Professor Emily Rayfield



Dr Hugo Dutel (NERC funded PDRA: 2019-2021). My research interests deal with the morphological evolution and adaptation in vertebrates. The researches I have led since my PhD have focused on form/function relationships in the cranial system of living and extinct vertebrates. The approaches I follow encompass palaeontology, comparative anatomy and embryology, as well as functional morphology and biomechanics. I am Research Associate in palaeobiology working in Prof. Rayfield group at the University of Bristol (UK). My current research focuses on the functional evolution of the skull during the evolution of lobe-finned fishes and early tetrapods (NERC-funded grant NE/P013090/1).



Dr Delphine Angst (Marie Curie IF: 2018-2020). My research focuses on the paleobiology and the paleoecology of the large terrestrial fossil birds, using a multidisciplinary approach. I am more specifically interested on the determination of diet, locomotion,  reproduction, sexual dimorphism and population structure. To this end, I use a large range of tools, including the finite element analysis, bone histology,  isotope geochemistry and a morpho-functional approach. I have had the opportunity to work on a large number of fossil birds, from several countries and ages, including a large Late Cretaceous bird from France named Gargantuavis, the large South American flightless birds Phorusrhacidae, and Gastornis known from the Tertiary mainly in Europe and North America. My current research project focus on the famous dodo, reconstructing its ecology and biology.



Dr Elizabeth Martin-Silverstone (Arthritis Research RA: 2017-2018; NERC funded RA: 2019). I currently work as a research assistant at the School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol studying CT scans of early tetrapod skulls as part of NERC-funded grant to study the evolution and function of the skull across the water-to-land transition. My main research is on biomechanics and pneumaticity of flying animals.




Dr Pamela Gill (NERC funded RA: 2006-2009; Honorary RA: 2010-present). Pam is an honorary researcher in Bristol and we have collaborated on NERC-funded projects to explore the functional evolution of the skull across the cynodont-mammaliaform transition. Pam is known for her expertise in Triassic and Jurassic mammals and the south Wales fissure fill material.






Chris McCabe [Bristol 2018–] The evolution and function of mammalian venom. Lead-supervisor with co-supervisors Dr Sam Turvey (Institute of Zoology, ZSL) and Dr Nick Casewell (Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine). Chris graduated from the University of Bristol with a BSc in Biology followed by an MRes in Biodiversity, Evolution and Conservation at UCL. His master’s project was based at the Natural History Museum, London, where he investigated the comparative phylogeography of herpetofauna in a Honduran national park. Following a foray into gene editing at the Medical Research Council Chris is returning to Bristol to pursue his interest in evolutionary biology. The aim of his PhD is to investigate the evolution of venom in solenodons. Solenodons are the only extant mammals that possess a modified dental venom delivery system. This project aims to investigate why solenodons have a venom system, what its function is and how it evolved.

Ben Griffin [Bristol 2018–] Testing the quadrupedal launch mechanism in pterosaurs. Lead-supervisor with co-supervisors Dr Colin Palmer and Dr Elizabeth Martin-Silverstone. After completing his BSc and MSc at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand, Ben joined the lab in September 2018. His PhD research is investigating the launch mechanisms of pterosaurs, in particular testing the quandrupedal launch hypothesis. His project involves musculoskeletal analysis and reconstruction and biomechanical and kinematic modelling.




Antonio Ballell Mayoral [Bristol 2018–] Anatomy, phylogeny and function of the sauropodomorph dinosaur Thecodontosaurus antiquus. Co-supervisor with Professor Michael Benton (lead) and Dr Mark Puttick (Bath). Antonio obtained his MSc in Palaeobiology from the University of Bristol in 2017, after completing a BSc (Hons) in Biology at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain). His PhD focuses on updating the osteology of Thecodontosaurus and reconstructing its limb musculature. The biomechanical behaviour of its limb bones will be analysed using various biomechanical techniques (including trabecular and finite element analyses) to infer locomotion and stance. The functional characteristics of Thecodontosaurus will be placed in a broader context to understand the early functional evolution and radiation of sauropodomorph dinosaurs.



