smile
It takes both teeth and jaws to make a smile, but the evolutionary origins of these parts of our anatomy have only just been discovered, thanks to a particle accelerator and a long dead fish. All living jawed vertebrates have teeth, but it has long been thought that the first jawed vertebrates lacked them, instead capturing prey with gruesome scissor-like jaw-bones. However new research, led by the University of Bristol and published today in Nature, shows that these earliest jawed vertebrates possessed teeth too indicating that teeth evolved along with, or soon after, the evolution of jaws. Read more...



  September 2012 - Visit to the home of the Bristol dinosaur
Visitors to the village of Tytherington where specimens of the West's very own dinosaur, Thecodontosaurus, were discovered in the 1970s, had the chance to learn more about this amazing local resident on Wednesday 31 October as part of South Gloucestershire's Discover Festival. Discover Dinosaur Day! included hands on activities to find out how Thecodontosaurus - also known as the Bristol Dinosaur as the first specimens were found in Bristol in 1834 - lived 210 million years ago. The event is organised by the Bristol Dinosaur Project at the University of Bristol. Read more...



  September 2012 - Palaeobiology's 250th MSc graduate sparks first reunion
The University of Bristol's Palaeobiology Research Group is celebrating the fact that 250 students have now completed its MSc in Palaeobiology, with its first reunion event for former and current Bristol palaeobiologists. The reunion weekend was a chance to welcome new members of staff, Dr Davide Pisani and Dr Jakob Vinther, and included talks from staff, students, and alumni, a CPD programme of new numerical methods, a tour and display, and a field trip. Liz Martin from Canada (left) was the 250th student to complete the MSc in Palaeobiology. Read more...



  September 2012 - Palaeontology student receives prestigious Fulbright award
Rachel Frigot, who has just finished the MSc in Palaeobiology programme for 2011-2, has received a Fulbright Award to enable her to study at Johns Hopkins University in the US on one of the most prestigious and selective scholarship programmes operating world-wide. Created by treaty in 1948, the US-UK Fulbright Commission offers awards for study or research in any field, at any accredited US or UK university. Rachel funded her Masters studies in Bristol over the past two years by working as a science tutor for A-level students. Read more...



  July 2012 - Engineering technology reveals eating habits of giant dinosaurs
High-tech technology, usually used to design racing cars and aeroplanes, has helped researchers to understand how plant-eating dinosaurs fed 150 million years ago. A team of international researchers, led by Dr Emily Rayfield from the University of Bristol and Dr Paul Barrett from the Natural History Museum, used CT scans and biomechanical modelling to show that Diplodocus - one of the largest dinosaurs ever - had a skull adapted to strip leaves from tree branches. This research was rated number 77 out of the 100 top science stories of 2012 by Discover magazine. Read more...



  July 2012 - Skulls shed new light on the evolution of the cat
Modern cats diverged in skull shape from their sabre-toothed ancestors early in their history and then followed separate evolutionary trajectories, according to new research published today in PLoS ONE. The study also found that the separation between modern domestic cats and big cats such as lions and tigers is also deeply rooted. Dr Manabu Sakamoto and Dr Marcello Ruta applied a range of numerical morphometric tools to explore the evolution of skull shape of extinct sabre-toothed cats, modern (conical-toothed) cats and prehistoric 'basal' cats (ancestors of modern cats). Read more...



  May 2012 - Ten million years to recover from mass extinction
It took some 10 million years for Earth to recover from the greatest mass extinction of all time, latest research has revealed. Life was nearly wiped out 250 million years ago, with only 10 per cent of plants and animals surviving. Recent evidence for a rapid bounce-back is evaluated in a new review article by Dr Zhong-Qiang Chen, from the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, and Professor Michael Benton from the University of Bristol. They find that recovery from the crisis lasted some 10 million years, as explained today in Nature Geoscience. Read more...



  May 2012 - Pliosaur with a gammy jaw
Imagine having arthritis in your jaw bones... if they're over 2 metres long! A new study by scientists at the University of Bristol has found signs of a degenerative condition similar to human arthritis in the jaw of a pliosaur. Such a disease has never been described before in fossilised Jurassic reptiles. The animal is the pliosaur Pliosaurus from the Upper Jurassic of Westbury, Wiltshire, and the new paper, published today in Palaeontology is the core of Judyth Sassoon's research thesis which she completed while studying for the Bristol MSc in Palaeobiology. Read more...



