The Palaeobiology and Biodiversity Research Group (PBRG) in Bristol uses the fossil
record to study the history of life and how ancient organisms lived.
This is a page containing older news stories, from 2003-2013.
| Older news from the Palaeontology Research Group
| || 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
| || 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
| || 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
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
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 -
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
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
| || 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 -
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
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
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
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
| || 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 |
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
| || 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
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
| || August 2011 - Getting inside the mind (and up the nose) of our ancient
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
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
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
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 |
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
| || 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
| || 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 |
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
| || 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
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
| || 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
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 |
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
| || 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
| || 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.
| || December 2009 - Another bumper year for publications by Bristol
The Bristol Palaeobiology & Biodiversity Research Group
published 64 papers in refereed scientific journals throughout 2009, of which 11 were by
current and former MSc and MSci
students, 17 percent of the group total. This high total emphasizes the groups efforts
to encourage trainee researchers to excel. Themes range from plankton to dinosaurs, Red
Queen to biomechanics. In addition, members of the group published two books, including
the major new textbook, Introduction to Paleobiology and the
Fossil Record, and other review and popular articles. Read more...
| ||December 2009 - New research resolves mystery about pterosaur flight|
the pterosaurian pteroid point forward or inward? The pteroid is a modified wrist bone
that had a role in supporting the propatagium, the front wing segment. A new study by
Colin Palmer, a PhD student in the Department, and Gareth Dyke, a Senior Lecturer at
University College Dublin (and a former Bristol student), using numerical modelling and
aerodynamic calculations, shows that the pteroid could not have pointed forward, and that
it had a more subtle role in varying the dimensions of the propatagium. 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, who will work to extract the bones from the rock, and an Education Officer,
who will coordinate engagement activities with the citizens of Bristol and region, both
young and old. This substantial funding reflects the success of this educational and
engagement project over the past ten years, and its promise for the future. Read more...
| ||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 armoured 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. Read more...
| ||September 2009 - More than 1100 vertebrate palaeontologists in Bristol|
1,100 paleontologists from all over the world arrived in Bristol this week for an
international conference. For the first time since its foundation in 1940, the Society of
Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) is holding its annual meeting outside the Americas. The meeting was widely
reported in the press, as was the inspirational lecture by Sir David
Attenborough about Wallace, Darwin, and the birds of paradise. Hot topic of the week was
of the new Jurassic dinosaur Anchiornis, the oldest feathered animal yet reported,
5 to 10 million years older than Archaeopteryx.
| ||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.
Work by Dr Simon Braddy and James Lamsdell from Bristol,and colleague Dr Erik Tetlie from
Norway, is published in the journal Palaeontology. Read
| ||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. Read more...
| ||September 2009 - No universal driver for plankton evolution|
During his MSc,
Palaeobiology student Ben Kotrc 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 in PNAS, show that both competition with other
organisms and long term climatic changes influence evolutionary change in radiolarians. Read more...
| ||July 2009 - Glimpses of a distant past|
An international team of 14
vertebrate palaeontologists (from Australia, England, France, Germany, India, Italy,
Japan, Morocco, and Slovak Republic) have joined forces to publish state-of-the-art
research on various groups of Palaeozoic and Mesozoic limbed vertebrates in a volume
co-edited by Dr Marcello Ruta. These include the first land animals, and help us document
the important transition from fins to limbs. Read more...
| ||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. Read more...
| ||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. Read more...
| ||May 2009 - Fossil magnetism and the end-Permian mass extinction|
major extinction events real biological catastrophes or were they merely the result of
gaps in the fossil record? Research by a team of geologists from the Universities of
Bristol, Plymouth, and Saratov State in Russia, has shed new light on the debate. A
supposed gap in the Russian latest Permian red beds, just below the Permo-Triassic
boundary, is much smaller than had been thought, and so the sediments provide a relatively
complete picture of the sequence of events. Read more...
