Friday, August 18, 2006


Graeme Lloyd
University of Bristol

I am currently a PhD student working on a project entitled "character acquisition through geological time".

Although scientists of any discipline are often caught up in very specialised work science itself is about making generalisations. In this way my work is about reducing the complexities of the fossil record (the history of life on Earth preserved in the remains of animals, plants and their traces) to the sequence of characters that are acquired through time. In fossils a character might be the feathers on Microraptor, the cones from a pine tree or the ribs on a sea shell.

Although we can examine the distribution of these, and other characters in modern animals and plants I am interested in when they first appeared (evolved) and this can only be done by examining fossils. I am interested in various groups, but have devoted a lot of time to lungfish (literally fish with lungs that are eel-like in appearance). Lungfish are a famous example of a group who acquired their distinctive characters very rapidly some 350 million years ago, and that have changed very little since. Because of this similarity with much older fossil forms Charles Darwin termed them "living fossils". My main focus is to see if this pattern is really an unusual one - as most people assume - or if it is in fact more general.

I have also worked on or am interested in mass extinctions (one of which saw the demise of T. rex and his chums at the end of the Cretaceous), phylogenetics (the family tree of life), and the quality of the fossil record (can palaeontology really tell us anything useful?).

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