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Dr Nick Fraser

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.

Nick Fraser is head of the Department of Natural Sciences and specialises in vertebrate palaeontology.

As an undergraduate at King's College, University of Aberdeen, Dr Fraser studied zoology. He then moved to Marischal College and the university’s geology department for his doctoral studies. Between 1985 and 1990 he held a postdoctoral fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge before moving to the States where he worked for 18 years at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. He returned to Scotland and National Museums Scotland in 2007. He is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Geosciences, Virginia Tech and Honorary Fellow in Geosciences, Edinburgh University.

Today, Dr Fraser’s research is interdisciplinary and centres on the Triassic period (250 -201 million years ago). Collaborating with a number of colleagues worldwide, he has published extensively on Triassic faunas and floras.

The Triassic is a critical period in earth’s history as it saw the origin of many of the major groups of modern animals, (including mammals, crocodiles, turtles and true flies) and is renowned as the time when the first dinosaurs walked the planet. At the same time the Triassic world was home to some of the most bizarre vertebrate animals ever known – including the marine tanystropheids with some members having necks longer than their bodies and tail combined. Dr Fraser has published widely on this particular group of reptiles.

Working closely with colleagues at the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) in Bejing, Peking University and the Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago), Dr Fraser continues to investigate some of these strange marine reptiles from the Middle Triassic of southern China. One particularly remarkable form is Atopodentatus that sports a strange hammerhead-shaped snout, while an early turtle, Eorhynchochelys, possesses the very characteristic beak-shaped skull of turtles but lacks the typical bony carapace. It is hoped that future finds of turtle fossils in the Chinese deposits will help the team better understand the early evolutionary history of this endangered group of reptiles.

Dr Fraser has also been involved in two exciting Scottish-based research programmes. The first has been dubbed the TW:eed project (Tetrapod World: early evolution and diversity). See to find out more about the earliest colonization of land by vertebrates and the part that National Museums Scotland has played in understanding this critical step in vertebrate evolution some 360 million years ago. The second focuses on the Jurassic vertebrates of Skye which is a collaborative project with PalAlba. Their research suggests there may be interesting links between the Jurassic vertebrates of Skye and those of China and future work will explore these possibilities further.

Above: Eorhynchochelys sinensis

Selected publications

Jagielska, N., O’Sullivan, M., Funston, G.F., Butler, I.B., Challands, T.J., Clark, N.D.L., Fraser, N.C., Penny, A., Ross, D.A., Wilkinson, M. Brusatte, S.L. 2022. A skeleton from the Middle Jurassic of Scotland illuminates an earlier origin of large pterosaurs. Current Biology

Nesbitt, S.J., Stocker, M.R., Ezcurra, M.D., Fraser, N.C., Heckert, A.B., Parker, W.G., Mueller, B., Sengupta, S., Bandyopadhyay, S., Pritchard, A.C., Marsh, A.D. 2021. Widespread azendohsaurids (Archosauromorpha, Allokotosauria) from the Late Triassic of western USA and India. Papers in Palaeontology  (4):

Panciroli, E., Benson, R.B.J., Fernandez, V., Humpage, M., Martín-Serra, A., Walsh, S., Zhe-Xi L., Fraser N.C. 2021. Postcrania of Borealestes (Mammaliformes, Docodonta) and the emergence of ecomorphological diversity in early mammals. Palaeontology 64

Spiekman, S.N.F., Ezcurra, M.D., Butler, R.J., Fraser, N.C. and Maidment, S.C.R. 2021. Pendraig milnerae, a new small-sized coelophysoid theropod from the Late Triassic of Wales. Royal Society Open Science 8

Panciroli, E., Benson, R. B. J., Fernandez, V., Butler, R. J., Fraser, N. C., Luo, Z-X. and Walsh, S. 2021. New species of mammaliaform and the cranium of Borealestes (Mammaliformes Docodonta) from the Middle Jurassic of the British Isles. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

Spiekman, S.N.F., Fraser, N.C. and Scheyer, T.M. 2021. A new phylogenetic hypothesis of Tanystropheidae (Diapsida, Archosauromorph) and other “prororosaurs” and its implications for the early evolution of stem archosaurs. PeerJ 

Walkden, G.M., Fraser, N.C., Simms, M.J. 2021. The age and formation mechanisms of Late Triassic fissure deposits, Gloucestershire, England: Comments on Mussini, G. et al. (2020). Anatomy of a Late Triassic Bristol fissure: Tytherington fissure 2.  Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 132: 127–137.

Spiekman, S., Neenan, J. M., Fraser, N.C., Fernadez, V., Rieppel, O. Nosotti, S. and Scheyer T. M. 2020. Aquatic habits and niche partitioning in the extraordinarily long-necked Triassic reptile Tanystropheus. Current Biology 30: 1-7.

Chun Li, Fraser, N.C., Rieppel, O & Xiao-Chun Wu. 2018. A Triassic stem turtle with an edentulous beak. Nature 560 (7719): 476–479.

Jaquier, V.P., Fraser, N.C., Furrer, H. and Scheyer, T.M. 2017. Osteology of a New Specimen of Macrocnemus aff. M. fuyuanensis (Archosauromorpha, Protorosauria) from the Middle Triassic of Europe: Potential Implications for Species Recognition and Paleogeography of Tanystropheid Protorosaurs. Frontiers in Earth Science 5:


For further publications see the National Museums Scotland Research Repository.

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