| ||February 2009 - Evolution: the Red Queen
or the Court Jester?|
Evolution may be dominated by biotic factors,
(sometimes called the 'Red Queen' view of evolution, after the Red Queen in Alice
through the Looking-Glass), or abiotic factors, as in the Court Jester model, or a
mixture of both. In a review article in the journal Science this week, Mike Benton
argues that viewed close up, evolution is all about biotic interactions in ecosystems (the
Red Queen model), but when seen from further away, the large patterns of biodiversity are
driven by the physical environment (the Court Jester model). Read more...
| ||November 2008 - The fossil record of
whales, and other marine mammals|
Felix Marx, a fourth year 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. Read more...
| ||October 2008 - Major new book on the natural
In a new book, published this month, leading scientists from around
the world explore 'Seventy Mysteries of the Natural World'. The book, edited by Mike
Benton, and with contribution from himself, Phil Donoghue, and others in Bristol, consists
of 304 lavishly illustrated pages on major themes of current research on origins, the
Earth, evolution, plants & animals, geographic distributions, animal behaviour, and
climate change the future. The book is available in US, UK, German, and Dutch editions so
far. Book details for people in the UK and in North America. Sample
text here . The
editor rambles on about the book here.
| ||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, Professor Michael Benton, and colleagues at the
University of Bristol 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
| ||September 2008 - What's in a [dinosaur] name?|
A new species of dinosaur is
named somewhere in the world every two weeks. But are they all new species, or do the
newly-discovered bones really belong to a dinosaur already identified? Recent studies on
dinosaurs have shown that the error rate may be as high as 50 per cent. But new work by
Mike Benton shows that things may be improving - most dinosaurs are now named from
more-or-less complete skeletons, whereas, before 1960, most were named from isolated
pieces - and so the risk of making a mistake was much higher. The work is published today
in Biology Letters. Read more...
| ||September 2008 - First numerical study of 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...
| ||September 2008 -
Global warming wiped
out the first rainforests|
Addressing the British Association's Festival of
Science in Liverpool this week, Dr Howard Falcon Lang talked how about global warming led
to the demise of the first rainforests 300 million years ago and what that might mean for
the future of rainforests on our planet. Read the BBC report and interview and further details.
| ||July 2008 - Dinosaurs were running out of steam...|
A new numerical
study by palaeontologists in Bristol, and elsewhere, shows that dinosaurs did not
participate in the Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution, the time 120-100 million
years ago, when flowering plants, insects, and vertebrates were evolving explosively. In
the study, a new supertree of dinsoaurs was tested numerically to establish times of
unusually high rates of diversification: dinosaurs had done all their evolving in the
Triassic and Early Jurassic. Read more..., and see the details
| || July 2008 - Was it a bird or was it a plane? |
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. Read more...
| || May 2008 - Two elite new research fellowships for Bristol
The Department of Earth Sciences has secured three
prestigious Advanced Research Fellowships worth a total of £1.7 million in the
National Environment Research Council's (NERC) latest funding round. Two of the three new
research fellows are palaeontologists, Dr Howard Falcon-Lang and Dr Marcello Ruta. Each
year, NERC generally award seven or eight Advanced Research Fellowships, so Bristol has
done remarkably well to secure three of the national quota. The Fellowships will support
Falcon-Lang's work on Carboniferous palaeoclimates and Ruta's research on the evolutionary
dynamics of tetrapods. The Fellowships each lasts for five years. Read more...
| || May 2008 - New fossil bird
from China |
In a collaboration with researchers from the Institute of
Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, the remarkable new fossil bird
Eoconfuciusornis zhengi has just been named from the Dabeigou Formation of Liaoning
Province, China. In an article in Science in China, D: Earth Sciences, the
authors, Dr Zhang Fucheng, who was a postdoctoral fellow in Bristol when he did the work,
together with Professor Zhou Zhonghe of the IVPP and Professor Michael Benton of Bristol,
show that Eoconfuciusornis is an important link in our understanding of the
evolution of flight, between the older Archaeopteryx and the younger
confuciusornithids. Read more...