  April 2012 - Former MSc student publishes the textbook
Steve Brusatte, who completed the MSc in Palaeobiology in Bristol in 2007, and went on to work for his PhD at the American Museum of Natural History, has just published the most authoritative and up-to-date textbook on dinosaurs, with the title Dinosaur Paleobiology. This is the first in a new series of advanced palaeontological books aimed at researchers and reflecting the latest advances in the field, published worldwide by Wiley-Blackwell, and edited by Mike Benton from the Bristol group. A further 15 titles are commissioned and will appear in the next few years. Read more...



  March 2012 - Just so: Scientists name Dorset crocodile after Kipling
A superbly preserved 130-million-year-old crocodile skull, discovered at Swanage in Dorset in 2009, has been described as belonging to a species new to science in a paper by researchers at the University of Bristol. The specimen has been given the name Goniopholis kiplingi after Rudyard Kipling, author of The Just So Stories, in recognition of his enthusiasm for the natural sciences. The skull was discovered in April 2009 by Richard Edmonds, Earth Science Manager with the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site Team, in the course of regular site monitoring. Read more...



  March 2012 - Size isn't everything - it's how sharp you are
The tiny teeth of a long-extinct vertebrate - with tips only two micrometres across: one twentieth the width of a human hair - are the sharpest dental structures ever measured, new research from the University of Bristol and Monash University, Australia has found. David Jones led a study of conodont function, working with 3D models reconstructed from micro-CT scans, and showed they were the sharpest biological structures ever - they overcome the limitations of their tiny size by achieving exceptional sharpness. Read more...



  March 2012 - The cutting edge: Exploring the efficiency of bladed tooth shape
Using a combination of guillotine-based experiments and cutting-edge computer modelling, Phil Anderson and Emily Rayfield, researchers at the University of Bristol have explored the most efficient ways for teeth to slice food. Their results, published today in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, show just how precisely the shape of an animal's teeth is optimized to suit the type of food it eats. They use the engineering technique Finite Element Analysis to mimic the experiments, and it turns out that different shaped bladed teeth are optimized for different types of food.. Read more...



  March 2012 - The history of ocean acidification
Current rates of ocean acidification are unparalleled in Earth's history, according to new research from an international team of scientists which compiled all the evidence of global warming and acidifying oceans from the past 300 million years. Dani Schmidt, a member of the 22-strong team, comments 'Laboratory experiments can tell us about how individual marine organisms react, but the geological record is a real time experiment involving the entire ocean. In order to learn about the future, the researchers looked to the past, reviewing climate events over the past 300 million years. Read more...



  February 2012 - Public invited to draw the Bristol dinosaur
Bristol's own dinosaur, Thecodontosaurus, is now the subject of a competition. The public now have the chance to draw what they think it really looked like as part of an illustration competition run by the Bristol Dinosaur Project at the University of Bristol. Discovered in 1834 near Bristol Zoo, Clifton, the Bristol dinosaur was only the fourth dinosaur ever discovered in the world. Ideas about what the dinosaur looked like are changing all the time as paleontologists find out more about its bones which are held at the University and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. Read more...



  February 2012 - Mouse to elephant? Just wait 24 million generations
Scientists have for the first time measured how fast large-scale evolution can occur in mammals, showing it takes 24 million generations for a mouse-sized animal to evolve to the size of an elephant. Research published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA describes increases and decreases in mammal body size following the extinction of the dinosaurs. An international team, including Dr David Jones, discovered that rates of size decrease are much faster than growth rates. It takes only 100,000 generations for very large decreases, leading to dwarfism, to occur. Read more...



  December 2011 - Chinese fossils shed light on the origin of animals from single-celled ancestors
Evidence of the single-celled ancestors of animals has been discovered in 570 million-year-old rocks from South China by researchers from the University of Bristol, the Swedish Museum of Natural History, the Paul Scherrer Institut and the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences. This X-ray microscopy revealed that the fossils had features that multicellular embryos do not, and this led the researchers to the conclusion that the fossils were neither animals nor embryos but rather the reproductive spore bodies of single-celled ancestors of animals. Read more...



  August 2011 - Rocks and clocks help unravel the mysteries of ancient Earth
Research into the dating techniques used to identify the origins of the living world has found that fossils and molecules together are crucial to calibrate the Earth's evolutionary clock. PhD student Rachel Warnock and Professor Phil Donoghue show that the shape of the probability distribution of fossils close to a critical calibration point can alter the estimate of age profoundly. Their work points to the need for much greater care in the future about constructing detailed estimates of the likely distributions of known and missing fossils in dating the tree of life. Read more...



