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We study the structure, morphology, growth and systematics of organisms and their interactions with each other and with the lithosphere, oceans and atmosphere.

Palaeobiology is the study of the history and evolution of life.

We study the structure, morphology, growth and systematics of organisms (taxonomy), and their interactions with each other (ecology) and with the lithosphere, oceans and atmosphere (geochemistry).

We work from the scale of microbes to trees. We interpret the nature of the fossil record through the lens of preservation (taphonomy).

Our researchers have made particular contributions to understanding:

  • the early colonisation of Earth by plants and trees
  • the role of preservational processes in interpreting the fossil record
  • the history of life and chemistry in the early oceans
  • the evolution of marine microorganisms.


Palaeobotany and early terrestrial ecosystems

The palaeobotany group studies the early stages in the colonisation of life on land. We describe the diversity of plant life on land through the Silurian and Devonian periods, and study their influence on environment, from the smallest land plants to the first trees and forests.

Global recognition is enhanced by collaborations worldwide, including in China and North and South America, and fieldwork in these areas and the Arctic.

We collaborate with developmental biologists and geneticists in assembling deep time phylogenies of land plants leading to an understanding of the evolution of extant terrestrial lineages. We also collaborate with vertebrate palaeontologists establishing the co-emergence of vertebrate life on land.

Biogeochemical chemical evolution of the Precambrian biosphere

Our research is focussed on the interplay between biology, palaeo-ocean chemistry and the biogeochemical evolution of the earliest geosphere.

A bulk of our research is inspired by an excellent understanding of modern marine biogeochemical processes to infer the mechanisms of formation of ancient marine banded iron formations,  manganese deposition, palaeo-seawater nutrient cycling, ocean-atmosphere redox evolution and isotope biogeochemistry, linked to triggers and consequences of early  Earth oxygenation history.

As a multidisciplinary discipline, we work extensively with microbiologists, geobiologists, geochemists, sedimentologists, palaeontologists and isotope geochemists.


Berry, C. (Principal Investigator) Earliest forests of woody trees in Svalbard. National Geographic. 2016, £15,000

ChiFru, E. (Principal Investigator) Coevolution of life and arsenic in Precambrian oceans. European Research Council

Edwards, D. (Principal Investigator)Resolution of anatomy, ontogeny and affinities of Siluro-Devonian Pachytheca. Leverhulme Trust. £22000

Edwards, D. (Co-Principal Investigator) The origin of plants. NERC Co PI. 2015, £60,000

Edwards, D. (Principal Investigator) Investigations on diversity in early land plants. Gatsby Foundation. 2014-2016 - £20,000, 2017 - £25.500

Pearson, P. (Principal Investigator) Expedition 363 West Pacific Warm Pool: planktonic foraminifer biostratigraphy and the evolution of Pulleniatina. NERC IODP Moratorium proposal, £43,720, inc. 2 months full time FEC plus 1 hour per week FEC

Pearson, P. (Co-Principal Investigator) Are adaptive zones important in macroevolution? NERC CoPI. 2015-2018, £70,000

Meet the team

Team Leader

Academic staff

Postgraduate students

Associated staff



Macro-photography and imaging lab

This laboratory includes Nikon digital SLR studio photography with polarized light capability and tethered cameras, Leica Aristophot macrophoto stand, and a dedicated graphics computer with print format screens, Adobe Acrobat Pro and other graphics/desktop publishing software.

Light microscopy suite

This laboratory includes several binocular and compound microscopes with Leica image processing software for both biological and geological specimens.

Find out more about the light microscopy suite.

Hydrofluoric acid laboratory

This laboratory is used for the specialist preparation of palynological and other samples by acid digestion of rocks.

Fossil preparation laboratory

The fossil laboratory includes equipment for the dirty preparation of fossil specimens, including dust extraction units and fume hoods, plastic resin embedding facilities, and a limited capability for precision sawing of small specimens.

Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope (ESEM)

This is a high resolution ESEM allowing magnifications up to 500,000x on conventional coated/conducting samples but it also has the capability for high resolution ESEM of uncoated and even hydrated "wet" samples.

Find out more about the ESEM facility.


School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Committed to achieving the highest standards in research and education and to providing a rich and varied research-led environment where all staff and students can achieve their full potential to the benefit of society.


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Research that matters

Our research makes a difference to people’s lives as we work across disciplines to tackle major challenges facing society, the economy and our environment.


Postgraduate research

Our research degrees give the opportunity to investigate a specific topic in depth among field-leading researchers.


Our research impact

Our research case studies highlight some of the areas where we deliver positive research impact.