University of Birmingham
Functional morphology of Oviraptorosauria and the evolution of dietary diversity in theropods
Dr Stephan Lautenschlager (University of Birmingham), Professor Richard Butler (University of Birmingham); Dr Michael Pittman (University of Hong Kong)
I am undertaking a comprehensive biomechanical study on the skulls of oviraptorosaurs, a group of feathered theropod dinosaurs from the Cretaceous of North America and Asia. These animals are characterised by robust, stubby, often toothless beaks which leave the feeding behaviour and ecosystem position of Oviraptorosauria enigmatic due to a lack of other evidence. I will use 3D data to reconstruct and visualise the skulls and musculature of key taxa (e.g. Incisivosaurus, Citipati, Khaan, Gigantoraptor and Anzu) and conduct biomechanical analyses including finite element modelling to test how their skulls may have functioned. The analyses may reveal patterns of change in the form and function of the skull and lower jaw through the group Oviraptorosauria and whether different skull modifications can be linked as adaptations to specific diets (durophagy, insectivory, herbivory). Ultimately, this may reveal a picture of how complex dietary diversity patterns were in Oviraptorosauria and in other derived theropod groups throughout millions of years. Insight from this may be applied to interpret trends in feeding behaviour in other important extinct and extant taxa and ecosystems.
What inspires you
My interest in the natural world has been strong for as long as I can remember and palaeontology has always been a passion for me. I find anything that encompasses a sense of discovery and exploration very exciting. Science is the embodiment of this and I find the glimpse that fossils give us into the extraordinary diversity of Earth’s past to be fascinating.
I completed a four year MSci degree in Palaeobiology and Palaeoenvironments at the University of Birmingham. My experience in undergraduate research included a Palaeontological Association undergraduate research bursary focusing on a revision of tetrapod footprints from the late Carboniferous of Birmingham; the 3D reconstruction and imaging of a primitive seed from the early Carboniferous of Scotland for my third-year project; and a description of dicynodont skulls from the Late Permian of Zambia using 3D reconstruction based on CT data as my fourth-year final research.
Why did you choose doctoral research?
I very much enjoyed the independence and self-motivation of the research I performed at undergraduate level. My experience allowed me to acquire technical skills while increasing and directing my interests within palaeontology. I wanted to take research further and carry on learning while becoming a more independent researcher in a field I am very passionate about.
Why did you choose CENTA?
The project and supervisory team were a perfect match for my interests. CENTA also offered the benefits of funding, extensive multidisciplinary training, and the opportunity to be part of a cohort of PhD students working throughout the environmental sciences.
I expect this PhD studentship will prepare me very well for future research by allowing me to learn technical skills and develop more independence and a proven research record. I would like to continue pursuing research in the field of palaeontology in a post-doctoral position.