Our Scope and Aims

Birth of the Terrestrial Ecosystem

Picture of lake and hills with ferns

Life began in the oceans, but by around 500 million years ago it was starting to colonise the land. The first land plants evolved from green algae. Arthropods including centipedes and scorpions emerged from the water. Finally, during the Devonian period (419 to 359 million years ago), a group of lobe-finned fishes gave rise to the first tetrapods - the distant ancestors of all land vertebrates including ourselves. This project investigates the origin and early evolution of tetrapods in the context of the developing land ecosystem, using all the different data sources available to us.

The Elusive Dawn of Tetrapods

Image of sunrise over Earth

Despite its convincingly robust portrayal in media, we actually have only fragmentary insight into the origin and early evolution of land vertebrates. There is an unexplained mismatch between the trackway and body fossil records: tetrapod trackways predate the oldest tetrapod body fossils by 20 million years and betray an unexpectedly advanced locomotory repertoire. The body fossils indicate that tetrapods diversified rapidly during the Devonian and spread between the tropics to the Antarctic Circle, but most are just fragments that tell us little about the animals. We need to find out more about the tetrapods, their lifestyles, and their role in the Devonian ecosystems.

Revealing the Bigger Picture

Picture of palaeontological research at the European Synchrotron

We are a team of palaeobiologists and geoscientists with a new multidisciplinary approach to reconstructing the origin and early evolution of tetrapods in its broader ecological framework. The Devonian tetrapod record will be meticulously revisited and expanded during focused expeditions to bring novel information and materials in the footlights. Devonian palaeoassemblages will be investigated in various academic disciplines and by using state-of-the-art analytical techniques. Supported by a 5-year Advanced Grant from the European Research Council, we aim to resolve the identity and palaeobiology of our oldest quadrupedal ancestors as well as their ecological roles in the Devonian world.

Last modified: 2022-05-20