Dr Roger Benson

Associate Professor of Palaeobiology

Email: roger.benson@earth.ox.ac.uk
TEL: +44 (1865) 272000
FAX: +44 (1865) 272072
Homepage: http://www.earth.ox.ac.uk/~rogerb/Roger_Benson/Roger_Benson.html

Research Profile

I am a vertebrate palaeontologist working on: (1) systematics, (2) evolutionary patterns during large-scale adaptive radiations, and (3) interactions between ancient biodiversity, rock deposition, and Earth's physical history.

My research aims to quantify evolutionary patterns on long timescales, in major radiations of terrestrial and marine tetrapods, and other fossil groups.


My work on dinosaurs, marine reptiles, and stem-group mammals has resolved many long-standing uncertainties on evolutionary relationships within these groups. The resulting evolutionary trees are central to understanding macroevolutionary pattern and process during major evolutionary transitions such as the origins of birds and mammals, and secondary adaptation to aquatic life in terrestrial tetrapods.

Large-scale evolutionary patterns:

Exciting recent developments in evolutionary biology have come from testing mathematical models of body size and shape evolution on evolutionary trees. However, the predominance of ‘extant-only’ datasets, which are heavily pruned by extinction and often document very shallow evolutionary divergences, yields only a partial understanding. My research in this area brings deep time data to bear on questions of adaptive zone invasion and the radiation of important living and fossil groups such as birds, dinosaurs, and pterosaurs. These analyses illustrate large-scale patterns of evolution on timescales exceeding 100 million years, during the major adaptive radiations that make up most extant biodiversity.

Interactions between Earth history and vertebrate evolution:

These investigations are key to understanding the importance of ongoing environmental change on the biosphere. I have focussed on characterising the statistical links between rock record biases, climatic parameters, and vertebrate diversity using multivariate statistical approaches from time series analysis, and subsampling. These studies demonstrate that large-scale biases explain much of the apparent distribution of biodiversity in the fossil record. However, these can be accomodated statistically, revealing important associations between long-term patterns of biodiversity, and physical parameters such as sea level and global temperature.

Selected Publications

  • Benson RBJ, Choiniere JN. 2013. Rates of dinosaur limb evolution provide evidence of exceptional radiation in Mesozoic birds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 280(1768):20131780 (doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1780).
  • Smith AS, Benson RBJ. 2013. Marine diversity in the geological record and its relationship to surviving bedrock area, lithofacies diversity, and original marine shelf area. Geology 41:171-174 (doi:10.1130/G33773.1).
  • Benson RBJ, Upchurch P. 2013. Diversity trends in the establishment of terrestrial vertebrate ecosystems: interactions between spatial and temporal sampling bases. Geology 41:43-46 (doi:10.1130/G33543.1).
  • Carrano MT, Benson RBJ, Sampson SD. 2012. The phylogeny of Tetanurae (Dinosauria: Theropoda). Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 10:211-300 (doi:10.1080/14772019.2011.630927)
  • Benson RBJ, Butler RJ, Carrano MT, O'Connor PM. 2012. Air-filled postcranial bones in theropod dinosaurs: physiological implications and the 'reptile'-bird transition. Biological Reviews 87:168-193 (doi:10.1111/j.1469-185X.2011.00190.x).
  • Butler RJ, Benson RBJ, Carrano MT, Mannion PD, Upchurch P. 2011. Sea level, dinosaur diversity and sampling biases: investigating the 'common cause' hypothesis in the terrestrial realm. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 278:1165-1170 (doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.1754).
  • Benson RBJ, Butler RJ. 2011. Uncovering the diversification history of marine tetrapods: ecology influences the effect of geological sampling biases. Special Publications of the Geological Society of London 358:191-208 (doi: 10.1144/SP358.13).
  • Benson RBJ, Butler RJ, Lindgren J, Smith AS. 2010. Mesozoic marine tetrapod diversity: mass extinctions and temporal heterogeneity in geological megabiases affecting vertebrates. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 277:829-834 (doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.1845)

view Extended Publications