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Department of Zoology

Fossil and hammer

Palaeobiology examines the fossil record to investigate evolution and ecology throughout the history of life on Earth, determining how the past has shaped present-day biodiversity. We use anatomical, developmental and ecological data from museum and field specimens in order to  investigate how extinct organisms lived, and how evolution works.

Our research interests cover the evolution of life on Earth over the last 600 million years, examining the emergence and evolution of key animal groups throughout the tree of life, from the first animals, through the origins and diversification of vertebrate groups including reptiles, birds and mammals.

We are particularly interested in how organisms have interacted with their environments through time, and the extent to which these environmental interactions have driven major evolutionary transitions and the emergence of key groups of animals.

We make extensive use of specimens contained in natural history museums (notably the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge), and discoveries from our fieldwork around the world. 

These specimens form the foundation of our work, and we apply the latest visualisation techniques, like laser and CT scanning, to generate detailed anatomical observations. These are coupled with quantitative analyses that allow us to investigate evolutionary changes over geological timescales.

Our Research Groups

Vertebrate Evolution Group

Jason Head - We combine data from fossils and modern species to deduce the evolutionary and ecological histories of vertebrates over 380 million years, to examine the influences of environmental change and the evolution of anatomies

Mammal Evolution and Morphology Group

Robert Asher - Studies the evolution and development of vertebrates, particularly the systematics of mammals.

Field Palaeobiology Group 

Daniel Field - We aim to decipher the origins of avian biodiversity using fossil, anatomical, and molecular data.

Deep-time Ecology Group

Emily Mitchell - Investigates how ecology impacts evolution through deep-time from the origins of animals to the present.