skip to primary navigationskip to content
 

Dr David Norman

Dr David Norman

Reader & Curator of the Sedgwick Museum

Graduate Tutor

Director of Studies

Palaeobiology, vertebrates, systematics & phylogenetics, evolution, functional morphology, comparative anatomy and history of science

David Norman is accepting applications for PhD students.

David Norman is available for consultancy.

N300 - Earth Sciences, Downing Street (CB2 3EQ)
B4 - Christ's College, St Andrew's Street (CB2 3BU)

CB2 3EQ
Office Phone: +44 (0) 1223 333426

Biography:

Undergraduate degree (Leeds University), Postgraduate degree (King's College London & The Natural History Museum). Royal Society Postdoctoral Fellowship (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels). Lecturer in Biological Sciences (Queen Mary College London). Departmental Lecturer in Zoology (Oxford University) & College Lecturer (Brasenose College Oxford). Head of Palaeontology Division, The Nature Conservancy Council, GB. Director, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. Asher Tunis Distinguished Research Fellow, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. Odell Fellow, Christ's College Cambridge. University Reader in Vertebrate Palaeobiology.

Research Interests

Vertebrate Palaeobiology

equijubus normani

 

Iguanodontian Evolution

The skull pictured is that of the remarkably well-preserved dinosaur (Equijubus normani) that was collected in Inner Mongolia. Its cranial anatomy is remarkably similar to taxa such as Iguanodon and its near relatives (long-studied from material collected in Britain and Europe). Equijubus simply adds further detail to our understanding of the richness, variety and geographic distribution of iguanodontian dinosaurs during the tectonically and geographically dynamic 'middle' Cretaceous Period. My research has been exploring the distribution and evolutionary history of these basal iguanodontians in relation to the origin of their descendants: the hadrosaurian ('duckbilled') dinosaurs of the Late Cretaceous Period (Norman 2014, 2015). Discerning the degree of relationship between such widely distributed iguanodontian taxa, the pattern in which they seem to acquire duck-bill-like anatomical characters as well as their stratigraphic ranges, is central to the development of an understanding of the factors (local, environmental, geophysical) that influenced the evolutionary history of the group as a whole.

This aspect of my work focuses upon exploring the factors that affected iguanodontian diversity during the Mesozoic by integrating systematics, anatomy, functional morphology, implied physiology, ecology and geology within an overall phylogenetic picture.

Iguanodon and its congeners

For nearly two centuries the name Iguanodon has signified a type of dinosaur that is iconic in a number of respects: it was one of the three founding members of Richard Owen's "Dinosauria"; it is the 'classic' Wealden dinosaur and it appears on the coat of arms of the town of Maidstone in Kent; it has a concrete effigy at Crystal Palace Park in London. In the 1870s dozens of near-complete skeletons of this animal were discovered in Belgium and are now displayed in Brussels and casts of one skeleton are on display in most of the major museums around the world, so we understand the dinosaur very well ... or so one might suppose. My recent research has shown that "Iguanodon" can no longer be considered to be just one genus from SE England. The Wealden represents a long span of time and Iguanodon-like dinosaur remains have been discovered throughout this time period: do they all pertain to the same animal? The simple answer is: No! Recent publications have demonstrated the existence of at least four distinct genera of Iguanodon-like animals: Iguanodon, Mantellisaurus, Barilium and Hypselospinus (Norman, 2010-2015). These have been described, following painstaking research on ancient collections, all of which had conspired (through a lack of understanding) to mix all these distinct animals together. The new results permit a more a more detailed picture of diversity change within the Wealden and has prompted systematic analyses that have revised our understanding of ornithopod and iguanodontian evolution.

Current Research: Dinosaur Relationships and New Discoveries

Painstaking reconstruction of species that are entirely new to science, or of ones that have been perhaps poorly described in the past, greatly improves our understanding of the quality and diversity of vertebrate life. Recent work has focused on the very earliest ornithischian dinosaurs. A detailed monograph on Heterodontosaurus (Norman et al., 2011 - from the Early Jurassic of S. Africa) prompted subsidiary questions concerning the fundamental relationships between the major groupings of dinosaurs: Ornithischia, Sauropodomorpha and Saurischia. Recent research exploring such questions has led to the publication of a paper (Baron et al., 2017b) that may well revolutionize our understanding of dinosaur relationships that have otherwise stood unchallenged for 130 years.

Current work is now focused on describing, for the first time, the very important Early Jurassic armoured dinosaur Scelidosaurus, whose skeletal remains have come almost exclusively from the Liassic cliffs just east of Lyme Regis in southern England.

Other strands of current research include functional investigations on the anatomy, functional morphology and evolution of limb posture in early archosaurian reptiles (notably the origin of bipedality among archosaurs and related forms); and on-going investigations into palaeo-engineering (using finite element modelling) as a means of deducing structure-function relationships in fossil organisms.

