News from the Palaeobiology Masters Degree Programme
September 2014 - Bristol students report first semi-aquatic dinosaur, Spinosaurus
A paper, published in Science today, is led by Nizar Ibrahim, who graduated from Bristol with a BSc in Geology and Biology in 2006, and current MSc student, Matteo Fabbri. In it, the team report 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. 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. The paper, in Nature, stems from MSc work by Nick Crumpton, who is now completing his PhD in Cambridge. 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...
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 - 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 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...
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...
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 and Biodiversity 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 - 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.
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 2012 - Palaeobiology's 250th MSc graduate sparks first reunion The University of Bristol's Palaeobiology and Biodiversity 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 tutor. Read more...
April 2012 - MSc project on giant marine reptile with a gammy jaw...
Imagine having arthritis in your jaw bones... if they're over 2 metres long! A new study has found signs of a degenerative condition similar to human arthritis in the jaw of a pliosaur, an ancient sea reptile that lived 150 million years ago. 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. The book covers all aspects of dinosaurs, from classification, phylogeny, and palaeobiology to their extinction and the origin of birds. This is the first in a new series of advanced palaeontological books, published worldwide by Wiley-Blackwell, and edited by Mike Benton from the Bristol group.
January 2012 - Former MSc student wins BAFTA
Myles McLeod, who graduated from the MSc in Palaeobiology in 2000, and who runs a film production company, The Brothers McLeod, won a BAFTA at the British Academy Children's Awards for their show 'Quiff and Boot'. They were asked by BBC learning to create a number of short animations about maths for primary school Key Stage 2, and it ran on BBC2 as a 45 minute programme. The British Academy Children's Awards celebrates the very best in children's film, television, games and online media of the past year and the talent behind their successes.
December 2011 - More scientific publications by Bristol MSc students
2011 has been marked by more top-level publications by former Bristol Palaeobiology Masters students. We count a further eight papers, bringing the running total, since 1996, to 91 papers. Highlights of 2011 include a paper in PNAS, one of the world's leading scientific journals, from Philippa Thorne, presenting her work on ichthyosaur evolution. Other journals include Palaeontology, Palaeo-3, and Evolution & Development. The Bristol Palaeobiology and Biodiversity Research group overall published a total of 70 papers in 2011, of which the contribution by Masters students is 11 percent. Read more...
May 2011 - The sea dragons bounce back
Bristol Palaeobiology MSc student Philippa Thorne has just had her research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, one of the world's leading scientific journals. She shows that the evolution of ichthyosaurs, important marine predators of the age of dinosaurs, was 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 uses numerical methods to explore rates of evolution, diversity, and range of body morphology through the crisis.
December 2010 - Record number of scientific publications by Bristol MSc students
2010 has seen the the largest number of publications by 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 and Biodiversity Research group overall published a total of 80 papers in 2010, of which the contribution by Masters students is 25 percent. 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....
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 - Spectacular new opportunity for Bristol MSc students
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, beginning with the October 2010 intake. Read more...
February 2010 - Humble algae are the key to whale evolution
Felix Marx, who completed the MSci in Palaeontology & Evolution in Bristol last summer, has published part of his research in Science, jointly with Mark Uhen from George Mason University in the US. Their work shows that diatoms, a form of planktonic algae, have been key to the evolution of the diversity of whales. 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.
December 2009 - Another bumper year for publications by Bristol MSc students
The year 2009 has seen the publication of a further 11 scientific papers by current and former Bristol MSc and MSci palaeontology students. This brings the total of original refereed scientific papers by MSc and MSci students to 64, since the MSc began in 1996. The Bristol Palaeobiology and Biodiversity Research group overall published a total of 64 papers in 2009, of which the contribution by Masters students is 17 percent. Read more...
November 2009 - Britain's oldest dinosaur to be released
After 210 million years of being entombed in rock, the Bristol Dinosaur is about to be released, thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of £295,000 awarded to the University of Bristol. The funding will pay for a preparator, and an Education Officer. MSc students can be part of this educational initiative. The project is planned to include outreach to schools and laboratory skills training for MSc students. MSc student Judyth Sassoon assisted with the launch of the award, and her tastefully varnished finger nails
(left) have graced countless photographs worldwide.
October 2009 - Why giant sea scorpions got so big
Palaeozoic eurypterids were remarkable for their huge size. It had been thought that these
predators became ever larger in an 'arms race' with their prey, the heavily armnoured fishes, or that their size increase
was enabled by extra-high levels of oxygen in the atmosphere at the time. New work by MSc student
James Lamsdell and Dr Simon Braddy shows that both views are correct: one eurypterid lineage
became large to prey on the armoured fishes, and the other because of enhanced oxygen. The work is
published today in Biology Letters.
September 2009 - Fossil water scorpion was ancestor of giant sweep-feeders
New finds of a fossil water scorpion that lived in rivers around Bristol some 370 Million years ago
have shown Bristol palaeontologists what the animal looked like and how it was related to other
eurypterids. The work was part of James Lamsdell's Bristol Palaeobiology MSc project, and it is
authored also by Dr Simon Braddy from Bristol, and colleague Dr Erik Tetlie
from Norway. It is published this week in the journal Palaeontology.
September 2009 - Reptiles stood upright after mass extinction
Having studied fossil tracks of reptiles from below and above the end-Permian mass extinction
boundary, Prof Mike Benton and former MSc Palaeobiology student Tai Kubo found that medium- and
large-sized reptiles changed from walking with a sprawling gait, to walking with their legs tucked
under their bodies. This happened across the crisis boundary, whereas evidence from skeletal fossils
had previously suggested the transition took some 20-30 million years, through much of the Triassic.
