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  The evolution of reproductive strategies from dinosaurs to modern birds

   Department of Life Sciences

  ,  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

This project will study dinosaurs and modern birds to examine patterns in the evolution of reproduction from 250 million years ago to the modern day.

Reproduction is arguably the most important thing an animal does. Natural selection is about differential reproduction, with some DNA sequences reproducing more effectively than others. Therefore, all aspects of an organism can ultimately be seen as adaptations to reproduce, with the diversity of life reflecting diverse ways of reproducing. Different organisms may use very different reproductive strategies: animals can invest in having large number of offspring or invest heavily in each individual offspring, but given finite resources, they cannot do both. Remarkable variation is seen in the reproductive strategies of modern reptiles, extinct dinosaurs and living birds. Dinosaurs typically laid a large number of eggs, similar to crocodilians and turtles, while modern birds show a variety of patterns, with some having large clutches, others laying just a single, large egg. Reptiles, dinosaurs, and birds also vary in the parental care they give to offspring. Some birds have extensive, biparental care with both parents brooding the egg and feeding the chick; in some birds the eggs are simply abandoned, as in turtles. Dinosaurs may have had limited parental care, similar to crocodilians. How and why did this diversity come about?

The student will use data on fossil dinosaurs, fossil birds, and extant birds compiled by our team, and phylogenies to reconstruct the evolution of reproduction in the diapsids. Potential side projects and  thesis chapters include reproduction in Jurassic and Cretaceous birds, and the life history of Archaeopteryx and Microraptor. The PhD will be based at the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath in Bath, England. We have an extensive network of collaborators in the UK and abroad, and have a track record of helping our PhD students publish in top research journals. We seek bright and motivated and independent students from any country with an interest in evolution, behavior, and conservation. Interest in evolution, good quantitative skills and willingness to learn computer programming are essential for this PhD position.

The studentship will start in October 2024.

For further details, please see the supervisor’s details:

Dr Nick Longrich

Prof Tamas Szekely

Biological Sciences (4) Geology (18)

Funding Notes

We are willing to help students apply for scholarships for funding.


We publish multiple papers per year. Some of our recent publications are below:
Longrich NR, Jalil N-E, Khaldoune F, Yazami OK, Pereda-Suberbiola X, Bardet N. Thalassotitan atrox, a giant predatory mosasaurid (Squamata) from the Upper Maastrichtian Phosphates of Morocco. Cretaceous Research. 2022;Volume 140:105315.
Longrich NR, Suberbiola XP, Pyron RA, Jalil N-E. The first duckbill dinosaur (Hadrosauridae: Lambeosaurinae) from Africa and the role of oceanic dispersal in dinosaur biogeography. Cretaceous Research. 2021;120:104678.
Klein CG, Pisani D, Field DJ, Lakin R, Wills MA, Longrich NR. Evolution and dispersal of snakes across the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction. Nature Communications. 2021.
Saitta ET, Liang R, Lau CY, Brown CM, Longrich NR, Kaye TG, et al. Life Inside A Dinosaur Bone: A Thriving Microbiome. bioRxiv. 2018:400176.
Amano, T., T. Székely, B. Sandel, Sz. Nagy, T. Mundkur, T. Langendoen, D. Blanco, C. U. Soykan, W. J. Sutherland. 2018. Successful conservation of global waterbird populations depends on effective governance. Nature 553: 199-202.
Cooney, C. R, C. Sheard, A. D. Clark, S. D. Healy, A. Liker, S. E. Street, C. A. Troisi, G. H. Thomas, T. Székely, N. Hemmings & A. E. Wright. 2020. Ecology and allometry predict the evolution of avian developmental durations. Nature Communications 11: 2383
Eberhart-Phillips, L. J, C Küpper, T. E. X. Miller, M. Cruz-López, K. H. Maher, N. dos Remedios, M. A. Stoffel, J. I. Hoffman, O. Krüger & T. Székely. 2017. Adult sex ratio bias in snowy plovers is driven by sex-specific early survival: implications for mating systems and population growth. Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences US 114: E5474-E5481.
Kubelka, V., M. Šálek, P. Tomkovich, Zs. Végvári, R. Freckleton & T. Székely. 2018. Global pattern of nest predation is disrupted by climate change in shorebirds. Science 362: 680-683.
Liker, A, V. Bókony, I. Pipoly, J-F Lemaitre, J-M Gaillard, T. Székely, R. P. Freckleton. 2021. Evolution of large males is associated with female-skewed adult sex ratios in amniotes. Evolution (accepted).
Székely, T. 2019. Why study plovers? The significance of non-model organisms in avian ecology, behaviour and evolution. Journal of Ornithology 160: 923-933.

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