Serendipitous Research Directions

Work (undertaken in collaboration with the late Martin Brasier, Oxford and Alex Liu of this Department) on the discovery of a partial cranial endocast (the naturally infilled cast of the brain cavity) of an iguanodontian, that was collected on the foreshore near Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, resulted in the discovery of  mineralized (in the form of collophane - calcium phosphate and siderite - iron carbonate replacement) portions of the meninges (tough tissue sheath-like coverings of this dinosaur's brain) in association with blood vessels running through and between the meninges. More surprisingly there appears to be partial preservation (in collophane) of superficial patches of the underlying cortex and the very fine capillary networks (lined with siderite) that permeated the cortex. This extraordinary discovery was published quite recently (Brasier et al, 2016-2017). Deducing the chemistry of the environment that must have prevailed at the time of burial of this specimen, in order for such soft-tissue preservation to occur, proved extremely interesting.

Recent discussions following a visit to Rod Scheetz at the Museum of Paleontology at Brigham Young University (Utah) has led to a joint research project focused on the skeletons of several completely new ornithischian dinosaurs; this research will be on-going for the next few years.

Preparations are also being made to develop a research project on the Wealden of SE England and the stratigraphic horizons associated with the area that was historically recognised as "Tilgate Forest". Many ancient quarries in and around the village of Cuckfield yielded the first Iguanodon remains ever illustrated and described; these fossils were collected by Gideon Mantell and many are now in the collections of the Natural History Museum. Preliminary work on this historically very important material reveals that it comprises bones that belong to a number of distinct Iguanodon-like taxa; this suggests that several distinct geological horizons must have been mined in this area. Improving our understanding the stratigraphic geology of these quarries and the provenance of the original material is vital to determining the status of the holotype and other material that has been collectively referred to the genus Iguanodon.

Galapagos Research

As the Chairman of the Cambridge Charles Darwin - Galagagos Islands Trust Fund I am responsible for supporting research in a diverse range of subject areas associated with the Galapagos Archipelago. Currently the Trust is funding a postdoctoral research fellow to work on the volcanic evolution of the archipelago (Dr Mike Stock), Darwin's Finches (Dr Kiyoko Gotanda), Trapping of an invasive cuckoo species (Ms Sophia Cooke), and sponsoring a Masters degree on Conservation Management (Ms Lucia Norris). I have also published research on Darwin and the geological history of the Galapagos Islands both individually and in collaboration with Sally Gibson (Cambridge, Earth Sciences) and Sandra Herbert (University of Maryland).

Research Supervision

Current:

Matthew Baron - The ornithischian bauplan and dinosaur origins (viva completed).

Collin van Buren - The structure, function and environmental sensitivity of amphibian skin. (Postdoc Fellowship, Berlin).

Luke Grinham - The origin of bipedality in diapsids

Past:

Paul Upchurch - Cetiosaurus and the problem of sauropod systematics & phylogeny. Professor, University College London

Paul Barrett - Dinosaur herbivory - Professor, Natural History Museum, London

Emily Rayfield - Cranial mechanisms in theropod dinosaurs - Professor, University of Bristol

Richard Butler - Ornithischian origins and systematics - Professor & Lapworth Curator, University of Birmingham/Lapworth Museum

Susannah Maidment - Stegosaurian anatomy and systematics - Researcher-Curator, Natural History Museum, London

Roger Benson - Megalosaurus and the problem of basal theropod systematics - Professor, Oxford University

Hilary Ketcham (Benson) - The systematics of pliosaurs - Assistant Curator, Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Jason Moore - Taphonomy and the estimation of populations and diversity in the fossil record - Associate Professor, University of New Mexico

Laura Porro - Cranial mechanisms in Heterodontosaurus - Postdoctoral Research Fellow (University of Bristol & RVI North Mymms)

Marcela Gomez-Perez - Anatomy and systematics of a new Colombian pliosaur - Academic position, University of the Andes, Bogota, Colombia

Claire Slater - Models of mammalian biogeography and vicariance - The Law (Intellectual Property Rights)

Craig Hunn - Vicariance: modelling the fossil record - HM Government (FCO)

Sarah Sangster - Dimorphodon: its osteology and pterosaur systematics - Teacher, Birmingham

Chloe Marquart - Camptosaurus: its anatomy, variation and systematics - California on 'sabbatical'

Kitty Thomas - Archosaur anatomy and systematics - Museum education

Ian Jenkins - The cranial mechanics of gorgonopian synapsids - Dentistry

Alex Burton - Taphonomy of the Wealden environment - Manager, Accenture

Laura Canning (Gerlach) - Megalosaurus - Did not complete thesis

Keywords

Systematics and Phylogenetics ; Palaeobiology ; Vertebrates ; Comparative morphology ; Anatomy ; Functional Morphology ; History of Science

Topics

  • Vertebrate Palaeobiology (general)
  • Galapagos

Key Publications

Recent publications can be found in the publications database here

 

Filed under: