Centre for Palaeobiology Research

Our research is focussed on understanding the processes and patterns of the evolution of life, and the interactions between the biosphere and other elements of the Earth system, spanning Palaeozoic, Mesozoic and Recent organisms and exceptionally preserved fossil biotas (lagerstätten).

Leicester's Palaeobiology research has an international reputation for initiatives elucidating the taphonomy and palaeobiology of globally important Palaeozoic lagerstätten, especially the Cambrian Chengjiang (China), Ordovician Soom Shale (South Africa) and Silurian Herefordshire (UK) faunas. Staff are leaders in the fields of the palaeobiology and evolutionary relationships of conodonts and other early fish, ostracods and related arthropods, pterosaurs, and in determining preservational pathways for the decay and preservation of soft-bodied organisms.

Coated Cast

Our members have acknowledged expertise in the application of microfossils, including phytoplankton, and macrofossils in high resolution biostratigraphy and in interpreting deep time (Palaeozoic and Cenozoic) ocean/atmosphere systems and palaeoclimate; they are centrally involved in work on the Anthropocene paradigm. Vertebrate research also includes 3D texture analysis of tooth microwear to investigate the trophic ecology of fishes, dinosaurs and mammals.

The Centre publishes in journals of the highest international quality, and has strong links with palaeontology laboratories and geological surveys world-wide. Its research is supported by NERC, The Royal Society, The Leverhulme Trust, the British Geological Survey and Industry, and its staff hold leading positions in learned Palaeontological societies and Stratigraphic Commissions.

Follow us on Twitter: @LeicesterPalaeo

Current PhD opportunities

Current advertised projects with the NERC CENTA DTP range across the taphonomy of surface texture, small carbonaceous fossils, corals and palaeoclimate, cichilid dietary responses to environmental change, anthropocene of the Great Barrier Reef, the Palaeozoic of Vietnam, and Pterosaur ecology.

Academic Staff

Professor Sarah Gabbott Professor Mark Williams
Dr Tom Harvey Professor David Siveter (Emeritus)
Professor Mark Purnell Dr David Unwin
Professor Jan Zalasiewicz (Emeritus) Professor Jens Zinke

Research Staff and Students

Neil Adams Michael Morton
Rachel Belben Walid Naciri
Will Crabbe Christopher Nedza
Stephen Himson Christopher Stocker
Rachael Holmes Chris Stockey
Hedwig Krawczyk Yasmin Yonan
Anna McGairy Manlin Zhang

Research Visitors

Dr Changshi Qi Yunnan University, China
Professor Hou Xian-guang Yunnan University, China
Dr Zheng Xiguang Yunnan University, China
Prof Nigel Hughes University of California Riverside

Group Alumni

NamePhD Project TitleWhat are they doing now?
Dr Jordan Bestwick Resolving pterosaur dietary ecology using tooth microwear and biomechanics
Dr Thomas Wong Hearing Constraining the marine environment of the Cambrian metazoan adaptive radiation Research Fellow, Ghent University
Dr Laura McLennan Tooth wear and microtextural analysis of diet and feeding in living and fossil condrichthyans Lecturer, Derby University
Dr Leah Nolan Equatorial sea surface temperature seasonality in the Mississippian (Carboniferous) derived from brachiopod shell carbonate
Dr Zardasht Taha Response of Ostracods to the end Ordovician extinction and early Silurian recovery
Dr Mark Evans Evolution of Jurassic Plesiosauria British Antarctic Survey
Dr Jawad Afzal Palaeocene-Eocene Foraminifera of the Indus Basin, Pakistan Currently working as biostratigrapher for Fugro Robertson
Dr Irfan Jan Investigating the palaeoenvironments and narrow palaeoclimate zones of the Palaeotethyan Permo-Carboniferous icehouse: the boulder beds of the Salt Range, Pakistan Currently Assistant professor National Centre for Excellence in Geology, University of Peshawar, Pakistan
Dr David Baines Tooth microwear in fishes
Dr Carys Bennett Lower Carboniferous ostracods and isotopes of the Midland Valley, Scotland: testing for the ecological shift into non-marine environments Currently Postdoc at University of Lille
Ben Davies Functional morphology and locomotion of early vertebrates (MPhil)
Dr David Jones Exploiting the palaeobiological potential of conodonts: evolutionary trends, patterns and processes (PhD). Tooth wear and ecological constraints on isotopic & biostratigraphic analyses using conodonts (PDRA) Went on to postdoc positions in Leicester and Bristol
Dr Xiaoya Ma The Lower Cambrian Chengjiang Biota, Yunnan, China University of Exeter, Senior Research Fellow
Dr David Riley
Taphonomy of the Herefordshire Lagerstätte Currently working for Chemostrat Ltd
Dr Alex Page Graptolitic mudrocks and the taphonomy of organic fossils Currently teaching
Dr Rowan Whittle Problematic fossils from the Late Ordovician Soom Shale lagerstätte, South Africa Currently working for British Antarctic Survey
Dr Vince Williams Tooth microwear, diet and feeding in ornithischian dinosaurs Currently teaching

