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Department of Earth Sciences



My work is focussed on the analysis of ancient sedimentary environments, with an emphasis on combining focussed fieldwork-based research with bigger picture analyses of secular changes to the geological record.  My primary interests involve improving our understanding of the interconnections and feedback loops between life and sedimentation as recorded in the sedimentary record.  In modern continental environments the vast majority of the land surface experiences geomorphological change which is in some way related to organisms and a growing wealth of biogeomorphological literature attests to the importance of biotic-abiotic interactions in constructing and refining landforms, sedimentation patterns and physical habitats in active sedimentary systems.  My research aims to assess how such interactions manifest themselves in the Precambrian and Phanerozoic rock record by means of combining analyses of sedimentary facies, stratigraphy, and ichnology. 

The co-evolution of non-marine life and landscapes

The Palaeozoic greening of the continents by land plants was one of the most significant events in the history of the Earth but although its biological and chemical effects are well-documented, the physical effects of introducing plants into alluvial systems (e.g., increasing bed roughness and bank stability, producing woody debris, etc.) have been less so.  Active research in this area involves quantifying the sedimentary character and signatures of non-marine life in Precambrian through to Triassic strata worldwide, and assessing the influence that life had on sedimentation patterns and the creation of new sedimentary environments (which in turn provided novel habitats for evolving organisms).

Non-uniformitarian sedimentary environments

Throughout Earth history there have been intervals where sedimentary environments have existed which cannot be fully understood with reference to modern analogues.  Detailed analysis of rocks from these intervals can help to isolate specific controls on sedimentation: ongoing work into Precambrian and early Palaeozoic river systems is aimed at recognising how such systems operated differently in unvegetated settings.

The influence of microbial life on the rock record

Microbial life has a pronounced effect on sedimentation in modern environments.  This research strand addresses the extent to which such can be discerned in the rock record.  Certain sedimentary structures recently thought to be solely microbial may actually have abiotic origins.  My research aims to understand how confident we can be of microbial interpretations where no other accessory evidence is available.  I am also actively addressing questions regarding how pre-vegetation microbial communities may have affected landscapes, by asking whether they were sufficiently influential to determine the character of the rock record.

The difference between sediment, environment and sedimentary rock

All of these research strands are undertaken with the strict understanding that there is a fundamental difference between an observable sedimentary rock succession and the sediments and environments that formed them: a key understanding that is sometimes lost in sedimentological research.  Original observation and collection of field data permits the opportunity to ask questions about how indicative of ancient environments sedimentary rocks really are: the answer to which question varies on a case-by-case basis.  To the extent that sedimentary geology can sometimes be more counter-intuitive or intractable than is sometimes realised, I also have an interest in the application of sedimentary geological analyses within multidisciplinary projects, collaborating with a number of colleagues in the fields of palaeontology, geochronology, geomorphology, astrobiology and archaeology.


Key publications: 

Recent publications can be found in the publications database here

Publications since 2010

  • Davies, N.S., Shillito, A.P. and Penn-Clarke, C.R., 2020. Cold feet: Trackways and burrows in ice-marginal strata of the end-Ordovician glaciation (Table Mountain Group, South Africa). Geology.
  • Shillito, A.P. and Davies, N.S., The Tumblagooda Sandstone revisited: exceptionally abundant trace fossils and geological outcrop provide a window onto Palaeozoic littoral habitats before invertebrate terrestrialization. Geological Magazine, pp.1-32.
  • McMahon, W.J., and Davies, N.S., 2019, Physical and biological functioning in Proterozoic rivers: evidence from the archetypal pre-vegetation alluvium of the Torridon Group, NW Scotland. Scottish Journal of Geology
  • Davies, N.S., Shillito, A.P. and McMahon, W.J., 2019, Where does the time go? Assessing the chronostratigraphic fidelity of sedimentary rock outcrops in the Pliocene-Pleistocene Red Crag Formation, eastern England. Journal of the Geological Society, pp.jgs2019-056.
  • Shillito, A.P., Davies, N.S., 2019, Dinosaur-landscape interactions at a diverse Early Cretaceous tracksite (Lee Ness Sandstone, Ashdown Formation, southern England). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 514, p. 593-612.
  • Hedge, J., Shillito, A.P., Davies, N.S., Butler, R.J., Sansom, I.J., 2018, Invertebrate trace fossils from the Alveley Member, Salop Formation (Pennsylvanian, Carboniferous), Shropshire, UK.  Proceedings of the Geologists Association.
  • Davies, N.S., Shillito, A.P., 2018, Incomplete but intricately-detailed: The inevitable preservation of true substrates in a time-deficient stratigraphic record. Geology, v. 46, p. 679-682.
  • McMahon, W.J., Davies, N.S., 2018, The shortage of geological evidence for pre-vegetation meandering rivers.  In: Ghinassi, M. et al. (Eds.), Fluvial Meanders and Their Sedimentary Products in the Rock Record, International Association of Sedimentologists, Special Publications, Vol. 48, Wiley, p. 119-148.
  • Davies, N.S., McMahon, W.J., Shillito, A.P., 2018, A graphic method for depicting horizontal directional data on vertical outcrop photographs.  Journal of Sedimentary Research, v. 88, p. 516-521
  • McMahon, W.J., Davies, N.S., 2018, Evolution of alluvial mudrock forced by early land plants. Science, v. 359, p. 1022-1024.

