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Unravelling the scenario of early vertebrate evolution through computational analysis of the fossil record

Project description

Explaining the evolution of the early vertebrate body plan

Early vertebrates have come a long way, in terms of body plan. While major transitions have been correlated with long-term ecological trends from suspension feeding towards increasingly active lifestyles, biologists and palaeontologists are still debating over the origin of the vertebrate body plan. To elucidate the ecological scenarios in which major groups of vertebrates emerged, the EU-funded EarlyVertEvo project will apply novel techniques in palaeobiology to study fossil stem-gnathostomes. The project will use geometric morphometrics, scanning surface-based technologies, non-destructive X-ray computed tomography, computational fluid dynamic simulations, physical hydrodynamic experiments and several methods for macroevolutionary analysis.

Objective

Debate over the origin of vertebrate bodyplan has occupied biologists and palaeontologists alike for centuries but discussions around this topic have been hindered because living vertebrates are unrepresentative of the ancestral lineages in which the bodyplan was established. Major transitions in early vertebrate evolution have been correlated with a long-term ecological trend from suspension feeding towards increasingly active lifestyles. However, most previous morpho-functional interpretations largely rely on speculation and these ecological explanations of evolutionary events have generally been regarded as untestable as theories. The recent emergence of new virtual techniques in palaeobiology provides for the first time the opportunity to perform rigorous computational and physical examination to test these hypotheses. In this context, the overall aim of my research programme is the joint application of an array of state-of-the-art techniques in palaeobiology to fossil stem-gnathostomes in order to elucidate the ecological scenarios in which the major groups of vertebrates emerged and to shed light onto the underlying selective forces that drove the main evolutionary transitions of the group. For this, the whole morphological diversity and disparity of early vertebrates will be analysed from a functional, temporal and phylogenetic perspective, using Geometric Morphometrics, scanning surface-based technologies, non-destructive X-ray computed tomography, Computational Fluid Dynamic simulations, physical hydrodynamic experiments and several methods for macroevolutionary analysis. This research programme will allow me to establish myself as a world-class independent interdisciplinary researcher by providing a portfolio of high profile publications in international peer-reviewed journals, a world-class suite of interdisciplinary skills, and a world class research programme that will allow me to establish myself as an authority in the field.

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Coordinator

UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL
Net EU contribution
€ 212 933,76
Address
Beacon house queens road
BS8 1QU Bristol
United Kingdom

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Region
South West (England) Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area Bristol, City of
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Links
Other funding
€ 0,00