"Tracing the evolution of niche marine ecosystems through the fossil record.”
PhD project title:
The influence of large vertebrate nekton falls on marine biodiversity and evolution.
My research interests lie in the concurrent evolution of vertebrate and invertebrate organisms in complex niche ecologies. The benthic ecologies I am examining are the highly specialized invertebrate assemblages associated with fossil marine reptile deadfalls and whalefalls in the fossil record and today. The biological diversity observed in both modern and fossil examples is unique to these systems. I am examining the evidence available in the fossil record and collections databases to compare Mesozoic (marine reptile) and Cenozoic (cetacean) influences on the evolution of these niche biotic assemblages.
I will be identifying chemoautotrophic invertebrates associated with large vertebrate fossils by going through museum collections to find examples of diverse invertebrate assemblages preserved alongside the marine tetrapod material and using petrographic and geochemical methods to determine the presence of sulphur reduction by invertebrate organisms and identify instances of fossil deadfalls and whalefalls.
Recording and identifying the invertebrate ecosystems associated with these fossils will help to determine the differences in interactions between vertebrate and invertebrate organisms between the Mesozoic and Cenozoic and the implications for the evolution of marine food webs through deep time.