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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

How does life originate, proliferate, and dissipate?

Picking and 3D imaging foraminifera to assess their evolutionary and environmental histories.
Image credit: Tom Ezard


Foraminifera, nannofossils, ostracods, palynomorphs and silicofossils provide astonishing potential to gain deeper understanding of biological responses to palaeoceanographic and palaeoclimatic changes. They provide abundant evidence of organismal responses to mass extinction events (e.g., Alvarez et al. 2019, Hull et al., 2020, Marshall et al. 2020) helping us understand the processes by which ecosystems endure such fundamental upheaval. Mature taxonomic and phylogenetic knowledge enables these groups to act as model palaeobiological systems to infer the link from variation among individuals to variation among species.

Image right: Picking and 3D imaging foraminifera to assess their evolutionary and environmental histories.

Key Questions:

1. Can ecological function help reboot Earth system processes in the aftermath of massive biodiversity loss?

2. How does environmental change set the limits to life on Earth?

3. Can morphology reveal how climate amplifies or dampen the impacts of abrupttransitional and ongoing climatic perturbations to species’ distributions?

4. To what extent does improved regional sampling strengthen or challenge hypotheses of the origination of marine vertebrates?

5. Does developmental plasticity inhibit or facilitate speciation?

How do we do it?

We build transdisciplinary research teams that fuse computer vision, Earth system modelling, geochemistry, phylogenetic comparative methods, micro-tomography, stratigraphy and systematics to answer fundamental questions in evolutionary palaeobiology. We build the largest empirical datasets of their type (e.g., Alvarez et al. 2019), couple them with novel environmental reconstructions (e.g., Stein et al. 2019 or Marshall et al. 2020) and probe them by developing state-of-the-art analytical tools (e.g., Zhang et al. 2020) and integrated modelling approaches (e.g. Ezard & Purvis 2016) to shed unprecedented light on the regulators of biodiversity in deep time.

Who in Palaeoceanography and Palaeoclimate is involved?

Anieke Brombacher; Tom Ezard; Sam Gibbs; Ian Harding; John Marshall; Omar Shetta; Paul A. Wilson.

Links to other Research Themes

Eco-evolutionary dynamics

Ecological complexity and networks

IODP - Exploring the Earth Under the Sea

Landscape Dynamics and Ecology (LDE)

Living Systems Institute for Life Sciences

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Core on deck! Scientists collecting core samples in the Southern Ocean. Credit, Becky Hopkins.
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Students examining their first sea floor sediments in the Amundsen Sea, Antarctica. Credit, Becky Hopkins.
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Sampling cores for microfossils onboard ship in the South Pacific. Credit, Anieke Brombacher
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