Vertebrate evolution, development and ecology


Vertebrate history ranges back in time over 535 million years documenting major changes in biodiversity, evolutionary success and ecological adaptations. Although vertebrates are a relatively small group in the animal kingdom, their skeletons are well preserved in the fossil record, documenting an impressive increase in morphological complexity through time, thus making them an ideal group to study evolutionary processes. Morphological innovations like jaws, teeth and vertebrae are considered as drivers of the evolutionary and ecological success of jawed vertebrates representing 99,8% of all vertebrates nowadays.


We are using a wide diversity of vertebrates from earliest fossils to recent fishes, tetrapods including fossil marine reptiles, dinosaurs, birds and recent snakes and fossil and recent mammals, including us – humans. Systems we are particularly interested in are the skeleton and their tissue types in its specialised functional traits such as jaws, teeth, the skull, the vertebral column, limbs and the evolution of venom. We apply a range of novel and cutting edge digital techniques from tomographic methods (microCT, synchrotron tomography) to surface scanning, photogrammetry, 3D visualization, geometric morphometrics, Bayesian and Parsimony phylogenetic analyses, stable isotope geochemistry, genomics and proteomics.

We use vertebrates as a model to study the evolution and development of organ systems, the influence of morphological innovations on biodiversity and morphological adaptations in relation to ecology in order to understand the present and make meaningful predictions of the future. Evolutionary topics as island evolution of vertebrates and venom evolution in snakes and toxicology provide unusual insights into evolutionary processes. Evolution and development of the skeleton, the evolution of gene regulation and venom evolution, are examples of fundamental research with significant applied implications that form an integral part of our studies. With this unique combination of different vertebrate groups, techniques and traits our research integrates biology, geology, material and medical sciences in an innovative way.


Our programmes
& research themes

A selection of the main topics we are working on.


Evolution of tooth replacement in jawed vertebrates

Vidi project ‘Deep-time evolution of vertebrate jaws and teeth’. Our understanding of the evolution of teeth and their replacement is traditionally based on the most basal living jawed vertebrates, the chondrichthyans. This approach ignores the hundreds of…
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Changing invaders

How introduced rats have changed during their colonization of Pacific islands. Humans have been transporting vertebrates to islands worldwide since prehistory, often with dramatic impact on native fauna. These introduced species appear to change very…
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