PhD Studentship: Origin and early evolution of pterosaurs: the first true vertebrate fliers

United Kingdom
Jan 15, 2018
Apr 09, 2018
Organization Type
University and College
Full Time

Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates to evolve powered flight, and were a prominent component of Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems for 150 million years, from the Late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous. During this time they evolved considerable species richness (>150 species currently known) and a diversity of body plans and sizes. Despite intense research on pterosaurs in recent years, the origin of the group remains controversial and their pathway to flapping flight unknown. While the balance of evidence suggests that pterosaurs were close relatives of dinosaurs, this idea is far from secure because several influential studies have placed pterosaurs within a variety of phylogenetic positions among Permian-Triassic reptiles. So far, however, samples of fossil taxa have been too narrow to resolve this problem. New fossil finds, of early pterosaurs and other taxa, and increasingly comprehensive morphological data sets provide a new opportunity to solve this outstanding problem.

This project will determine the relationship of pterosaurs to other reptiles via the development of a major new phylogenetic dataset. This will include a broad range of early (Triassic–Jurassic) pterosaurs as well as an extensive sampling of Permian and Triassic reptiles. Data will be assembled from museum collections in Europe, North and South America, South Africa and China and analyzed using an array of independent approaches. The results will pinpoint the closest relatives of pterosaurs, the timing of their origination and the morphological changes that led to the unique construction of pterosaur wings and their acquisition of powered flight.

The student will be trained in comparative anatomy and taxonomy, the latest approaches to morphological phylogenetics, the use of online databases such as Morphobank, and the presentation and publication of scientific research results. This training will prepare the student for a career in biology or earth sciences research at a university or museum.

The successful candidate will have a strong background in palaeobiology, zoology, biology or Earth sciences. A background in vertebrate anatomy and/or systematics and phylogenetic methods would be highly advantageous.