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Department of Zoology


My research investigates the role of ecological processes on evolution through deep-time, from the first animal communities of the Ediacaran, to the present. The first animal communities are found in the Ediacaran time period, 580 million years ago, which consisted of sessile benthic organisms that lived in the deep-sea.  Therefore, to understand the drivers of early animal evolution, I study a wide range of different benthic communities from the fossil record and in the modern Antarctic and deep-sea.  To collect fossil data in the field, I use novel field-based laser-scanning techniques from aerospace to digitally capture entire rock surfaces.  My work on modern systems uses data collected using AOV and ROVs to create 3D digital models.  Through the application of statistical and mathematical ecology to the fossil and modern benthic communities, I reconstruct how species interact with each other and their environment, and what the driving factors behind these interactions are.  These results then feed into theoretical models to explore how these relationships influence macro-evolutionary patterns over the last 580 million years.   

My work also involves trying to understand what evolution may look like on other planets. To understand the nature of life outside the Earth, it is crucial to understand what the “null models” of evolution are – given a set of abiotic parameters, such as temperature or oxygen levels, how does evolution proceed, and how may it be different elsewhere – if we find life on an exoplanet with a similar planetary configuration as earth, and a similar age, will there be humans? 



  • Ecology and evolution of of early animals
  • Marine ecology through deep-time
  • Antarctic ecology and ecosystem resilience
  • The evolution of life in the Universe



Key publications: 

Eden R, Manica A, Mitchell EG. Metacommunity analyses show an increase in ecological specialisation throughout the Ediacaran period. PLoS Biology. 2022 May 17;20(5):e3001289.

Mitchell, EG., Whittle RJ, and Griffiths HJ. 2020 Benthic ecosystem cascade effects in Antarctica using Bayesian network inferenceCommunications biology 3: 1-7.

Mitchell EG, Bobkov N, Bykova N, Dhungana A, Kolesnikov AV, Hogarth IR, Liu AG, Mustill TM, Sozonov N, Rogov VI, Xiao S Grazhdankin DV. 2020 The influence of environmental setting on the community ecology of Ediacaran organisms. Interface Focus 10:4

Mitchell EG, Harris S, Kenchington CG, Vixseboxse P, Roberts L, Clark C, Dennis A, Liu AG, Wilby PR. 2019. The relative influence of niche versus neutral processes on Ediacaran organisms.  Ecology Letters

Mitchell EG, and Kenchington, CG. 2018 The utility of height for Ediacaran organisms, Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2(8),1218-1222.

Mitchell EG, Kenchington, CG, Liu, G, Matthews, JJ and Butterfield, NJ. 2015 Reconstructing the reproductive mode of an Ediacaran macro-organism. Nature (524) 343–346

NERC Independent Research Fellow
Assistant Professor
Curator of Invertebrates incorporating the Watson Curator of Malacology
Co-director of the Leverhulme Centre for Life in the Universe
Dr Emily Mitchell

Contact Details

Accepting applications for PhD students.