Marta Zaher [Bristol 2017–] Macroevolution and function in parareptiles. Co-supervisor with led supervisor Professor Mike Benton (Bristol). Marta’s research focuses mostly on pareiasaurs and procolophonids, of which latter were the only group of parareptiles to survive the Perm-Triassic extinction event. Both groups were major components of their ecosystems but different dietary preferences have been suggested for these animals, including herbivory, omnivory and insectivory. Digital modelling and engineering approaches (finite-element analysis) are used to explore a full range of cranial morphology in these animals to determine the most probable ecomorphological functional dietary categories of various pareiasaurs and procolophonids, which will shed light on their role in the respective past ecosystems. This will help us make a better understanding of Permian and Triassic tetrapod communities, which are important examples of a pre- and post-extinction event faunas.

Logan King [Bristol 2017–] Evolution of the brain in non-avian dinosaurs. Co-supervisor with lead supervisor Professor Mike Benton. Logan is originally from Alabama where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in geology at the University of Alabama in 2013. I earned my Master’s degree in 2017 from Fort Hays State University in Kansas with a thesis titled Morphometric Changes in Semicircular Canal Shape within Theropoda (Dinosauria: Saurischia) and their Dietary Implications. Logan’s PhD research explores ontogenetic and macroevolutionary changes in the endocranial cavity of non-avian dinosaurs.

Timothy Culwick [Bristol 2017–] Co-supervisor with Dr Kate Hendry and Dr Jeremy Phillips (Bristol). Tim’s research focuses on the identification and investigation of the controls on nutrient cycling by Porifera in the deep ocean. This work has two main branches: perform taxonomic analysis of sponges collected from the North Atlantic, in collaboration with the Huntsman Marine Science Centre; use X-ray tomography and Finite Element Analysis to investigate sponge biomechanics and use this to look at fluid flow around sponges, and explore the biological and environmental factors that could limit sponge growth and ultimately study the influence of biogeochemical cycling in sponge grounds.

Nuria Melisa Morales Garcia [Bristol 2016–] Functional evolution and diversity of Mesozoic mammals. Lead-supervisor with Dr Pamela Gill and Professor Christine Janis [CONACYT]. Melisa joined the lab in September 2016 after graduation from the Bristol MSc Palaeobiology. Originally from Hildalgo State, north of Mexico City, Melisa studied the ecomorphology of North American Miocene ungulates for her MSc research project, for which she won the poster prize at the annual Symposium of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy meeting, September 2016, in Liverpool. Melisa remains in Bristol on a CONACYT funded PhD project studying the functional and ecological diversity of Mesozoic mammals. Melisa won the poster prize at the Palaeontological Association annual meeting 2018.



Maryory Sarria-Dulcey [Bristol 2016–] The effect of climate change on Southern Ocean benthic calcifers. Co-supervisor with lead supervisor Professor Daniela Schmidt, co-supervisors Katrin Linse and Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand (British Antarctic Survey). Maryory joined the University after eight years teaching biological sciences in her home country of Columbia. Her PhD focuses on the sensitivity and plasticity of marine calcifers to acidification of the oceans. Her research focuses on understanding the biology and mechanics of the shells of Southern Ocean calcifers such as gastropods, bivalves and scaphopods.




Guillermo Navalón [Bristol 2015–] The evolution of the avian skull. Lead supervisor. Guillermo’s PhD focuses on characterising the relationship between form, function and development in the evolution of the avian skull.







Postdoc alumni

Dr Karen Roddy (MRC funded RA: 2014-2017)
Dr Stephan Lautenschlager (NERC funded RA: 2013-2016)
Dr Laura Porro (Marie Curie IF: 2013-2015; NERC funded RA: 2017-2018)
Dr Jen Bright (NERC funded RA: 2011-2014)
Dr Martin Rücklin (NERC funded RA: 2010-2012)
Dr Philip Cox (NERC funded RA: 2009-2012)
Dr Philip Anderson (Royal Society IF 2007-2009; Marie Curie IF 2009-2011)

