Service Communautaire d'Information sur la Recherche et le Développement - CORDIS

Periodic Report Summary 1 - ARCHOSAUR RISE (The early Mesozoic rise of archosaurs: New insights into an exemplar evolutionary radiation)

A central goal of palaeontology is to understand the drivers and dynamics of the major evolutionary radiations that have shaped the history of life on Earth and governed the origins of the modern biota. This research project addresses one of the most important evolutionary diversifications on land, that of the archosaurs and their kin (archosauromorphs). This evolutionary radiation took place around 250 million years ago, in the aftermath of the largest mass extinction in the history of life, and gave rise to dinosaurs, crocodilians, pterosaurs and birds. This project is focused on constraining the diversity and biogeography of species involved in the early phase of this radiation during the early Mesozoic (Triassic and Early Jurassic), and elucidating the radiation’s tempo and evolutionary patterns and mechanisms. Our aim is to provide new insights into how and why archosaurs became arguably the most successful group of vertebrates on land, and more broadly into the nature of major evolutionary radiations, the recovery from mass extinction events, and the long-term interactions between biotic diversity and Earth system evolution.

In the first funding period of this project, work has been focused on an urgently needed deep and far-reaching reassessment of the primary anatomical and systematic data for early archosauromorphs. This has involved: collecting detailed anatomical data on archosauromorph fossil species from the Triassic of South Africa and India and combining this with existing data on archosauromorphs from other parts of the world; systematic analysis of previously undescribed archosauromorph fossils from the Middle Triassic of Tanzania which provide a uniquely important view on this evolutionary radiation; completion of a series of anatomical and taxonomic revisions of key early archosauromorph specimens, species and taxonomic groups, and the establishment of a rigorous hypothesis of early archosauromorph interrelationships; fieldwork in South Africa aimed at discovering new archosauromorph fossils. The work completed so far has allowed the research team to make a major advance beyond the state of the art by establishing for the first time a robust and taxonomically comprehensive phylogenetic topology for early archosauromorphs. This data and phylogenetic framework will facilitate research by the team in the second funding period on the biogeography, evolutionary rates, and morphological disparity of the early archosauromorph radiation.

Dissemination has taken place through: publication, with the team publishing 15 papers to date in international, peer-reviewed journals within the first funding period; presentations at international conferences in the UK, Germany, Poland and USA; extensive public outreach activities, including public talks, media coverage, social media dissemination, and development of museum displays; a research group website (

The research fellow, Dr Richard Butler, has been successfully integrated into the University of Birmingham. He has established a new and successful research group that currently includes two postdocs, four PhD students, a technician, and undergraduate students. He has full independence to manage and direct the research of this group. He has been appointed on an open-ended research-intensive contract, and in 2015 was promoted to Senior Birmingham Fellow, equivalent to Senior Lecturer or Senior Research Fellow. He has also been highly successful in establishing new collaborations within and outside Birmingham, and has been successfully awarded additional grant funding, most notably a Starting Grant from the European Research Council to support a distinct but complementary project.

Reported by

United Kingdom


Life Sciences