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“Using a broad-scale cladistic approach to determine the timescale of placental mammal diversification”
PhD project title:
The enigmatic evolutionary relationships of Palaeocene mammals and their relevance to the radiation of Tertiary mammals
After the end-Cretaceous mass extinction that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs, the diversity of mammalian fossils increases hugely. Where previously mammals had mostly occupied arboreal, nocturnal, insectivorous ecological niches, the first large and specialised carnivores, herbivores, and so on are present. These new mammal groups are very unusual, and, since the placental mammal phylogeny was turned on its head in the early 2000s, the relationships between these early mammals and living mammals have been unclear, meaning that any question being asked about evolutionary events around the end-Cretaceous have been forced to ignore the Palaeocene mammals. The first representatives of the extant mammal orders mostly appear in the Eocene, leaving a 10 million year gap.
By taking a large-scale approach and constructing the biggest sample of Palaeocene mammal taxa, I have created a phylogeny which takes into account the crucial 10 million years following the K-Pg boundary. I intend to use this to tackle questions of changing evolutionary rates and disparity in response to the most recent of the great mass extinctions. Thus far, I have published a side-project on the developmental mechanisms of mammal lower molars and my MSc thesis on crocodilian relationships, while my phylogenetic tree is currently being prepared as a manuscript.