Size control on extinction dynamics in Cenozoic planktonic foraminifera

This project is available from the academic year 2020/21 onwards.

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Primary Supervisor:

Bridget Wade

Earth Sciences, UCL

Bridget Wade's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Andy Purvis

Life Sciences Department, NHM

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Project Description:

This project focuses on the dynamics of extinction with the aim of documenting changes in size preceding extinction events. Planktonic foraminifera have many characteristics considered ideal for evolutionary studies – morphologically distinct, diverse, rapidly-evolving, highly abundant, often globally distributed and high preservation potential. It has long been recognized that the survivors of mass extinction events are smaller in size. However, more recently Wade and Olsson (2009) documented a decrease in specimen size in several species of planktonic foraminifera prior to extinction, a phenomenon they termed ‘pre-extinction dwarfing’. The reduction in species’ size 2-20 kyr before extinction suggests an adaptive response to less favourable environmental conditions. Further detailed quantitative morphometric analyses, on expanded sedimentary sequences are needed to establish size related trends associated with extinction in the pelagic realm and to fully capture size changes on thousand-year timescales. Key lineages will be analyzed using morphometric techniques to document stratigraphic variation in size and shape. Stable isotope analyses will determine whether changes in size were linked with climatic change and/or variations in water column structure.

Analyses will be conducted in the new micropalaeontology laboratory at UCL which is equipped with multiple microscopes with image capture facilities. The student will be provided with a wide range of training including planktonic foraminiferal taxonomy, stratigraphy, morphometric analyses and scanning electron microscopy. In addition, the student will have the opportunity to undertake a variety of postgraduate training workshops at UCL and will be encouraged to present their research at relevant UK and overseas conferences.

Policy Impact of Research:

This project will provide fundamental insights into plankton response to environmental stress and has implications for size changes in the modern oceans in response to climatic change.

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