University of Leicester
Dining after the dinosaurs? Dietary diversity and niche partitioning in Palaeocene mammals
- Professor Mark A Purnell, University of Leicester
- Professor Stephen Brusatte, University of Edinburgh
- Dr Thomas Williamson, New Mexico Museum of Natural History
- Professor Sarah E Gabbott, University of Leicester
We (my supervisors and I) are interested in how mammal diversity was impacted by the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous, particularly their diets and how they evolved through time. To measure this, we’ll be using dental microwear texture analysis (DMTA), a powerful statistical approach. This enables us to quantify the characteristics of wear on tooth enamel surfaces, and, based on these, infer diet. Using data from modern ecological analogues for comparison, we can reconstruct the dietary preferences of ancient mammals and study how these changed over time.
The species I will be working with are from the Nacimiento Formation of the San Juan Basin, New Mexico. An early Palaeocene locality close to the end-Cretaceous in age.
Before starting my PhD at the University of Leicester I did my undergrad in Bristol, studying Palaeontology & Evolution at the University of Bristol between 2017-2021. There, I decided to specialize as an evolutionary palaeobiologist since I am mainly interested in questions regarding the evolution of biological forms and their functions. As such, I decided to investigate the form-function link between bird beak shape and nest-building behaviours (structure and location) across ~6,300 species for my master’s research project. Prior to starting my PhD, I worked as a researcher at the University of Bristol for six months.
Why did you choose doctoral research?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to pursue a career in research. After graduating, undertaking doctoral research seemed like the logical next step towards achieving this goal, as well as doubling as a litmus test for whether this would end up being the correct career path for me.
Why did you choose CENTA?
I was interested by CENTA’s multi-disciplinary training programme and funded work placement, as well as their commitment to building an interdisciplinary cohort.
Currently, I plan on pursuing a career in in research. So, if after four years that is still my goal, the doctoral research I will have undertaken as part of my CENTA training will have been instrumental in providing me with the knowledge, skills and experience necessary for continuing on this path.
However, if I’ve changed my mind by then, then I’m sure I’ll remain a highly competitive candidate regardless. Since, due to the multi-disciplinary nature of the training provided, many of the skills I will have developed will be highly transferable, not just across disciplines, but also sectors.