Development of life

Fossil. Photo.

As far as we are aware, our planet is unique within the surrounding universe in sustaining life. In the field of animal evolution we focus on understanding the twists and turns life has taken in order to adapt to changes in their environment. We do this by combining traditional studies on fossils and modern biological methods. The impacts of major biological events and environmental phenomena are of paramount interest, especially what happened during the so called Cambrian Explosion – a time more than 500 million years ago when many of the animals that we know today suddenly seem to appear. Other important topics include the mid-Cretaceous rise of modern animal groups, studies on the animal extinctions taking place at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary (approximately 65 million years ago) and the more recent changes in the biodiversity.

Within micropalaeontology, the Department of Earth Sciences investigates how and when the single-celled organisms appear and how they have evolved through time. Microorganisms are found everywhere from the deep-sea to the mountain tops and even inside the rocks themselves. Today, the very same microorganisms regulate much of our own existence, for example by producing much of the oxygen we breathe or by breaking down and recycling organic matter. At the Department of Earth Sciences we work towards understanding the origins and evolution of some of these single-celled organisms with particular focus on their relationships with global climate. The historical scope of this work is vast, spanning billions of years but with special emphasis on the last 600 million years of evolution of marine algae. This covers for example the end-Proterozoic 'Snowball Earth' (some 635 million years ago), to the impacts of climatic oscillations on marine productivity from the Palaeogene to the present day.

Our Research Programmes

Education at the Department