Supervisors and Institutions
The exceptionally preserved fossil record of soft tissues provides unique insights on a range of important evolutionary events, from the Cambrian explosion to the feathers of dinosaurs. Interpretation of the soft tissue fossil record is more challenging than the conventional fossil record. Anatomy is incomplete and distorted, having been subjected to loss and change through decay and preservation. Those processes of decay can be experimentally investigated on a laboratory timescale under controlled conditions. A recent resurgence in experimental decay had revealed important sources of bias and a new understanding of preservation processes. However, in many respects the applicability of experimental data to the actual fossil record remains unclear; many fundamental experimental parameters have not been tested. Are the chemical, biological and physical parameters of experiments realistic given geological parameters? Can results be generalized given variability in sediments and microbial ecology? How do these considerations affect interpretations of the fossil data? This project aims to test the validity of experimental taphonomy by investigating processes of decay, their applicability to the fossil record and thus the evolutionary inferences drawn.