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Department of Earth Sciences


I am a vertebrate palaeontologist interested in the evolutionary history of birds and other amniotes. Our group's research explores the vertebrate fossil record and organismal biology in a phylogenetic framework to explore how and when extant vertebrate diversity has arisen.


I am originally from Calgary, Alberta, studied Zoology at the University of British Columbia, and received a PhD in Geology and Geophysics from Yale University in 2017. I joined the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge in 2018 and joined the University Museum of Zoology in 2021 as the Strickland Curator of Ornithology.


Work in my lab aims to decipher the origins of modern avian biodiversity using fossil, anatomical, and molecular data, although we have deep interests in evolutionary questions across the vertebrate tree of life. Major themes of our research include clarifying how birds survived and diversified following the mass extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, studying the evolutionary histories of major bird groups, and understanding the evolutionary origins of distinctive biological features such as the modern bird skull. 


Key publications: 

Full publication list on Google Scholar:

Selected publications below; lab members in bold

Benito, J.Kuo, P-C., Widrig, K.E., Jagt, J.W.M., Field, D.J. 2022. Cretaceous ornithurine supports a neognathous crown bird ancestor. Nature 612: 100–105.

Chiappe, L.M., Navalón, G., Martinelli, A.G., Nava, W., Field, D.J. 2022. Fossil basicranium clarifies the origin of the avian central nervous system and inner ear. Proceedings of the Royal Society B  289: 20221398.           

Steell, E.M., Nguyen, J., Benson, R.B.J., Field, D.J. 2022. Evolution of the passerine carpometacarpus helps illuminate the early fossil record of crown Passeriformes. Journal of Anatomy. DOI: 10.1111/joa.13761.

Benito, J.Chen, A., Wilson, L.E., Bhullar, B-A.S., Burnham, D., Field, D.J. 2022. Forty new specimens of Ichthyornis provide unprecedented insight into the postcranial morphology of crownward stem group birds. PeerJ 10:e13919.

Demuth, O.E.Benito, J., Tschopp, E., Lautenschlager, S., Mallison, H., Heeb, N., Field, D.J. 2022. Topology-based three-dimensional reconstruction of delicate skeletal fossil remains and the quantification of their taphonomic deformation. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 10:828006. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2022.828006

Widrig, K. & Field, D.J. 2022. The evolution and fossil record of palaeognathous birds (Neornithes: Palaeognathae). Diversity 14(2), 105.

Ducatez, S. & Field, D.J. 2021. Disentangling the avian altricial-precocial spectrum: Quantitative assessment of developmental mode, phylogenetic signal, and dimensionality. Evolution 75(11): 2717-2735.

Brocklehurst, N. & Field, D.J. 2021. Macroevolutionary dynamics of dentition in Mesozoic birds reveal no long-term selection towards tooth loss. iScience 24: 102243.

Field, D.J., Benito, J., Chen, A., Jagt, J.M.W., Ksepka, D.T. 2020. Late Cretaceous neornithine from Europe illuminates the origins of crown birds. Nature 579 397-401.

Saupe, E.E., Farnsworth, A., Lunt, D.J., Sagoo, N., Pham, K.V., Field, D.J. 2019. Climatic shifts drove major contractions in avian latitudinal distributions throughout the Cenozoic. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 201903866; 10.1073/pnas.1903866116.

Oliveros, C.H., Field, D.J., Ksepka, D.T., Barker, F.K., Aleixo, A., Andersen, M.J., Alström, P., Benz, B.W., Braun, E.L., Braun, M.J., et al. 2019. Earth history and the passerine superradiation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 201813206.

Field, D.J., Hanson, M., Burnham, D., Wilson-Brantley, L., Super, K., Ehret, D., Ebersole, E., Bhullar, B.A-S. 2018. Complete Ichthyornis skull illuminates mosaic assembly of the avian head. Nature 557 (96-100). doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0053-y.

Field, D.J., Bercovici, A., Berv, J.S., Dunn, R., Fastovsky, D., Lyson, T.R., Vajda, V., Gauthier, J.A. 2018. Early evolution of modern birds structured by global forest collapse at the end-Cretaceous mass extinction. Current Biology 28(11): 1825-1831.e2.

Field, D.J., Hsiang, A.Y. 2018. A North American stem turaco, and the complex biogeographic history of modern birds. BMC Evolutionary Biology 18:102.

Berv, J.S. & Field, D.J. 2018. Genomic signature of an avian Lilliput Effect across the K-Pg Extinction. Systematic Biology 67(1): 1-13.

Faux, C. & Field, D.J. 2017. Distinct developmental pathways underlie independent losses of flight in ratites. Biology Letters 13(7):20170234.

Field, D.J. 2017. Preliminary paleoecological insights from the Pliocene avifauna of Kanapoi, Kenya: implications for the ecology of Australopithecus anamensis. Journal of Human Evolution.

Prum, R.O., Berv, J.S., Dornburg, A., Field, D.J., Townsend, J.P, Lemmon, E.M., Lemmon, A.R. 2015. A comprehensive phylogeny of birds (Aves) using targeted next generation DNA sequencing. Nature 526: 569-573. doi:10.1038/nature15697. Includes associated News and Views article.

Bever, G.S., Lyson, T.R., Field, D.J., Bhullar B.-A.S. 2015. Evolutionary origin of the turtle skull. Nature 525: 239-242. doi:10.1038/nature14900.

Teaching and Supervisions


I contribute to undergraduate teaching in palaeontology and evolution in the Department of Earth Sciences (School of Physical Sciences) and the Department of Zoology (School of Biological Sciences).

Research supervision: 


2023-25: Dr Olivia Plateau, Swiss Mobility Postdoc

2023-25: Dr Carla du Toit, Newton International Research Fellow

2022-25: Dr Albert Chen, Junior Research Fellow, Christ's College

2022-24: Dr Juan Benito, UKRI Postdoctoral Research Associate

2021-24: Dr Guillermo Navalón, UKRI Postdoctoral Research Associate

2019-23:  Dr Junya Watanabe, Newton International Research Fellow

Current PhD students

2022-: Annabel Hunt

2022-: Grace Burton

2021-: Katrina van Grouw

2020-: Klara Widrig

2020-: Armin Schmitt

2020-: Oliver Demuth

2020-: Pei-Chen Kuo

2019-: Lizzy Steell

2017-22: Albert Chen

2017-22: Juan Benito

Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology
Strickland Curator of Ornithology, Museum of Zoology
Fellow, Christ's College

Contact Details

Email address: 
Department of Earth Sciences
Downing Street
+44 (0) 1223 768329
Takes PhD students


Person keywords: 
Systematics and Phylogenetics
Comparative Morphology
Functional Morphology