  August 2011 - Getting inside the mind (and up the nose) of our ancient ancestors
Reorganisation of the brain and sense organs could be the key to the evolutionary success of vertebrates, one of the great puzzles in evolutionary biology, according to a paper by Gai Zhi-kun, a Bristol PhD student, his supervisor Phil Donoghue, and colleagues, just published in Nature. The study claims to have solved this scientific riddle by studying the brain of a 400 million year old galeaspid, using high energy X-rays at the Swiss Light Source. The detailed internal architecture of the specimens can be revealed for the first time using computer imaging techniques. Read more...



  July 2011 - Fossil jaws shed new light on early vertebrate feeding ecology
With the evolution of jaws some 420 million years ago, jawed animals diversified rapidly into a range of niches that remained stable for the following 80 million years, despite extinctions, habitat loss and competition, say researchers from the Universities of Bristol, Oxford and Leiden in Nature. Bristol researchers Phil Anderson and Emily Rayfield used engineering approaches to explore the dynamics of early jaw evolution, and the team found that jawed vertebrates surprisingly did not have an obvious or overwhelming advantage over those without jaws. Read more...



  July 2011 - The rise and rise of the flying reptiles
Pterosaurs, flying reptiles from the time of the dinosaurs, were not driven to extinction by the birds, but in fact they continued to diversify and innovate for millions of years after birds had originated. A new numerical study by Katy Prentice, completed as part of her undergraduate degree (MSci in Palaeontology and Evolution), shows that the pterosaurs evolved in a most unusual way, becoming more and more specialised through their 160 million years on Earth. The work is published today in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. Read more here and here.



  May 2011 - Reptile 'cousins' shed new light on end-Permian extinction
The end-Permian extinction, by far the most dramatic biological crisis to affect life on Earth, may not have been as catastrophic for some creatures as previously thought, according to a new study led by the University of Bristol. The team studied the parareptiles, a diverse group of bizarre-looking terrestrial vertebrates which varied in shape and size. The researchers found that parareptiles were not hit much harder by the end-Permian extinction than at any other point in their 90 million-year history. Never hugely diverse, the parareptiles seem to have been less affected than other reptiles. Read more...



  May 2011 - The sea dragons bounce back
Ichthyosaurs, important marine predators of the age of dinosaurs, were hit hard by a mass extinction event 200 million years ago. Ichthyosaurs are iconic fossils, first discovered 200 years ago by Mary Anning on the Jurassic coast of Dorset at Lyme Regis. The new study, published in PNAS, uses numerical methods to explore rates of evolution, diversity, and range of body morphology through the crisis. The extinction acted as a 'bottleneck', reducing ichthyosaur diversity massively, and when they recovered in terms of numbers of species, their range of adaptations did not bounce back. Read more...



  March 2011 - A night at the museum with the Bristol dinosaur
People of all ages will have the opportunity to find out about Bristol's very own dinosaur, Thecodontosaurus, along with meeting experts to learn about Bristol University's current scientific research on fossils and dinosaurs. Dino-nite! has been organised by the Bristol Dinosaur Project, run by the University's School of Earth Sciences, in partnership with Bristol City Museum. A scary, but impressive night involving education, fun, and thrills, and a chance to learn about the dinosaur on your doorstep. Read more...



  January 2011 - Introducing Bentonyx
It's not often that someone has a dinosaur, or other prehistoric beast, named after them. Two Bristol alumni have described a new reptile fossil and named it in honour of their Bristol tutor, Professor Mike Benton. Bentonyx is now an official new genus of rhynchosaur - a group of extinct reptiles that lived around 230 million years ago. Mike commented 'Bentonyx is a squat, pig-shaped animal, with a fat belly, hooked snout, and inane grin, so I can see why they thought of me'. Read more...



  December 2010 - Record number of scientific publications by Bristol MSc students
The year 2010 has seen the the largest number of publications by current and former Bristol Palaeobiology Masters students, totalling 20 - one 'public understanding of science' contribution, and 19 scientific papers in journals ranging from Science to Palaeontology, and Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society to Biology Letters. This brings the total of original refereed scientific papers by MSc and MSci students to 81, since the MSc began in 1996. The Bristol Palaeobiology Research group overall published a total of 80 papers in 2010, of which the contribution by Masters students is 25 percent. Read more...