September 2009 - No universal driver for plankton evolution
During his MSc project, Bristol Palaeobiology student Ben Kotrc, now undertaking a PhD at Harvard, analysed the relative importance of abiotic
versus biotic effect on the evolution of marine plankton. The results of the work, supervised by
Dr Daniela Schmidt and recently published
show that both competition with other organisms and long term climatic changes influence
evolutionary change in radiolarians.
June 2009 - New research on early mammals
Two MSc Palaeobiology students in the Department of Earth Sciences have had notable successes in
their work on the habits of some of the earliest mammals to have lived, some two hundred million
years ago. Nick Crumpton and Kelly Richards are studying the fossilised remains of animals from
the Triassic and Jurassic periods, found in ancient caves in the Bristol area, applying innovative
new research techniques. Nick has been honoured with a 'best paper' prize, and Kelly has raised
funding for her advanced CT-scanning work.
June 2009 - Palaeobiology Masters student wins prizes
Sarah Keenan, an MSc student in Palaeobiology in the Department of Earth Sciences, has been awarded
a research grant by the Geological Society of America to fund field work in Montana and Texas. This
is one of several awards she has accumulated during her year in Bristol: others include some $2000
from the Geological Society of America, and a grant from the University of Bristol Alumni Fund, all
to cover costs of field work and laboratory geochemical analyses. The GSA award was made in
October 2009, and is reported here.
November 2008 - Bristol MSci student publishes study on fossil whales
Felix Marx, a final-year MSci student in the Department of Earth Sciences has just published his first
paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, a journal of international significance. Felix
looked at the fossil records of whales, seals, and sea cows, and compared the fossil data to the
availability of appropriate rock; he finds evidence for some geological control of the fossil record
signal, but enough of a biological signal emerges to be used for evolutionary studies.
September 2008 - Mass extinctions and the slow rise of the dinosaurs
Dinosaurs survived two mass extinctions and 50 million years before taking over the world and
dominating ecosystems, according to new research published this week. Reporting in Biology
Letters, Steve Brusatte, in his last blast as an MSc student in the Department, together with
colleagues, show that dinosaurs did not proliferate immediately after they originated, but that their rise was
a slow and complicated event, and driven by two mass extinctions.
September 2008 - Bristol MSc student sheds new light on dinosaurian origins
A new study shows that the dinosaurs originated in two steps, and that they did not compete in a straghtforward
way with precursor groups. Steve Brusatte, while an MSc student in the Department, worked with
Mike Benton, Marcello Ruta, and Graeme Lloyd to investigate the disparity and morphospace
occupation, or overall variability, of dinosaurs and their main competitors, the crurotarsans, through the
Late Triassic. The dinosaurs took over some herbivore niches, but then remained at low disparity for
25 million years, before the majority of crurotarsans died out. Read more...
July 2008 - Was it a bird or was it a plane?
Interdisciplinary studies involving Bristol's departments of Earth Sciences and Aerospace
Engineering have given a better understanding of the way that kuehneosaurs - a group of extinct
reptiles - used their ribs to fly. Koen Stein built models and tested them in a wind tunnel whilst
he was studying for an MSc in Palaeobiology in the Department of Earth Sciences.
May 2008 - Former MSc student names the 'Danish blue' parrot
David Waterhouse, who completed the Bristol MSc in 2002, and then went to Dublin to study for his
PhD on fossil parrots, has just described a new parrot, Mopsitta tanta from the Eocene Fur Formation,
some 55 million years old, of Denmark. The paper, in Palaeontology, has attracted
a great deal of interest because of the bizarre concept of a Danish parrot, and obvious parallels with
Monty Python's famous 'dead parrot' sketch, featuring the Norwegian blue parrot who was lying on his
back because he was 'pining for the fjords'. Read more...
February 2008 - Bristol MSc student names two new dinosaurs from North Africa
MSc student Steve Brusatte, and his former supervisor, Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago,
describe two new dinosaurs, Kryptops, the oldest abelisauroid theropod, and
Eocarcharia, the oldest carcharodontosaurid theropod, both from Niger in the Sahara, and both
indicating the origins of their respective groups in Africa and surround lands. Read more...
December 2007 - Bristol MSc student identifies gigantic new dinosaur
Steve Brusatte, who has just completed the Bristol MSc in Palaeobiology,
has described a new species of Carcharodontosaurus, a huge predator from Morocco.
Carcharodontosaurus roamed North Africa 100 million years ago, and it was larger than
Tyrannosaurus rex. Read more...
November 2007 - Bristol MSc student named as 'rising star'
Each year, The Observer newspaper identifies 500 'rising stars', young people they feel
will go far. In the 2007/8 survey, Colin Barras, who completed the MSc in Palaeobiology in 2002, and
then went to Birmingham to complete his PhD, and is now a science writer, was named in the top 50
rising stars in science and innovation. Read more...
June 2006 - Record number of MSc students win PhD places
Most years, about one-third of the MSc in Palaeobiology students obtain PhD positions - of course,
not everyone wants to go this way. By June 2006, ten of the MSc class of 2005-6 had won funded PhD
positions from Cambridge (Harvard, USA) to Cambridge (Cambridge University, UK). Here are some
of the top students of the 2005-6 cohort, shortly before leaving for their new positions.
See the photo enlarged...
School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queen's Road, Bristol,
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