Experimental/Technical Staff

Lin Marvin-Dorland Scanning Electron Microscope Technician

Honorary Research Staff

Dr Philip Donoghue Bristol University
Dr Robert Goodall
Dr Mike Howe British Geological Survey
Dr Stewart Molyneux British Geological Survey
Dr Victoria McCoy
Dr Gary Mullins Fugro Robertson Ltd
Dr Philip Wilby British Geological Survey

Current and Recent Projects

  • Chengjiang Lagerstätte, Cambrian, China (Royal Society)
  • Comley Lagerstätte, Cambrian, UK (NERC)
  • Herefordshire Lagerstätte, Silurian, UK (NERC & Leverhulme Trust)
  • Soom Shale Lagerstätte, Ordovician, South Africa
  • Eramosa Lagerstätte, Silurian, Canada (Royal Ontario Museum and NERC)
  • Experimental decay of onychophorans - lobopodian anatomy and arthropod origins (NERC)
  • Decay and preservation of chordates, and vertebrate origins (NERC)
  • Silurian phytoplankton and oceanic change (Leverhulme Trust)
  • Origins, ecology and paleobiology of ostracods and related arthropods (Royal Society and Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science)
  • Palaeobiology of conodonts
  • Bridging the gap between ecological and evolutionary timescales: tooth wear, niche differentiation and speciation in living and fossil fishes (NERC)
  • Systematics locomotion and palaeobiology of pterosaurs
  • Palaeoclimate of the Neogene and Holocene (USGS PRISM paleoclimate group and the British Antarctic Survey)
  • Tooth wear and ecological constraints on conodonts (NERC)
  • Provenance of lowland Iron Age ceramics using micropalaeontology (Nuffield and NERC)
  • Early Palaeozoic climates
  • The Anthropocene – a new epoch of time characterised by humans (British Geological Survey)

Awards and Prizes

Prof Richard J. Aldridge Coke Medal, Geological Society of London, 2012
Prof Richard J. Aldridge Lapworth medal of Palaeontological Association, 2011
Prof Mark Purnell and Dr Sarah Gabbott Shortlisted for Times Higher Awards Research Project of the Year, 2011
Dr Rob Sansom SET for Britain, Bronze Medal (Biological Science) 2011
Mr Laurent Darras Palaeontological Association Best Poster prize, 2010
Prof Mark Purnell and Prof Paul Hart (Biology) Shortlisted for Times Higher Awards Research Project of the Year, 2008
Prof Mark Purnell Hinde Medal of the Pander Society, 2006


  • Yunnan University, China
  • China University of Geosciences, Wuhan
  • Ulm University, Germany
  • Lyon University, Lille University, France
  • Ghent University, Belgium
  • Tartu University; Institute of Geology, Tallin, Estonia
  • Yale University, USA
  • University of Bath, UK
  • University of Bristol, UK
  • University of Central London, UK
  • Oxford University, UK
  • British Geological Survey
  • Stellenbosch University, South Africa
  • Royal Ontario Museum, Canada
  • United States Geological Survey, PRISM paleoclimate group

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