Evolutionary Developmental Palaeontology
The underlying thread that runs through much of my research is the relationship between evolution and development, with particular reference to the fossil record – in particular the concept of heterochrony. I work on this in a wide range of organisms, but mainly in trilobites and echinoids. I am particularly interested in using the fossil record to examine the role of developmental change in evolution in a number of areas: in evolutionary trends; in the evolution of sexual dimorphism in animals; in human evolution; in the evolution of life history strategies; and in the relationship between developmental change and biotic crises, such as major mass extinctions. I am also undertaking research in palaeoethnology, specifically the archaeology, mythology and folklore of fossil echinoids.
- The role of developmental change in macroevolution; heterochrony in dinosaur evolution; evolution of patterns of segmentation and tagmosis in trilobites, and trying to relate this to changes in the activity of particular developmental gene sequences.
- Patterns of evolution and extinction in trilobites before and after the Frasnian/Famennian mass extinction event, in particular determining whether changes to patterns of ontogenetic development influenced survivorship at high taxonomic levels (with R.Feist).
- A study of the phylogenetic and functional significance of an enigmatic structure in trilobites called the occipital organ, which may be homologous with the dorsal organ in crustaceans (with R. Lerosey-Aubril).
- Diversity, palaeoecology and patterns of gastropod predation in Eocene and Miocene echinoids from southwestern Australia (with S. Martin).
- Biotic responses to mass extinctions in Late Cretaceous serpulid worms from Western Australia, with particular emphasis on phenotypic variation as an indicator of environmental stress prior to the Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary.
- Permian asteroid faunas from Australia, with focus on patterns of heterochrony prior to the Permo-Triassic mass extinction (with A. Gale).
- Completion of a book dealing with the occurrence of echinoids in archaeological sites, and an analysis of their significance in mythology and folklore.
- I am also researching the history of 19th Century fossil collections, with particular emphasis on the personal collection of James Tennant, Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at King’s College, London (with S. Radford).