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B317: Death of a biome: sedimentary and palaeoecological consequences of the Pennsylvanian collapse of tropical rainforests (Lead Supervisor: Neil Davies, Earth Sciences)

Supervisor: Neil Davies (Earth Sciences)

Importance of the area of research:

The geological record permits the opportunity to identify global perturbations induced by the collapse of the Earth’s tropical rainforests.  It has been postulated that mass extinction of vegetation on land could trigger mass extinctions of marine fauna due to huge sediment influxes associated with increased rates of erosion.   Observations centred on the Permian-Triassic mass extinction have suggested that this is revealed through global facies signatures, including an increase in braided river alluvium, dilution of nearshore bioturbation and a global stratigraphic gap of coal deposits.  However, 50 million years before the Permian-Triassic event, the Earth’s vegetation suffered its first mass extinction event in the form of the Kasimovian Rainforest Collapse (KRC) .  The interval succeeding KRC is presently unstudied from a sedimentological and ichnological perspective: detailed original fieldwork analysis of select Euramerican sites will shed new light on the post-rainforest collapse, repercussions and recovery of ecosystems and sediment erosion rates.

Project summary:

The “coal age” tropical rainforests of the Carboniferous are one of the most famous and visually-recognisable chapters of Earth history.  Far less well understood are the repercussions of the dramatic collapse and isolation of these Euramerican rainforests at the end of the Carboniferous, associated with the supercontinent assembly of Pangea, concomitant global warming, and the increasing competition from coniferous vegetation.  This project will be the first to understand the palaeoecology and sedimentary environments of this post-extinction world, with detailed field-based sedimentological and ichnological analyses of the post-Kasimovian terrestrial ecosystems that dominated Euramerica (potentially utilizing fieldsites in Spain, the USA, Canada and Kazakhstan).

What the student will do:

The student will focus their fieldwork on multiple Late Pennsylvanian and Permian sedimentary formations worldwide.  Of particular initial interest will be the late Carboniferous successions of the Picos de Europa in northwest Spain, where the student will undertake methodical sedimentary logging, and analysis of sedimentary facies and ichnofacies.  The student will also compile a metadata analysis of Pennsylvanian-Permian marine and non-marine environments across Pangea in an attempt to map the repercussions and recovery from Kasimovian Rainforest Collapse.

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.


Cascales-Miñana, B., Cleal, C.J., 2014, The plant fossil record reflects just two great extinction events.  Terra Nova, vol. 26, 195-200.

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.

DiMichele, W.A., 2014, Wetland-Dryland vegetational dynamics in the Pennsylvanian Ice Age tropics.  International Journal of Plant Sciences, vol, 175, pp. 123-164.

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project

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