Dr Katie Davis, Biology, York
The Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction was responsible for the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs. In addition, modern birds (Neornithes) were the only avian lineage to survive the meteorite impact of five late Cretaceous lineages. This project seeks to ask why Neornithes were the only lineage to cross the K-Pg boundary. Following an existing and well-tested pipeline, the student will collect published data on bird phylogenetics, which will be combined to create a species-level phylogenetic tree. For tractability, the data collection will be focussed on the Cretaceous and Paleocene period, examining 94 million years of avian evolution. The student will then collect ecological data (e.g., habitat, diet), which, with the phylogenetic tree, will be used to reconstruct functional diversity and identify ecological traits that may have aided neornithine survival or, conversely, contributed to the demise of archaic birds. This project will provide skills in R, phylogenetics and macroecology, as well as the opportunity to investigate why some lineages survive mass extinctions, a question that is of increasing importance as we combat modern mass extinction events. Students will be expected to present their findings orally at a research day in York in September 2024.