  December 2010 - Fucheng Zhang visits Bristol as Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor
Professor Fucheng Zhang has won a 3-month distinguished visiting professorship position, and is in Bristol from December to March, to continue work on the colour of the feathers of fossil birds and dinosaurs. Fucheng's research interests cover the origin and early evolution of birds and feathers, and the origin of avian flight. His current research themes focus on the description of remarkable new bird fossils, including skeletons with feathers and skin, as well as eggs, and other fossils from the astonishing Early Cretaceous fossil deposits of the Jehol Group in NE China. Read more...



  December 2010 - New fossil site in China shows long recovery from the largest mass extinction
A major new fossil site in south-west China has filled in a sizeable gap in our understanding of how life on this planet recovered from the greatest mass extinction of all time, according to a paper co-authored by Professor Mike Benton, in the School of Earth Sciences, and published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The work is led by scientists from the Chengdu Geological Center in China. The new site, at Luoping in Yunnan Province, has yielded 20,000 fossils, including some of the first reptiles, indicating the first emergence of a full ecosystem, some 10 million years after the end-Permian mass extinction. Read more....



  November 2010 - Rainforest collapse drove reptile evolution
Global warming devastated tropical rainforests, 300 million years ago. Now, Bristol palaeontologists Sarda Sahney, Howard Falcon-Lang (also Royal Holloway) and Mike Benton report the unexpected discovery that this event triggered an evolutionary burst amongst reptiles - and inadvertently paved the way for the rise of dinosaurs, a hundred million years later. This event happened 305 Myr ago, during the Carboniferous Period. At that time, Europe and North America lay on the equator and were covered by steamy tropical rainforests. But when the Earth's climate became hotter and drier, rainforests collapsed, triggering reptile evolution. Read more....



  November 2010 - Engineer provides new insight into pterosaur flight
Colin Palmer, an engineer turned palaeobiology PhD student at Bristol has now shown that pterosaurs were slower flyers than had been assumed. By a combination of model testing and numerical calculations, he has shown that these ancient flying reptiles were significantly less aerodynamically efficient and were capable of flying at lower speeds than previously thought. This meant they could land at slower speeds than had been thought, and so explains why they did not break their fragile bones more often. Read more....



  November 2010 - Student wins mineralized tissue prize
Duncan Murdock, a current third year PhD palaeobiology student, has received the 'Young Investigator Award' at the 10th International Conference on the Chemistry and Biology of Mineralized Tissues in Arizona for his paper on the 'Evolutionary origins of animal skeletons'. Read more....



  November 2010 - New prize announced for best MSc thesis
A new prize for the best project from students enrolled for the MSc in Palaeobiology, to be called the David Dineley Prize, has been launched. The first award will be made in early 2011, for the best MSc thesis in the 2009-2010 cohort, as judged by the teaching staff and the external examiner for the programme. Read more....



  October 2010 - 'Junk DNA' uncovers the nature of our ancient ancestors
The key to solving one of the great puzzles in evolutionary biology, the origin of vertebrates, has been revealed in new research from Dartmouth College (USA) and the University of Bristol. Phil Donoghue and colleagues show, in a study of micro RNAs, that lamprey and hagfish form a clade Cyclostomata, and they are both equally related to the jawed vertebrates - previous orthodoxy had been that the hagfish was closer to gnathostomes. The work is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. Read more in the Nature news report.



  September 2010 - Top dinosaur hunters are worst at naming
The more fossil species you describe, the less likely the names are to stick. Edward Cope (left) named 64 dinosaur species, but only 9 of his names are still in use. This is as true of prolific dinosaur namers in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In a study of all 321 authors who have named one or more dinosaur species, the most successful were those who named only one, as reported in a new paper in Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology by Mike Benton. Read more in the Nature news report.



  August 2010 - Evolution rewritten again and again
Palaeontologists are forever claiming that their latest fossil discovery will 'rewrite evolutionary history'. Is this just boasting or is our 'knowledge' of evolution so feeble that it changes every time we find a new fossil? A team of researchers at the University of Bristol decided to find out, with investigations of dinosaur and human evolution. Their study suggests most fossil discoveries do not make a huge difference, confirming, not contradicting our understanding of evolutionary history. Read more here, and on the Nature and Discover websites.



