University of Leicester
Ecological drivers and evolutionary patterns: diet, feeding, evolution and extinction in conodonts
Prof. Mark Purnell (University of Leicester), Dr. Tom Harvey (University of Leicester), Dr. Duncan Murdock (Oxford University Museum of Natural History), Prof. Phil Donoghue (University of Bristol)
Conodont elements represent the most complete fossil record throughout the Palaeozoic and Triassic but have been relatively understudied. By utilizing new techniques, I will investigate micro-wear on conodont dentition so as to assess their diet, trophic niche and feeding mechanism. By analysing conodont tooth function and diet I will investigate relationships between ecology, diversity and evolutionary patterns. As a result, differences in extinction risk and diversification between ecologies can be understood. This can be used to assess ecosystem responses to mass extinction events and throughout other periods of deep time, providing a proxy for modelling living biodiversity’s responses to climate change.
What inspires you
Growing up not far from London, regular family visits to the Natural History Museum first sparked my interest in the natural world. Through the influence of David Attenborough and other documentaries I moved away from my love of fossils to focus on modern biodiversity and ecosystems. However, my brothers focus on Earth Sciences and holidays to areas of geological interest kept me fascinated by the natural world within deep time. A culmination of these experiences and my studies have inspired my interest in the natural world.
Prior to my PhD I trained as an macroevolutionary biologist and ecologist at Imperial College London within my Biological Sciences BSc. Whilst focusing in my course on contemporary ecosystems, I recognised the importance of assessing extinct ecosystems throughout deep time and comparing them to those in the modern. As a result, I devoted my holidays to undertaking research projects with different labs around London in order to familiarise myself with fossil data and its limitations. I then moved to the University of Bristol and completed the MSc Palaeobiology course, furthering my knowledge and practical experience of analysing big palaeobiological datasets. My thesis formed the first assemblage level palaeo-colour reconstruction, investigating the pigmentation patterns of the Bolca fishes and their collective ecology. This compounded my desire to further research the palaeoecology of other extinct systems and their responses to stress events documented throughout deep time.
Why did you choose doctoral research?
I decided to undertake Doctoral Research for a number of reasons. It presents an opportunity to perform scientific research for an extended time in an area which excites me and that I consider to be of great importance. The focus on skill development will allow me to further enhance my ability to tackle big questions in the research career I want to pursue. Furthermore, acting as a demonstrator as part of my role at the University of Leicester will build on my previous teaching experience but at a higher academic level.
Why did you choose CENTA?
CENTA place a focus on the development of key skills outside of those traditionally offered within Doctoral Training Programmes. This, as well as their institutional collaboration, will provide me with the ability to better communicate science and engage a range of different audiences. As a researcher keen on explaining the value of palaeobiological studies to the public, a CENTA studentship is the perfect for me to develop into the scientist that I want to become.
I want to pursue a research career and teach at the university level. The development of a strong core skill set through a CENTA studentship will best enable me to do so. This skillset will also be transferrable if my career plans change.