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Dr Alex Liu

Dr Alex Liu

University Lecturer

Fellow of Girton College



Alex Liu is accepting applications for PhD students.

Department of Earth Sciences
Downing Street

Office Phone: +44 (0) 1223 768326


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


Research Interests

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. By combining palaeontological and geological insights obtained from these studies, I ultimately hope to determine the causes and consequences of animal evolution, and their wider implications for understanding the interplay between evolution and the Earth System.


Research Supervision

Current PhD students

Frankie Dunn ( 2015 - present, University of Bristol): Growth and morphogenesis in the Ediacaran macrobiota.

Emma Landon (2016 - present, University of Bristol): Sedimentology and taphonomy of the Weng'an biota, China.


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


Key Publications

Recent publications can be found in the publications database here

Matthews, J.J., Liu, A.G. and McIlroy, D. (2017)
Post-fossilization processes and their implications for understanding Ediacaran macrofossil assemblages.
Special Publication of the Geological Society of London, 448, doi: 10.1144/SP448.20

Cunningham, J.A., Liu, A.G., Bengtson, S. and Donoghue, P.C.J. (2017)
The origin of animals: can molecular clocks and the fossil record be reconciled?
BioEssays, 39 (1), 1-12. doi: 10.1002/bies.201600120

Antcliffe, J.B., Liu, A.G., Menon, L.R., McIlroy, D., McLoughlin, N. and Wacey, D. (2016)
Understanding ancient life: how Martin Brasier changed the way we think about the fossil record.
Special Publication of the Geological Society of London, 448, doi: 10.1144/SP448.16

Brasier, M.D., Norman, D.B., Liu, A.G., Cotton, L.J., Hiscocks, J.E.H, Garwood, R.J., Antcliffe, J.B. and Wacey, D. (2016)
Remarkable preservation of brain tissues in an Early Cretaceous iguanodontian dinosaur.
Special Publication of the Geological Society of London, 448, doi: 10.1144/SP448/3

Liu, A.G.  (2016) Framboidal pyrite shroud confirms the ‘death mask’ model for moldic preservation of Ediacaran soft-bodied organisms. Palaios, 31(5), 259-274.

Davies, N.S., Liu, A.G., Gibling, M.R. and Miller, R.  (2016) Resolving MISS conceptions and misconceptions: A geological approach to sedimentary surface textures generated by microbial and abiotic processes. Earth Science Reviews, 154, 210-246.

Mitchell, E.G., Kenchington, C.G., Liu, A.G., Matthews, J.J. and Butterfield, N.J. (2015) Reconstructing the reproductive mode of an Ediacaran macro-organism. Nature 524, 343-346.

Liu, A.G., Matthews, J.J., Menon, L.R., McIlroy, D. and Brasier, M.D. (2014) Haootia quadriformis n. gen., n. sp., interpreted as a muscular cnidarian impression from the late Ediacaran Period (~560 Ma). Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 281(1793). doi: 10.1098/rspb.2014.1202

Brasier, M.D., Antcliffe, J.B. and Liu, A.G. (2012) The Architecture of Ediacaran Fronds. Palaeontology, 55(5): 1105-1124.

Liu, A.G. and Brasier, M.D. (2012). A Global Comparative Analysis of Ediacaran fossil localities. Report submitted to UNESCO as part of the dossier for the successful nomination of Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve as a World Heritage Site. 132 + iv pp.

Liu, A.G., McIlroy, D., Antcliffe, J.B. and Brasier, M.D. (2011) Effaced preservation in the Ediacara biota of Avalonia and its implications for the early macrofossil record. Palaeontology, 54(3): 607-630.

Liu, A.G., McIlroy, D. and Brasier, M.D. (2010) First evidence for locomotion in the Ediacara biota from the 565Ma Mistaken Point Formation, Newfoundland. Geology, 38: 123-126.

Liu, A.G.S.C., Seiffert, E.R. and Simons, E.L. (2008) Stable isotope evidence for an amphibious phase in early proboscidean evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. 105(15): 5786-5791.


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