My interview with Imperial College on the rise and fall of ancient dinosaur-eating crocodiles

While back in London recently for my PhD viva, the opportunity came up to speak with the Communications Office at Imperial College about some of my research. Naturally I pounced at the chance to discuss my research and broadcast it to a wider audience. The short audio for the interview is now online here, and we discuss everything from the impact of changing climates on biodiversity to giant, dinosaur-devouring crocodiles! Enjoy 🙂

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Dr Jon Tennant studied these creatures as part of his PhD in theDepartment of Earth Science and Engineering. He was exploring the biodiversity and the extinction of some tetrapods, which is a classification for all creatures with four limbs.

Dr Tennant, who is also a science communicator and children’s author, looked at some of the most fearsome tetrapods of them all – crocodilians. These creatures, which alligators and crocodiles are modern ancestors of, lived on Earth over one hundred million years ago in the deserts, coasts, oceans and even the artic regions of our planet. Some, like the Sarchosuchus, were the size of double-decker buses, and going by the fossil evidence, fed on dinosaurs, who were rival ‘apex’ predators.

Dr Tennant discovered in his research that changes in sea level, brought on by fluctuations in the climate and continent movements, changed the world of tetrapods like the Sarchosuchus forever. Now, he is embarking on a six-month exploration of the planet, including some of the regions where modern crocodilians live. Colin Smith caught up with Dr Tennant to talk about his favourite ancient crocodilians and how changes in early Earth impacted on their biodiversity. 

Full podcast here and you can download the mp3 file here.

Ecological reshuffle following a crocodyliform extinction

Chaaaaange places! Sometimes, when extinction hits it’s not quite the dramatic ‘great dying’ we might think of where animals choke their final breaths out in the desolate, lifeless wastelands. Sometimes, it’s more like the Mad Hatter’s tea party from Alice in Wonderland: chaotic, messy, no major character dies, but you can be sure that something pretty weird and dramatic has just happened.

Well, I think this is what happened around 145 million years ago at the Jurassic/Cretaceous boundary. In a recent paper, we analysed the diversity and extinction patterns of crocodyliforms – the group that includes modern crocodiles and their super cool ancestors – and found that they got hit pretty hard by an extinction event around this time.

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What are the key questions in palaeoecological research?

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=1032

Last year, a throng of palaeoecologists from the world around descended into Oxford to discuss what the 50 most pressing questions in palaeoecology are. I was happy to see some great scientists and communicators among them, including Anson Mackay, Jacquelyn Gill, and Gavin Simpson, which gives me real hope that these questions were crafted with more than just ‘science for the sake of science’ in mind, and I think this really shines through in their article.

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The early evolution of dinosaurs

This was originally posted at: http://blogs.egu.eu/palaeoblog/?p=581

Dinosaurs. What springs to mind when they’re mentioned? Colossal, towering sauropods? Packs of feisty feathered fiends? Or huge herds of hadrosaurs, chomping their way across the plains of long-lost worlds? Most, including myself, will automatically default to any one of these images when dinosaurs come up in conversation (what, you mean it’s not that frequent for normal people?) But we often neglect to think the earliest dinosaurs, spectacular organisms that gave birth to the most successful, and on-going, terrestrial vertebrate radiation of all time.

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Our Mad World: The Psychology of Climate Change

This is a slightly different post to the usual, you know, fossils and shit. It concerns the psychology behind climate change and mobilising towards a green future. Now this is by no means my area of expertise, but when I attended a talk recently by Oliver James at The Photographers’ Gallery in London, entitled “Our Mad World”, it really struck a chord with me. As a young research scientist, considering the psychology behind the science is really quite tangential to what I’ve been taught, and not something I’ve ever considered in detail. James gave a wonderful talk (without using PowerPoint, bonus!), and the way in which he spoke and delivered his message really resonated with the attendees.

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