Ellen Coombs

Ellen Coombs

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Ellen Coombs

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Start Year

2016 (Cohort 3)

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PhD Project
PhD Title

How does climate effect cetacean diversity? Evidence from the past and present

Research Theme

Evolution and Adaptation

Primary Supervisor
Primary Institution


Secondary Supervisor
Secondary Institution



The cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise) fossil record is remarkably intact making them ideal for macroevolutionary studies. This project aims to address changes in cetacean diversity over time, focusing on the effects of climate change over different temporal scales. Firstly, I will investigate recent (shallow time) changes in taxonomic diversity in relation to climate change and anthropogenic factors. To do this, I will use the UK cetacean strandings record, gathered from 1913 – 2016, to explore shifts in taxonomic diversity, using sampling corrected methods to account for bias in the dataset. I will investigate recent morphological changes in a single cetacean species Phocoena phocoena (the harbour porpoise) to examine shape variation through shallow time. Further, I will use total evidence phylogenies (i.e. including fossils), and palaeotemperature proxies to investigate changes in cetacean diversity through deep time. I will look at fossil cetacean specimens, gathering a 3D morphometric dataset of shape evolution and modularity in extant (Phocoena phocoena) and extinct species to see how cetacean morphological diversity has changed through time. I will consider approaches used in neontology and palaeontology to address bias in both the stranding and fossil record data. My results will have both macroecological and conservation implications.

Policy Impact
Background Reading



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