The role of body size in shaping patterns of biodiversity across time and space in Phanerozoic animals

Project Details

Key Questions

What is the role of body size in shaping patterns of biodiversity across time and space in Phanerozoic animals?


Body size and biodiversity are intimately linked. For example, there are more than 30,000 species of land vertebrates (tetrapods) alive today, and almost all of them are small (<1 kg). This is true for birds, lizards, mammals and amphibians. Understanding evolutionary diversification at small body sizes is therefore central to understanding the origins of present-day biodiversity. However, the fossil record of large animals, such as dinosaurs, and large-bodied mammals, is richer than that of small species, and has been subject to far greater attention. Similar biases may affect the marine animal fossil record. As such, important questions about how Phanerozoic animal diversity was assembled remain unanswered.

Aims of the Project

To fill this important knowledge gap, the DPhil student will use the Phanerozoic animal fossil record to understand how ancient patterns of diversity relate to variation in body size across time and space.

Project Description

The student will use a spatially-explicit approach to document how biodiversity was partitioned across body size classes, including how this changed through intervals of geological time; how variation in body size was spatially structured; and how these patterns varied across major taxonomic groups.

Methods to be used

The student will use existing datasets of fossil occurrences for marine animals and terrestrial tetrapods, along with compilations of body size estimates for marine animals. Body size estimates for terrestrial tetrapods will be collated from existing datasets, surveys of the literature, and novel estimates derived from new data collection where necessary. The project also includes the potential to study local richness of micro-vertebrate fossil assemblages in Europe and North America. These data will be analysed in part using spatially-explicit methods for quantifying diversity in the fossil record recently developed at Oxford.

Specialised skills required

Some background in programming, statistical data analysis and palaeobiology or macroecology is preferred. The student will be trained in data collection, and data manipulation and analysis using the statistical programming language R

Please contact Roger Close on if you are interested in this project