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B316: The Stragglers Invade the Land: Sedimentary and Ichnological Insights into the Carboniferous Terrestrialization Climax (Lead Supervisor: Neil Davies, Earth Sciences)

Supervisor: Neil Davies (Earth Sciences)

Importance of the area of research:

The colonization of the land by animal and plant communities was a crucial event in the evolution of life on Earth.  A large amount of existing research into this area has previously been focussed on pushing back the earliest evidence of life on land or on understanding the crucial juncture of the Silurian (444-419 Ma) , when continental trace fossils rapidly increased in abundance and disparity across the globe.  However, the climax of the terrestrialization process has been relatively overlooked.  It was only much later, in the Carboniferous (359-299 Ma), that certain key continental habitats began to be colonized (e.g., deep lakes), or even evolve (e.g., plant-stabilized river islands or mires).  This project aims to provide a new global perspective on the ichnology of this understudied but crucial interval of Earth history: arguably more significant than the first tentative footsteps on land, this was the period in which nonmarine life, and the continental landscapes that it inhabited, became modern, permanent and irreversible.

Project summary:

The climax of the terrestrialization of life has been overlooked in comparison to its inception.  The filling of nonmarine niches likely reflected the wholesale landscape and tectonic changes of the Earth in the Carboniferous.  For the first time, this interval will be the focus of a comprehensive study that will enable a new understanding of how new landscapes were created and populated.

What the student will do:

The student will undertake extensive fieldwork to collect new sedimentological, ichnological and palaeontological data from Carboniferous continental strata: most notably from across the United Kingdom and within the Maritimes Basin of eastern Canada.  By focussing on the understudied Carboniferous interval through database construction, classical facies analysis, mapping and stratigraphic fieldwork, the project will resolve our understanding of sedimentary landscapes during a transitional period which was crucial to the evolution of life on Earth.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


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, vol. 120, pp. 40-79.

Minter, N., Buatois, L., Mángano, G., Davies, N.S., Gibling, M. & Labandeira, C., 2016, The establishment of continental ecosystems.  In: The trace-fossil record of major evolutionary events, volume 1: Precambrian and Paleozoic. Mángano, G. & Buatois, L. (eds.). Springer, (Topics in Geobiology; vol. 39)

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project


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