Giants and dwarfs: body size, climate and extinction

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Primary Supervisor:

Richard Twitchett

Earth Sciences Department, NHM

Richard Twitchett's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Bridget Wade

Earth Sciences, UCL

Bridget Wade's Profile Picture

Project Description:

This project focuses on examining the dynamics of size change in fossil marine organisms (macrofossils and/or microfossils) during environmental perturbations, particularly focusing on mass extinctions and episodes of climate change. It has long been recognized that the survivors of mass extinction events are smaller in size (the so-called Lilliput effect). This reduction in body size suggests an adaptive response to less favourable environmental conditions. A reduction in the size of marine animals is also a predicted consequence of present-day global warming, with implications for ecosystem function and productivity. Further detailed quantitative morphometric analyses, on expanded sedimentary sequences, are needed to establish the causes and consequences of size trends associated with extinction events. New digital morphometric techniques are now available that allow rapid documentation of size trends in multiple specimens throughout their ontogeny, which can then be compared with geochemical proxies of environmental change. Key lineages will be analyzed to document stratigraphic size trends at a variety of trophic levels in ancient marine ecosystems.

The student will be provided with a wide range of training including 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 the NHM and 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 biotic response to environmental stress and has implications for size changes in the modern oceans in response to climatic change.

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