  July 2010 - Ancient reptiles 'make tracks'
A new discovery of 318 million-year-old fossilised footprints from Eastern Canada reveals when reptiles first conquered dry land. The footprints were discovered by Dr Howard Falcon-Lang, when he was on the staff of this department, and were studied in collaboration with Mike Benton. They show key features of the amniotes, reptiles and their descendants, and are older than the oldest amniote skeletal fossils. Read more here.



  June 2010 - First analysis of theropod biting diversity
A study comparing how carnivorous dinosaurs tore through their meat has found meat eaters munched using at least four distinct biting methods. The findings, by Dr Manabu Sakamoto, a postdoc at the University of Bristol, appear in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Sakamoto compared 41 species of theropods, and used biomechanical models to identify the four feeding modes. Read more here and here.



  May 2010 - MSc student wins prize for thesis
Nick Crumpton, who completed the MSc in Palaeobiology in Bristol in September 2009, has just been awarded the Geologists' Association prize for one of the best earth sciences Masters theses in the UK in 2009. Nick worked on adaptation and morphometrics of the teeth of tiny Triassic and Jurassic mammals, and the prize was awarded for his application of innovative numerical imaging techniques and comparisons with analogous extant forms. Read more...



  April 2010 - Former MSc students get permanent palaeontology positions
Former students of the Bristol MSc have achieved excellent careers in palaeontology - in museums, universities, publishing, and the media. We normally do not highlight their new posts, but keep a list of current jobs of former students where we can. Three have recently secured permanent positions - Isla Gladstone, as the new Curator of Natural Sciences at the Yorkshire Museum in York, Tai Kubo as Curator at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum in Japan, and Phil Hopley as Lecturer in Palaeoclimatology at Birkbeck College, University of London. Many congratulations to them all!



  March 2010 - JESBI funding
The 'Jurassic Ecosystem of Strawberry Bank, Ilminster' project was launched on 25th March, with generous funding from the Esmée Fairburn Foundation. The Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution's museum holds a unique spectacular collection of exceptionally preserved fossils from the late Lias of Ilminster, Somerset, that show exquisite 3-dimensional detail, and many have soft tissues. The funding supports essential curatorial work at the BRLSI and development of a substantial new research programme by Bristol MSc students. Read more...



  February 2010 - Island of dwarf dinosaurs
The idea of dwarf dinosaurs on Haţeg Island, Romania, was proposed 100 years ago by the colourful Baron Franz Nopcsa, whose family owned estates in the area. He realized that many of the Haţeg dinosaurs had close relatives in older rocks in England, Germany, and North America, but the Romanian specimens were half the size. In new work by Mike Benton at the University of Bristol, and six other authors from Romania, Germany, and the United States, Nopcsa's hypothesis is tested for the first time, using numerical methods and bone histology. Read more...



  February 2010 - Humble algae are the key to whale evolution
Diatoms, planktonic algae, have been key to the evolution of the diversity of whales, according to a new study. The research by Felix Marx, a PhD student at the University of Otago in New Zealand and University of Bristol, together with Dr Mark Uhen of George Mason University in the US, is published in the journal Science. The fossil record shows that diatoms and whales rose and fell in diversity together. Whales do not eat diatoms, but the giant baleen whales feed on krill, small crustaceans that themselves feed on diatoms. Felix began this project while completing his MSci project in Bristol. Read more...



  February 2010 - Ocean acidification is at fastest rate in 65 million years
A new model, capable of assessing the rate at which the oceans are acidifying, suggests that changes in the carbonate chemistry of the deep ocean may exceed anything seen in the past 65 million years. The research, by Dr Andy Ridgwell (Geographical Sciences) and Dr Daniela Schmidt (Earth Sciences) also predicts much higher rates of environmental change at the ocean's surface, potentially exceeding the rate at which plankton can adapt. The work is based on studies of plankton extinction through the past 100 Myr, with a focus on the PETM. Read more...



  January 2010 - Melanosomes in dinosaur feathers show their original colour
The colour of some feathers on dinosaurs and early birds has been identified for the first time, reports a paper published in Nature this week. For example, the theropod dinosaur Sinosauropteryx had simple bristles - precursors of feathers - in alternate orange and white rings down its tail, and the early bird Confuciusornis had patches of white, black, and orange-brown colouring. This research was rated number 64 out of the 100 top science stories of 2010 by Discover magazine. Read more... See and hear Mike Benton rambling on about the discovery, and read the interpretive web pages.

Older news, from 2003-2009, is here.


Thecodontosaurus illustration courtesy of Richard Deasey.
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