UCL Earth Sciences


Joel Heath

“To assess the impact that Earth system processes & environmental change have had on the long-term distribution of biodiversity to predict present-day species responses to climate change"

PhD project title:

The role of tectonics and environment on the distribution of dinosaur diversity

 Project description:

The Mesozoic era (252–66 million years ago) was a significant period in the evolution of Earth and the biosphere. At the beginning of the Mesozoic, the Earth’s continents existed as the single giant supercontinent, Pangaea. By the end of the Mesozoic, continental drift and rising sea levels had fundamentally reshaped the distribution of the Earth’s terrestrial regions, fragmenting and isolating the continents into an assemblage more closely resembling the major landmasses that can be seen today. These drastic changes to the Earth’s geography also had a profound effect on climate throughout the Mesozoic, but the exact implications this has had on the distribution of biodiversity is not yet clear.  

My research focuses on the impact that such global change had on the diversification and distribution of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for most of the Mesozoic, and, with their well-studied, relatively rich fossil record, are the ideal test subjects to study these central themes in biogeography and deep-time evolution. I will combine phylogenetic and fossil occurrence data of Mesozoic dinosaurs with palaeogeographic and palaeoclimate data to determine the biogeographic origin of dinosaurs. I will then evaluate how tectonic and climatic processes influenced dispersal, vicariance, and endemism, as well as rates of speciation and extinction, throughout the group’s evolutionary history. This will allow me to assess the impact that Earth system processes and environmental change have had on the long-term distribution of biodiversity, which is relevant to predicting present-day species responses to climate change and ongoing environmental perturbations.