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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

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:

Fraser, N.C. & Sues H.-D. (eds.) 2017. Terrestrial Conservation Lagerstätten: Windows into the Evolution of Life on Land. Dunedin Academic Press Ltd, Edinburgh. 356pp.

Li, C., N.C. Fraser, O. Rieppel, L.-J. Zhao. 2017. A new diapsid from the Middle Triassic of southern China. Journal of Paleontology 91 (6): 1306-1312.

J.A. Clack, C.E. Bennett, D.K. Carpenter, S.J. Davies, N.C. Fraser, T.I. Kearsey, J.E.A. Marshall, D. Millward, B.K.A. Otoo, E.J. Reeves, A.J. Ross, M. Ruta, K.Z. Smithson, T.R. Smithson and S.A. Walsh. 2016. Phylogenetic and environmental context of a Tournaisian tetrapod fauna. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1: 016-0002 

Li. C., O. Rieppel, C. Long, and N.C. Fraser. 2016. The earliest herbivorous marine reptile and its remarkable jaw apparatus. Science Advances 2:

Young, M.T., Tennant, J.P., Brusatte, S.L., Challands, T.J., Fraser, N.C., Clark, N.D.I. and Ross, D.A. 2015. The first definitive Middle Jurassic atoposaurid (Crocodylomorpha, Neosuchia), and a discussion on the genus Theriosuchus. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 176 (2): 443–462. 

Sues, H.-D. and Fraser, N.C. 2010. Triassic life on land: the great transition. Columbia University Press, New York. 280pp. 

For further publications see the National Museums Scotland Research Repository.

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