skip to content

Department of Earth Sciences



2003-2007: MESc undergraduate degree in Earth Sciences, St. Peter's College, University of Oxford

2007-2011: DPhil in Ediacaran Palaeobiology, Exeter College, University of Oxford

2011-2014: Henslow Junior Research Fellow, Girton College, University of Cambridge

2014-2016: NERC Independent Research Fellow, University of Bristol

2016-        : University Lecturer in Palaeobiology, University of Cambridge



My research investigates the interval of geological time encompassing the origin and radiation of animals, between ~700-520 million years ago. Much of my previous work has explored fossils of the Ediacaran Period (635-541 million years ago), particularly the enigmatic Ediacaran macrobiota - a group of soft-bodied organisms with unusual body plans that may include some of the earliest members of extant animal groups. In addition to examining aspects of Ediacaran palaeoecology and taxonomy, I attempt to better understand the biology of Ediacaran organisms by interpreting them within a palaeoenvironmental and geological context. This involves studies into taphonomy, ichnology, sedimentology and geochemistry, in a variety of field areas including Newfoundland (Canada), Brazil, and China. I ultimately hope to determine the causes and consequences of animal evolution, and the wider implications of these for understanding the interplay between evolution and the Earth System.



Key publications: 

Recent publications can be found in the publications database here

Dunn, F.S., Liu, A.G., and Gehling, J.G. (2019)
Anatomical and ontogenetic reassessment of the Ediacaran frond Arborea arborea and its placement within total group Eumetazoa.
Palaeontology, Early Online. doi: 10.1111/pala.12431

Wood, R., Liu, A.G., Bowyer, F., Wilby, P.R., Dunn, F.S., Kenchington, C.G., Hoyal Cuthill, J.F., Mitchell, E.G. & Penny, A. (2019)
Integrated records of environmental change and evolution challenge the Cambrian Explosion
Nature Ecology & Evolution, 3, 528-538. doi: 10.1038/s41559-019-0821-6

Dunn, F.S. and Liu, A.G. (2019)
Viewing the Ediacaran biota as a failed experiment is unhelpful
Nature Ecology & Evolution, 3, 512-514. doi:

Liu, A.G., McMahon, S., Matthews, J.J., Still, J. and Brasier, A.T. (2019)
Petrological evidence supports the death mask model for the preservation of Ediacaran soft-bodied organisms in South Australia
Geology, 47(3), 215-218.

Dunn, F.S., Wilby, P.R., Kenchington, C.G., Grazhdankin, D.V., Donoghue, P.C.J. and Liu, A.G. (2019)
Anatomy of the Ediacaran rangeomorph Charnia masoni
Papers in Palaeontology
, 5(1), 157-176. doi: 10.1002/spp2.1234

Kolesnikov, A.V., Liu, A.G., Danelian, T. and Grazhdankin, D.V. (2018)
A reassessment of the problematic Ediacaran genus Orbisiana Sokolov 1976
Precambrian Research, 316, 197-205. doi: 10.1016/j.precamres.2018.08.011

Dunn, F.S., Liu, A.G. and Donoghue, P.C.J. (2018)
Ediacaran developmental biology
Biological Reviews, 93, 914-932. doi: 10.1111/brv.12379

Hoekzema, R.S., Brasier, M.D., Dunn, F.S. and Liu, A.G. (2017)
Quantitative study of developmental biology confirms Dickinsonia as a metazoan
Proceedings of the Royal Society, B, 284, 20171348. doi:10.1098/rspb.2017.1348

Parry, L.A., Boggiani, P.C., Condon, D.J., Garwood, R.J., Leme, J. de M., McIlroy, D., Brasier, M.D., Trindade, R., Campanha, G.A.C., Pacheco, M.L.A.F., Diniz, C.Q.C. and Liu, A.G. (2017)
Ichnological evidence for meiofaunal bilaterians from the terminal Ediacaran and earliest Cambrian of Brazil
Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1, 1455–1464. doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0301-9


Twitter profile: @the_palaeoninja

Teaching and Supervisions

Research supervision: 

PhD students

Ben Tindal (2018 - present, University of Cambridge): Neoproterozoic sedimentology of the Parecis Basin, Brazil

Frankie Dunn (2015 - 2019, University of Bristol): Growth and morphogenesis in the Ediacaran macrobiota. Now a JRF and 1851 Fellowship holder at the University of Oxford Museum of Natural History.


Masters students

Erin Leahy (2019 - present): Super-traits in Ediacaran palaeocommunities (co-supervised with Dr Emily Mitchell)

Anna McGairy (2019 - present): A new Ediacaran frond from the Bonavista Peninsula, Newfoundland (co-supervised with Dr Charlotte Kenchington)

Catherine Boddy (2019 - present): The palaeogeographic distribution of the Ediacaran macrobiota

Alavya Dhungana (2018-2019): Taphonomy and palaeoecology of discoidal Ediacaran fossils from Ferryland, Newfoundland


I am happy to discuss Masters or PhD projects with potential future applicants, please get in touch by email.


Associate Professor
Fellow of Girton College
Dr Alex  Liu

Contact Details

Email address: 
Department of Earth Sciences
Downing Street
+44 (0) 1223 768326
Takes PhD students


Person keywords: 
Systematics and Phylogenetics