| || April 2008 - Professor Mike
Benton elected to elite Fellowship |
Mike Benton, Professor of Vertebrate
Palaeontology, has been elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh - a
recognition of academic excellence. Read more
| || || April 2008 - New edition of book on the Earth's greatest mass extinction |
The greatest mass extinction of all time occurred 251 million years ago, at the end of the
Permian period. In this cataclysm, at least ninety per cent of life was destroyed, both on
land, including sabre-toothed reptiles and their rhinoceros-sized prey, and in the sea.
Michael Benton's book about this catastrophe "When Life Nearly Died: the
greatest mass extinction of all time" has been published in paperback
this week. Read more..., and find out more about the book here.
| || February 2008 - Bristol MSc student names two new dinosaurs from North
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...
| || February 2008 - Evolving complexity out of 'junk DNA' |
Phil Donoghue is
co-author on a study that shows how 'junk DNA' may provide clues about the origin
multicelled animals. New analyses of the DNA of living fishes and their spineless
relatives such as the seq squirts shows that vertebrates have a whole array of new genes,
especially micro RNAs, that were key to the development of new organ systems. Read more...
| || January 2008 - Recovering from the largest mass extinction of all time |
largest mass extinction of time, at the end of the Permian 25 million years ago, wiped out
most of life. So far, researchers have observed that life seemed to recover quite
rapidly: in individual faunas, species numbers were restored sometimes in 1-5 million
years. A new ecological study by Sarda Sahney and Mike Benton shows, however, that full
ecosystem complexity took at least 30 million years to recover. Read more...
| || January 2008 - Working out the mechanics of the crocodile-skulled
An unusual British dinosaur, Baryonyx, has been shown to
have a skull that functioned like a fish-eating crocodile. It also possessed two huge hand
claws, perhaps used as grappling hooks to lift fish from the water. Emily Rayfield used
finite element analysis to assess stresses and strains in the unusual long narrow snout of
the spinosaurids to assess different postulated feeding functions. Read more...
| || January 2008 - Pygmy dinosaur inhabited Bristol's tropical islands|
Whiteside and John Marshall, who both completed PhDs in the Department in the 1980s, have
come back to retread their old haunts. In combined work, they have re-studied the
Tytherington fissures, Late Triassic fossil- bearing sediments from ancient cave systems.
They confirm the age of these cave systems from the rich palynoflora, and that the Bristol
dinosaur, Thecodontosaurus lived on a system of subtropical islands. Read more...
| || December 2007 - Bristol MSc student identifies gigantic new dinosaur |
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 -
Giant fossil sea
A 390 million year old claw is shown to belong to an ancient
arthropod that was two and a half metres long. The claw, measuring 46 centimetres was
found in the Devonian of Germany, and has been identified as coming from the eurypterid
Jaekelopterus, and is described this week by Simon Braddy and Markus Poschmann...
| || October 2007 - Bristol palaeontologist
discovers earliest evidence for reptiles |
A new find of fossil footprints
from the Mid Carboniferous of Nova Scotia has pushed the date of origin of reptiles back a
few million years. The new footprints, described by Howard Falcon-Lang and Mike Benton
from the Department of Earth Sciences show features characteristic of reptiles, rather
than amphibians... Read more...
| || April 2007 - Earth's first rainforest
is unearthed |
A spectacular fossilised forest has transformed our
understanding of the ecology of the Earth's first rainforests. The 300-million-year-old
forest is composed of a bizarre mixture of extinct plants: abundant club mosses, more than
40 metres high, towering over a sub-canopy of tree ferns, intermixed with shrubs and
tree-sized horsetails. Read more...
