European Commission logo
English English
CORDIS - EU research results

375 Million Years of the Diversification of Life on Land: Shifting the Paradigm?

Project description

Assembling a new dataset to solve diversity mystery

The diversity of life on land is awe-inspiring, with more than three-quarters of all species on Earth existing on terra firma. However, scientists are still trying to figure out how this incredible diversity has evolved over millions of years. Funded by the European Research Council, the TERRA project will seek to reassess the dominant paradigm of terrestrial diversification. While previous analyses of tetrapod diversification have been problematic and outdated, TERRA will use the latest technology and rigorous methodologies to shed light on the long-term patterns of terrestrial diversity. To this aim, it will assemble a new dataset, detailing the temporal and spatial distribution of terrestrial tetrapods across their entire fossil record in unprecedented detail.


Life on land today is spectacularly diverse, representing 75–95% of all species on Earth. However, it remains unclear how this extraordinary diversity has been acquired across deep geological time. This research project will address this major knowledge gap by reassessing the dominant paradigm of terrestrial diversification, an exponential increase in diversity over the last 375 million years, using the rich and well-studied fossil record of tetrapods (four-limbed vertebrates) as an exemplar group. Previous analyses of tetrapod diversification have been based on an outdated and problematic dataset that is likely to artificially inflate apparent diversity towards the present day. A major new dataset will be assembled, detailing the spatial and temporal distribution of terrestrial tetrapods across their entire fossil record in unprecedented detail. These data will be analysed using the latest approaches to sampling-standardisation in order to generate completely novel, rigorous curves of diversification through time. These will be compared within a cutting-edge statistical framework to alternate diversification models, as well as to changes in rock record sampling, global environments (e.g. sea level and atmospheric composition) and marine diversity. These comparisons will allow us to address the following key questions: (i) Does terrestrial diversification follow an exponential pattern over the last 375 million years? (ii) Is the terrestrial fossil record as complete as the marine fossil record? (iii) Are long-term patterns of terrestrial diversification driven by physical changes in the Earth system such as climate change? (iv) Did marine and terrestrial biodiversity follow similar trajectories across geological time? (v) How severely did mass extinction events impact upon terrestrial tetrapod diversification? Our work will establish a new, rigorous paradigm for the long-term pattern of terrestrial diversification, and test and identify its drivers.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 495 063,00
B15 2TT Birmingham
United Kingdom

See on map

West Midlands (England) West Midlands Birmingham
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 495 063,00

Beneficiaries (1)