Our big questions concern macroevolution and vertebrate evolution. We focus on understanding the impact of mass extinctions, the balance between biotic and abiotic drivers, and palaeobiology of dinosaurs and birds.
We work with numerical and computational tools to test hypotheses about past life. We nurture talent at all stages, encouraging students to engage in research at undergraduate, masters, doctoral, and postdoctoral levels.
The Benton Lab consists of a moving population of undergraduates, Masters and PhD students, postdocs and fellows. We meet regularly to discuss research in macroevolution and macroecology, and especially focus in state-of-the-art computational and instrumental methods. Over the years, several hundred undergraduates and Masters students have worked in the Benton Lab, and over 60 PhD students have graduated.
We use desktop computers, as well as our own dedicated Supercomputing cluster, for phylogenetic and macroevolutionary analyses, and have access to some excellent facilities. In the Tomography Lab we process 3D CT data on fossil reptilian anatomy. We use the SEM and geochemistry facilities for studies on exceptional preservation and especially the feathers of archosaurs and interpretations of original colour.
Work in the group generally aligns with one of these themes:
Vertebrate diversity and disparity
Understanding the interplay of morphospace occupation and diversity of different tetrapod clades through time, their relationship to mass extinctions and other great events in Earth history.
Investigations span studies of Permian to Cretaceous faunas from different parts of the world, including the UK, Romania, Russia, Tunisia, and China, with an aim of documenting new discoveries and reconstructing ancient ecosystems.
Feather and colour evolution
Studies of colour in fossil birds and dinosaurs based on melanosomes in their feathers, and evolution of feathers and homologies of dermal structures across all archosaurs.
Innovation and opportunity in the evolution of life
A project to produce a complete evolutionary tree of tetrapods and use this to explore two core questions in macroevolution: the balance between innovation and external processes in driving the evolution of life and identifying the best model for morphological evolution.
- ERC Advanced Fellowship, €2.5 million
- 5 Postdoctoral Researchers
Resilience and recovery from the end-Permian mass extinction
A collaborative project to explore the recovery of life from the largest of all mass extinctions in terms of diversity, phylogeny, and ecology.
- NERC BETR award, £800k to Bristol
- 2 Postdoctoral Researchers in Bristol and colleagues in China (Wuhan, Chengdu)
Evolution of feathers and colour in tetrapods
Exploring the origin of feathers in pterosaurs, dinosaurs and birds, how these patterns relate to genomic regulation, and the history of colour and behavior in those groups.
- NERC award, £600k, 2011-2017
- collaborations with IVPP, Linyi, Nanjing
Exceptionally preserved fossils of Strawberry Bank
Studying the 3D fossils of fishes, crocodiles, and ichthyosaurs from this Early Jurassic locality in Somerset.
- Leverhulme grant, £400k, 2015-2019
- 1 Postdoctoral Researcher
Contact Benton Lab
Our longest running undergraduate summer internship scheme, supervised by Professor Mike Benton.
Each student is assigned a site, does field work, works through the fossil collection, identifies specimens, and writes and illustrates the paper.