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Palaeobiology

Our collection covers all the major groups of fossil invertebrates, vertebrates, plants and trace fossils.

The Palaeobiology collections are housed in a modern purpose-built environmentally-controlled store, and comprise around 250,000 specimens, of which two per cent are very important type or figured specimens.

Palaeobiology collections

Our collection covers all the major groups of fossil invertebrates, vertebrates, plants and trace fossils.

Many of the specimens were collected from around the world from the early nineteenth century onwards, but particularly from important Scottish Palaeozoic localities. 

Many of the specimens are historically important and were collected by early pioneers of Scottish Palaeontology such as Hugh Miller and Charles Peach. 

The collections continue to be studied by the Palaeobiology team and visiting researchers. They are also being enhanced by field collection, as well as acquisitions from private collectors, to fuel further research or for exhibition purposes.

Scotland’s Palaeozoic rocks represent important windows through which crucial stages in the early evolution of life on Earth can be viewed. In particular, our collections are renowned worldwide for specimens of eurypterids and plants, and our fossil fish and early tetrapod collections are among the largest and most diverse in the world.

Early Carboniferous (360-345 million year old) fossils are helping to answer long-standing questions about the early evolution of terrestrial animals during a time when little is known about life on land. This study contributed to a major collaborative research project: TWeed (Tetrapod World: early evolution and diversity) paleobiology research project.

We received a grant from the John Ellerman Foundation to investigate fossil and other natural sciences collections in museums around Scotland. For more information see Natural Science Collections Across Scotland.

In addition, National Museums Scotland is part of an international team in a five-year project (2021-2025) funded by UNESCO, aimed at better understanding the dynamics of biodiversification during the Early Palaeozoic. In close collaboration with the International Sub-commission on Ordovician Stratigraphy, the project aims to fill numerous knowledge gaps in most regions of the world with a special focus on less-documented time intervals.  

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Meet the team

Dr Andrew Ross
Principal Curator of Palaeobiology

Specific responsibility: Curation and development of the fossil collections.

Research interests/expertise: Fossil arthropods, particularly the taxonomy, biodiversity and palaeoecology of insects.

E: a.ross@nms.ac.uk

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Dr Stig Walsh
Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeobiology

Specific responsibility: Curation of fossil vertebrate collections, especially Palaeozoic fish and early tetrapods.

Research interests/expertise: Vertebrate palaeoneurology (especially birds), avian palaeontology and evolution, vertebrate taphonomy, micro-CT techniques and quantitative approaches for investigating vertebrate skeletal shape variation.

E: s.walsh@nms.ac.uk

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Dr Yves Candela
Curator of Invertebrate Palaeobiology

Specific responsibility: Curation of fossil invertebrate and plant collections with particular responsibilities for fossil Brachiopoda.

Research interests/expertise: Brachiopoda taxonomy; biodiversification and biogeography of the Ordovician marine faunas; Cladistical analysis of the Strophomenida brachiopods.

E: y.candela@nms.ac.uk

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Dr Sarah Stewart
Assistant Curator of Palaeobiology

Specific responsibility: Curation of fossil invertebrate and plant collections with particular responsibilities for fossil mollusca.

Research interests/expertise: Geology, stratigraphy and palaeontology of the Girvan district, Scotland. 'Neglected' and/or problematic fossil taxa (groups).

E: sarah.stewart@nms.ac.uk

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Vicen Carrió, ACR
Geology Conservator

Specific responsibility: The preparation and conservation of specimens for inclusion in our galleries, temporary or permanent exhibitions, and for research.

Research interests/expertise: Anoxic environment techniques to improve the life of collections, adhesives, and how to improve the packing of collections to be stored and handled effectively.

E: v.carrio@nms.ac.uk

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Dr Davide Foffa
Research Fellow

Research interests/expertise: Vertebrate palaeontology. Triassic terrestrial ecosystems; anatomy, systematics, ecology, and macroevolution of Mesozoic marine reptiles using micro-CT techniques, biomechanics, quantitative multivariate analyses.

E: d.foffa@nms.ac.uk

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Dr Nick Fraser
Keeper of Natural Sciences

Responsible for: The Natural Sciences department, its staff, collections and projects.

Research interests/expertise: Early Mesozoic terrestrial and marine ecosystems; phylogeny and systematics of Rhynchocephalia and Protorosauria; global faunal and floral change across the Triassic-Jurassic boundary.

E: nick.fraser@nms.ac.uk

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Research Associates

Professor Stephen Brusatte

Specialises in the anatomy, systematics, and macroevolution of fossil vertebrates, particularly dinosaurs and Triassic archosaurs.

Professor Michael Coates

Studies early vertebrate diversity and evolution, the reconstruction of evolutionary pattern and process, and the uses of fossils and systematic methods in evolutionary developmental biology.

Professor David Harper

Focuses on fossil brachiopods and numerical methods in palaeontology with a special interest in the Lower Palaeozoic rocks of Scotland. Some of the major events in the history of life, such as the Cambrian Explosion, Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event and the end Ordovician mass extinctions.

Dr Sandy Hetherington

Specialises in the origin and early diversification of plant roots in the first vascular plants. Sandy is particularly interested in the exceptionally preserved fossil plants in the 407 million year old Rhynie Chert, comparing the characters of their rooting systems with those of living plants.

Dr Elsa Panciroli

Focuses on the origin of the major groups of Mesozoic mammals. Elsa uses X-ray tomography and digital visualisation to understand the anatomy and growth of the first mammals and their closest relatives. She has a particular interest in the role of body size in the development of mammal ecomorphology.

Dr Michael Taylor

Specialises in the evolution of marine tetrapods, especially Mesozoic marine reptiles such as plesiosaurs; the history of palaeontology and museums, especially the collector Hugh Miller (1802-1856).

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