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3D quantitative analysis of textures in palaeobiology: environments, taphonomy and exceptional preservation (CENTA2-SGGE13-PURN1)

Project Description

The roughness or texture of surfaces is intuitively obvious and, at a course scale, easily discernible through touch and sight. We can see and feel that some bedding surfaces are rougher than others, or that some parts of an exceptionally preserved fossils appear smoother than the matrix, or other parts of the fossil. But texture is surprisingly difficult to quantify, and until recently statistically testing whether, and the degree to which, the texture of different surfaces is comparable was not really possible. Relatively new approaches to 3D quantification have changed this, and using methods borrowed from engineering, it is now possible to detect and quantify quite subtle differences in surface texture at a range of scale, down to less than micrometres. This project will apply these techniques to a range of palaeobiological questions linked to exceptional preservation. This will include quantification of microbially induced sedimentary structures, or MISS. Microbial surfaces have important implications for the ecology and taphonomy of Ediacaran organisms, for example, but can be very difficult to distinguish from abiogenic textures (Davies et al. 2016).

This project will test the hypothesis that they are distinguishable through quantitative analysis of texture. Another area of investigation will test the hypothesis that the surface texture of the soft tissue remains in exceptionally preserved fossils differs from that of the surrounding rock matrix. This is important because for some fossil species the boundaries of the body margins, and thus the shape of the body are unclear. Changes in colour can be misleading because it is difficult to distinguish between body margins and external haloes related to chemical changes around a decaying carcass. Moreover, in many fossils no compositional difference is detected between fossil and surrounding rock. What then accounts for the outline of these fossils?

Entry Requirements:

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

Available for UK and EU applicants only.

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility:

How to Apply:

Please follow refer to the How to Apply section at and use the Geography Apply button to submit your PhD application.

Upload your CENTA Studentship Form in the proposal section of the application form.

In the funding section of the application please indicate you wish to be considered for NERC CENTA Studentship.

Under the proposal section please provide the name of the supervisor and project title/project code you want to apply for.

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number of fully funded studentships available to the best UK and EU candidates available as part of the NERC DTP CENTA consortium.

For more details of the CENTA consortium please see the CENTA website: View Website.

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility: View Website

The studentship includes a 3.5 year tuition fee waiver at UK/EU rates

An annual tax free stipend (For 2019/20 this is currently £15,009)

Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) of £8,000.


Davies, N. S., Liu, A. G., Gibling, M. R. & Miller, R. F. 2016: Resolving MISS conceptions and misconceptions: A geological approach to sedimentary surface textures generated by microbial and abiotic processes. Earth-Science Reviews 154, 210-246.

Purnell, M. A., Crumpton, N., Gill, P. G., Jones, G. & Rayfield, E. J. 2013: Within-guild dietary discrimination from 3-D textural analysis of tooth microwear in insectivorous mammals. Journal of Zoology 291, 249-257.

Purnell, M. A., Seehausen, O. & Galis, F. 2012: Quantitative three-dimensional microtextural analyses of tooth wear as a tool for dietary discrimination in fishes. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 9, 2225-2233.

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