| || January 2007 -
New protocol for dating the tree of
Mike Benton and Phil Donoghue present a new protocol for dating the
tree of life in a paper just published in Molecular Biology and Evolution. In
this, they argue that fossils can provide only minimum constraints on the ages of
branching points in the trees, and maximum constraints are less well defined. Modern
algorithms can cope with such hard minimum constraints and soft maximum constraints, and
in the end produce more reliable dates. Mike and Phil present detailed evidence for
fossil-based calibration dates, as well as some key dates for use in dating molecular
trees. Read more...
| || October 2006 -
Dani Schmidt is awarded a Royal Society research fellowship |
Dr Dani Schmidt, currently in the Department as a NERC Research Fellow, has just been
awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship (URF). This highly prestigious post
gives her at least five years of funded research on a wide range of themes. She works on
the evolution of Foraminifera through the past 100 million years, and the evidence they
offer about high-resolution aspects of climate change in deep time. A particular interest
is the application of calcareous microfossils in studies of the impacts of climate change,
especially through ocean acidification. Read more about Dani...
| || August 2006 -
Bristol palaeontologists reconstruct ancient embryos using microscopic
Detailed images of embryos more than 500 million years old have
been revealed by an international team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol's
Dr Phil Donoghue. This week the journal Nature published pictures revealing the developmental stages of
fossilised embryos, using synchrotron-radiation X-ray tomographic microscopy. In one
instance this has exposed the internal anatomy of the mouth and anus of a close relative
of the living penis worm. Another case has revealed a unique pattern for making embryonic
worm segments, not seen in any animals living today. Read more...
| || October 2005 - Dinosaur expert, Emily Rayfield, joins Bristol Palaeontology Research
Dr. Rayfield is interested in the biomechanics and evolution of
dinosaur skulls. She researches the application of engineering analysis to questions of
morphological function and evolution in living and extinct organisms. She uses laser and
computed tomography (CT) scanning techniques to reconstruct 3D models of dinosaur skulls
and other fossils, and has pioneered ways to turn these scans into engineering models that
may be subjected to stress and strain, as a means of understanding their construction and
function. Read more...
| || January 2005 - Mike Benton publishes third edition of Vertebrate
Vertebrate Palaeontology is a complete,
up-to-date history of the evolution of vertebrates. The third edition of this popular text
has been extensively revised to incorporate the latest research, including new material
from North and South America, Australia, Europe, China, Africa and Russia. A special
feature is the detailed account of modern methods used by palaeontologists, from field to
functional analysis. The first edition was published in 1990, and the second in 1997, and
the book has been translated into German, Portuguese, and Italian. Read more...
| ||May 2004 - Fossil trees help understand
A unique assemblage of giant fossil trees has been found in
300-million-year-old rocks by Bristol palaeontologist, Dr Howard Falcon-Lang. The 45m tall
fossilised trees are the oldest upland forests ever found. The timing of upland 'greening'
has major implications for understanding global temperatures in the past, and will help
refine models of present-day climate change. The fossil trees were alive at a time when
North America and Europe lay together on the equator and were covered by steamy tropical
rainforests - the remains of which occur today as vast coal deposits. Read more...
| || January 2004 - 500-million-year old fossil
embryos from China|
Evidence from fossilised embryos of worm-like creatures
that lived 500 million years ago shows that embryos developed then in much the same way as
their living relatives do today. The implications of this remarkable discovery, reported
in this week's issue of Nature, are that embryological processes that occur today
must have been established very early on in the evolution of animals. Read more...
| || || May 2003 - When Life
Nearly Died: a new book by Mike Benton |
The topic of the book is the
end-Permian extinction, an event less known to the average reader but of far greater
impact than that of the KT boundary extinction of the dinosaurs. The Permian devastation
left the planet with only 4-10% of its previous species. It was a bottleneck of major
consequence for subsequent biodiversity. The book provides a historical survey of key
geologists and thinkers, and charts changing opinion on this, the greatest mass extinction
of all time. Read More...