    Abstract: Reprint: Full text:

  • McMahon, W.J., Davies, N.S., 2018, High-energy flood events recorded in the Mesoproterozoic Meall Dearg Formation, NW Scotland; their recognition and implications for the study of pre-vegetation alluvium. Journal of the Geological Society, v. 175, p. 13-32.

  • Davies, N.S., Liu, A.G., Gibling, M.R., Miller, R.F., 2018, Reply to Comment: Resolving MISS conceptions and misconceptions: a geological approach to sedimentary surface textures generated by microbial and abiotic processes. Earth-Science Reviews, v. 176, p. 384-386.

  • Shillito, A.P., Davies, N.S., 2017, Archetypally Siluro-Devonian ichnofauna in the Cowie Formation, Scotland: implications for the myriapod fossil record and Highland Boundary Fault Movement. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, v. 128, p. 815-828.

  • Minter, N.J., Buatois, L.M., Mángano, M.G., Davies, N.S., Gibling, M.R., MacNaughton, R.B., Labandeira, C., 2017, Early bursts of diversification defined the faunal colonization of land. Nature Ecology & Evolution, v.1, p.0175.

  • McMahon, W.J., Davies, N.S., Went, D.J., 2017, Negligible microbial matground influence on pre-vegetation river functioning: Evidence from the Ediacaran-Lower Cambrian Series Rouge, France.  Precambrian Research, v. 292, p. 13-34.
  • Davies, N.S., Shillito, A.P., McMahon, W.J., 2017, Short-term evolution of primary sedimentary surface textures (microbial, abiotic, ichnological) on a dry stream bed: modern observations and ancient implications.  Palaios, v. 32, p. 125-134
  • Davies, N.S., Gibling, M.R., McMahon, W.J., Slater, B.J., Long, D.G.F., Bashforth, A.R., Berry, C.M., Falcon-Lang, H.J., Gupta, S., Rygel, M.C., Wellman, C.H., 2017, Discussion on ‘Tectonic and environmental controls on Palaeozoic fluvial environments: reassessing the impacts of early land plants on sedimentation’.  Journal of the Geological Society, v. 174, p. 947-950.
  • Davies, N.S., Liu, A.G., Gibling, M.R., Miller, R.F., 2016, Resolving MISS conceptions and misconceptions: a geological approach to sedimentary surface textures generated by microbial and abiotic processes.  Earth-Science Reviews, v. 154, p. 210-246
  • Minter, N.J., Buatois, L.A., Mángano, M.G., Davies, N.S., Gibling, M.R., Labanderia, C., 2016, The Establishment of Continental Ecosystems.  In: Mángano, M.G., Buatois, L.A. (eds) The Trace-Fossil Record of Major Evolutionary Events Volume 1: Precambrian and Paleozoic.  Springer International Publishing, pp. 205-324.
  • Minter, N.J., Buatois, L.A., Mángano, M.G., MacNaughton, R.B., Davies, N.S., Gibling, M.R., 2016, The Prelude to Continental Invasion.  In: Mángano, M.G., Buatois, L.A. (eds) The Trace-Fossil Record of Major Evolutionary Events Volume 1: Precambrian and Paleozoic.  Springer International Publishing, pp. 157-204.
  • Corenblit, D., Davies, N.S., Steiger, J., Gibling, M.R., Bornette, G.R., 2015, Considering river structure and function in the light of evolution: feedbacks between riparian vegetation and evolution.  Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, v. 40, p.189-207.
  • Davies, N.S., Gosse, J.C., Rybczynski, N., 2014, Cross-bedded woody debris from a Pliocene forested river system in the High Arctic: Beaufort Formation, Meighen Island, Canada.  Journal of Sedimentary Research, v. 84, p. 19-25.
