Skip to content Skip to navigation

PhD: How are mass extinctions shaping biodiversity?

Project Title

How are mass extinctions shaping biodiversity?


The University of Sheffield

Supervisors and Institutions

Dr Thomas Guillerme (The University of Sheffield), Dr Gavin Thomas (The university of Sheffield), Dr Natalie Cooper (Natural History Museum London).

Funding Status

Funding is in place for this project

Project Description

Background: Understanding the effects of mass extinctions on life on Earth is of crucial importance in the context of the current biodiversity crisis. One interesting aspect is how the extinction of many species can shape the evolution of surviving species. Theory proposes that groups surviving a mass extinction event can diversify to occupy the ecological niches left vacant by the extinct species. This has been intensely studied after the iconic Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction 66 million years ago (K-Pg) that saw the extinction of whole groups such non-avian dinosaurs and ammonites and the diversification of surviving groups such as birds and mammals. However, the aftermath of mass extinction events have often been studied in the context of just the numbers of species lost rather than the specific traits of species that go extinct, survive or radiate during and after the event.

Objectives: For this project, the student will investigate mass extinction events at broad scales by focusing on species trait diversity, i.e. disparity. They will first apply state-of-the-art of disparity and phylogenetic comparative methods to a dataset focusing on the radiation of mammals after the K-Pg mass extinction event. They will then use the skills learned through this research project to expand into different clades and different extinction events (e.g. dinosaurs over the Triassic Jurassic extinction event, marine invertebrates at the Ordovician mass extinction etc.) to investigate the macroevolutionary mechanisms of mass extinction events on species traits. They will also apply their findings to the current 6th mass extinction event.

The student: This project will suit a motivated and creative student with a keen interest in both natural history (evolutionary biology, palaeontology, macroevolution) and in using computational methods to answer biological questions. The student will also have the opportunity to work with experts in the Natural History Museum collections. Applications are open to any student with an existing right to work in the UK that qualify as "home fees" students (e.g. British or Irish citizens, EU citizen with settled status, etc.).

Knowledge and skills required:
* The student should be comfortable and motivated with learning new statistical and computation tools. No prior knowledge in specific methods is required but it is preferable that the student can demonstrate abilities to learn new computational tools. For example by having learned a new software/language/package for a specific project.

* The student should be able to demonstrate a broad interest in evolutionary biology. This can be demonstrated for example through achievements in modules or projects in palaeontology, macroevolution or evolutionary ecology.

Contact Name

Thomas Guillerme

Contact Email

Link to More Information

Closing Date

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Expiry Date

Wednesday, May 22, 2024
PalAss Go! URL: | Twitter: Share on Twitter | Facebook: Share on Facebook | Google+: Share on Google+