PhD alumni

Andrew Jones [Birmingham 2014–18] The evolution and function of phytosaurs Co-supervisor with Professor Richard Butler. [CENTA NERC DTP funded]
Leanne Melbourne [Bristol 2013–17] The future of shelf ecosystems [NERC CASE studentship with Profs Daniela Schmidt (Bristol) and Juliet Brodie (NHM London)].
Elizabeth Martin [Southampton 2013–2017] Mass estimation in pterosaurs: phylogeneticimplications for the evolution of body size. Co-supervisor with Drs Colin Palmer (Bristol) and Philipp Schneider (Southampton) [University Southampton Scholarship].
Nicola Stone [Bristol 2013–17] The role of heterochrony in the evolution and function of palaeognathus birds [Self funded, part-time].
Ma Qingyu [Bristol 2012–2017] Constraints and efficiency in early avian evolution [University of Bristol Scholarship].
JJ Hill [Bristol 2012–17] Evolution and function of the vertebrate lower jaw [Self-funded]. Co-supervised with Professor Phil Donoghue.
Colin Palmer [Bristol; 2007–16]: The flight of pterosaurs [Self-funded, part-time]. Current position: Company Director Ginko Investments Ltd and Windcluster Ltd, Research Associate  University of Bristol. AWARDS: Nominated for Science Faculty award for best PhD thesis.
David Button [Bristol – Natural History Museum, London; 2011–15] Cranial biomechanics of sauropodomorph dinosaurs [NERC algorithm funded studentship with CASE partner support     from NHM] Co-supervised with Dr Paul Barrett (NHM). Current position: PDRA, Natural History Museum London. AWARDS: President’s Prize (2014) and Student Poster Prize (2013)   Palaeontological Association annual meeting; British Science Festival Invited speaker (2015).
Andrew Cuff [Bristol; 2010–14]: Functional morphology and biomechanics of ornithomimid and other theropod dinosaurs [Self-funded]. Current position: Postdoctoral researcher, The Royal   Veterinary College London.
Stephan Lautenschlager [Bristol – Munich; 2010–13] Skull form and function in therizinosaur dinosaurs, and the convergent evolution of herbivory in theropods [Volkswagen Foundation  funded]. AWARDS: Sustainable Software Institute Fellowship (£3000); Best Poster, Tomography Symposium London; Young Palaeontologist Award, and best student poster, German  Palaeontological Association. Current position: Lecturer at University of Birmingham.
Roger Close [Monash, Australia / Bristol; 2008–12]: The functional evolution of the flight complex in Mesozoic birds [Monash University Studentship], Co-supervised with Pat Vickers-Rich  (Monash). Current position: Postdoctoral researcher, University of Birmingham.
Aude Caromel [Bristol; 2008–12]: The link between form and function in planktonic foraminifers [NERC studentship], jointly supervised with Daniela Schmidt and Jeremy Phillips (Bristol).
Jen Bright [Bristol; 2007–2011, Viva date 26/07/11]: Validation of finite element models and the implications for palaeontology [NERC studentship]. AWARDS: University of Bristol Science  Faculty Prize for best PhD thesis 2011/12. Current position: Tenure-track Assistant Professor, University of South Florida.
Laura Porro [Cambridge; 2004–08] Investigation of proposed feeding behaviour in the basal ornithischian Heterodontosaurus tucki using finite element analysis [Cambridge-Gates Foundation Scholarship] with Dr DB Norman. AWARDS: Poster Prize, The Palaeontological Association. Current position: Lecturer, University College London.
Mark Young [Bristol & Natural History Museum; 2006–2009. Viva date 5/5/09]: The biomechanics and evolution of sauropod dinosaur skulls [NERC CASE studentship with Paul Barrett (NHM), Paul Upchurch (UCL) and Larry Witmer (Ohio)]. AWARDS: Best paper, Naturwissenschaften, 2012. Current position: Postdoctoral researcher University of Edinburgh.
Sandra Jasinoski [Bristol; 2004–08. Viva date 20/11/08]: Cranial mechanics of Dicynodontia using Finite Element Analysis [ORS, NSERC, UoB funded] co-supervised with Mike Benton.
Stephanie Pierce [Bristol; 2003–2007. Viva date 19/12/07]: Morphospace occupation and mechanical performance in extant and extinct crocodile skulls: A combined geometric  morphometric and finite element modelling approach [ORS, NSERC, UoB funded] co-supervised with Mike Benton] Current position: Tenure-track Assistant Professor of Organismic and  Evolutionary Biology and Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, Harvard University.