Timing Earth Terrestrialization by Plants & Early Animals (UK, Ireland, Poland)

One of my research interests is understanding the timing and driving mechanisms that influenced the evolution of life from marine, lacustrine or otherwise wet environments toward land—evaluating the rate and character of early land colonization by life require precisely dating early land biotas.

Sedimentary rocks exposed in the United Kingdom mark the appearance of significant changes in life in Earth’s history. These include the speculated first air-breathing land animal and the first vascular land plants exposed in the rock record. Based on biostratigraphy, which focuses on correlating and assigning relative ages of rock strata using fossil assemblages contained within them, these events occurred in the Silurian times (between 443.7 and 416 million years ago, Ma).

However, rocks containing these critical markers of changes in Earth’s history have few absolute, radiometric ages. This missing time limits our understanding of when life began to appear in drier environments on Earth and what drove it to seek these conditions.

We work on remedying this situation by tackling the precise radiometric dating of stratigraphic sections in the U.K. that have recognized the importance of identifying significant biotic changes. To understand rock histories, we extract and date zircon (ZrSiO4), a radioactive mineral common in sedimentary rocks. These critical sections are missing precise radiometric ages and are logical targets for this work.

You can read more about this project in our Nature Research Ecology and Evolution blog post.