skip to content

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 as a University Lecturer in 2018, received a UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship in 2019, and joined the University Museum of Zoology in 2021.


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. In 2020 we revealed the discovery of the "Wonderchicken", Asteriornis, the oldest-known modern bird fossil and an early relative of the group that gave rise to living chickens and ducks. 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:

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. Includes associated News and Views article.

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. *Co-lead authors.

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. [Cover]

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. *co-first authors; includes associated News and Views article.

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. [Cover]

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. *co-first authors. [Cover; Winner of the Society of Systematic Biologists Publisher’s Award]

Field, D.J. 2018. Endless skulls most beautiful. (Commentary). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115(3): 448-450. doi:10.1073/pnas.1721208115.

Faux, C.* & Field, D.J.* 2017. Distinct developmental pathways underlie independent losses of flight in ratites. Biology Letters 13(7):20170234. *co-first authors. [Cover]

Field, D.J. 2017. Big-time insights from a tiny bird fossil (Commentary). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(30): 7750-7752. doi:10/1073/pnas.1710941114.

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). I am Director of Studies in Earth Sciences at Christ's College.

Research supervision: 


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

2020-21: Dr Simon Ducatez, UKRI Postdoctoral Research Associate

2021-23: Dr Guillermo Navalón, UKRI Postdoctoral Research Associate

2021-22: Dr Neil Brocklehurst, UKRI Postdoctoral Research Associate

Current PhD students

2020-:    Klara Widrig

2020:-    Armin Schmitt

2020-:   Oliver Demuth

2020-:    Pei-Chen Kuo

2019-:    Lizzy Steell

2017-:    Albert Chen

2017-:    Juan Benito

Current master's students

2020-:    Grace Burton

2020-:    Zi Chew

Assistant Professor in Vertebrate Palaeontology
Fellow & Director of Studies in Earth Sciences, Christ's College
Curator of Ornithology, University of Cambridge Museum of Zoology

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