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Form, function and macroevolution in dinosaurs

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  • Full or part time
    Dr KT Bates
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Dinosaurs dominated terrestrial ecosystems throughout the Mesozoic, and radiated into a diverse array of body shapes and sizes. They are therefore a model system for understanding the interactions between anatomy, function and ecology through time. However, there is currently a significant void between anatomical studies of dinosaurs and macroevolutionary analyses, and consequently the functional and ecomorphological pressures behind their evolutionary radiations are poorly understood. We will address this issue by quantitively reconstructing muscle evolution across dinosaur evolutionary history, and using sophisticated biomechanical modelling to assess the implications of muscle evolution on biomechanical performance and ecological adaption.

To achieve this goal the student will generate a large database of osteological and soft tissue measurements from living archosaurs using a combination of dissection and medical image data. The student will then build upon an existing data base of 3D models of dinosaurs by digitizing key specimens from UK and overseas museums. Quantitative soft tissue reconstructions of these fossils will be mapped on to a phylogenetic tree and used to examine patterns of soft tissue evolution, and particularly correlations with major functional and ecological transitions in dinosaurs. Finally, muscle reconstructions will be input into new biomechanical models of dinosaur taxa to examine how muscle evolution affects mechanical performance and adaptation, providing new insights into major ecological transitions, such as the evolution of herbivory and quadrupedalism.

The ideal student would have a background in zoology/palaeontology and skills in quantitative, mechanical and/or 3D digital techniques, and/or phylogenetic comparative methods, but training will be provided in all techniques. The supervisory team includes experts in vertebrate anatomy, palaeontology, biomechanics, imaging and computer simulation. The student will be based with Dr Bates in the Evolutionary Morphology & Biomechanics Group at Liverpool (, but will spend time with Dr Maidment at The Natural History Museum.

Funding Notes

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£14,777 tax-free, 2018-19) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership ACCE, View Website. ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK.

Applications (CV, letter of application, 2 referees) by email to [Email Address Removed], deadline: January 9 2019. Interviews in or after the week commencing: 11th February 2019. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed for only one project from the ACCE partnership.


Allen, V., Bates, K.T., Zhiheng, L. & Hutchinson, J.R. 2013. The evolution of body shape and locomotion in bird-line archosaurs. Nature 497: 104-107.

Maidment, S.C.R, Bates, K.T., Falkingham, P.L., VanBuren, C., Arbour, V., & Barrett, P.M. 2014. Locomotion in ornithischian dinosaurs: an assessment using three-dimensional computational modelling. Biological Reviews 89: 588-617.

Sellers, W.I., Pond, S.B., Brassey, C.A., Manning, P.L. & Bates, K.T. 2017. Investigating the running abilities of Tyrannosaurus rex using stress-constrained multibody dynamic analysis. PeerJ 5:e3420. doi: 10.7717/peerj.3420.

Macaulay, S., Bates, K.T., Hone, D., Allen, V., Brophy, P. & Hutchinson, J.R. Submitted. Linking integument, feather and body shape evolution in archosaurs. Evolution.

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