Supervisors and Institutions
Bacteria and other microbes play a fundamental role in the degradation of organic matter, but their role is poorly characterised in the context of fossil formation on a geological timescale. Hypotheses relating to fossilisation and fossil interpretation, particularly soft-tissues, make assumptions about microbial decomposition. This includes hypotheses about “Burgess Shale Type” preservation, Ediacaran “death masks”, interactions between clays and organic matter, phylogenetic distortion through effects such as “stem-ward slippage”, and indeed almost all aspects of decay and preservation. These assumptions include the uniformity of microbial action with respect to degradation of different animal tissues, and their response to environmental parameters like oxygen. The microbial marine communities that act to degrade animal tissues are fundamental to our understanding of fossilisation processes, especially the early evolution of animals, but we currently know little about them, and how they vary through time and space. This PhD project aims to directly test these assumptions by genetically identifying and tracking the microbial communities responsible: the marine ‘necrobiome’. Characterising these communities, their succession and their variability, will have important ramifications for hypotheses of fossil preservation and will be an important step in unlocking the potential of taphonomically informed interpretations of fossil data.
This is a truly interdisciplinary project bringing together palaeontological, microbiological, genetic and geological expertise and skills. As such it would suit candidates with a background in one or more of these areas.