  • Gibling, M.R., Davies, N.S., Falcon-Lang, H.J., Bashforth, A.R., DiMichele, W.A., Rygel, M.S., Ielpi, A., 2014, Palaeozoic co-evolution of rivers and vegetation: a synthesis of current knowledge.  Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, v. 125, p. 524-533.
  • Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J., Davies, N.S., Mazzini, I., Goiran, J.P., Kane, S., 2014, Humans as the third evolutionary stage of biosphere engineering of rivers.  Anthropocene, v. 7, p. 57-63.
  • Fairén, A.G., Stokes, C., Davies, N.S., et al., 2014, A cold hydrological system in Gale Crater, Mars.  Planetary and Space Science, v. 93-94, p. 101-118.
  • Davies, N.S., Gibling, M.R., 2013, The sedimentary record of Carboniferous rivers: Continuing influence of land plant evolution on alluvial processes and Palaeozoic ecosystems.  Earth-Science Reviews, v. 120, p. 40-79
  • Crombé, P., De Smedt, P., Davies, N.S.,  et al., 2013, Hunter-Gatherer Responses to the Changing Environment of the Moervaart Palaeolake (NW Belgium) during the Late Glacial and Early Holocene.  Quaternary International, v. 308-309, p. 162-177.
  • De Smedt, P., Van Meirvenne, M., Davies, N.S., et al.,  2013, A multidisciplinary approach for reconstructing Late Glacial and Early Holocene landscapes. Journal of Archaeological Science, v. 40, p. 1260-1267.
  • Fairén, A.G., Davies, N.S., Squyres, S.W., 2013, Equatorial Ground Ice and Meandering Rivers on Mars. LPI Contributions, v. 1719, p. 2148.
  • Davies, N.S., Gibling, M.R., 2012, Forum Comment: Early Cambrian metazoans in fluvial environments, evidence of the non-marine Cambrian radiation.  Geology, v. 40, p. e270.
  • Sansom, I.J., Davies, N.S., Coates, M.I., Nicoll, R.S., Ritchie, A., 2012, Chondrichthyan-like scales from the Middle Ordovician of Australia.  Palaeontology, v. 55, p. 243-247.
  • Gibling, M.R., Davies, N.S., 2012, Palaeozoic landscapes shaped by plant evolution.  Nature Geoscience, v. 5, p. 99-105.
  • Davies, N.S., Gibling, M.R., 2011, Evolution of fixed-channel alluvial plains in response to Carboniferous vegetation.  Nature Geoscience, v. 4, p. 629-633.
  • Davies, N.S., Gibling, M.R., Rygel, M.C., 2011, Alluvial facies during the Palaeozoic greening of the land: case studies, conceptual models and modern analogues. Sedimentology (Special Decadal Issue), v. 58, p. 220-258.                          
  • Davies, N.S., Rygel, M.C., Gibling, M.R., 2011, Reply: Marine influence in the Upper Ordovician Juniata Formation (Potters Mills, Pennsylvania): implications for the history of life on land: Palaios, v. 25, no. 8, p. 527-539, 2010.  Palaios, v. 26, p. 674-676.
  • Davies, N.S., Sansom, I.J., Nicoll, R.S., Ritchie, A., 2011, Ichnology of the fish-fossil beds of the Stairway Sandstone (Middle Ordovician, central Australia).   Alcheringa, v. 35, p. 553-569.
  • Davies, N.S., Rygel, M.C., Gibling, M.R., 2010, Marine influence in the Upper Ordovician Juniata Formation (Potters Mills, Pennsylvania): implications for the history of life on land.  Palaios, v. 25, p. 527-539.
  • Davies, N.S., Gibling, M.R., 2010, Cambrian to Devonian evolution of alluvial systems: the sedimentological impact of the earliest land plants.  Earth-Science Reviews, v. 98, p. 171-200.
  • Davies, N.S., Gibling, M.R., 2010, Paleozoic Vegetation and the Siluro-Devonian Rise of Fluvial Lateral Accretion Sets.  Geology, v. 38, p. 51-54.
Lecturer in Sedimentary Geology
Dr Neil   Davies

Contact Details

Email address: 
+44 (0) 1223 333453
Takes PhD students