Gemma Benevento

Gemma Benevento

Postgraduate

Gemma is a DPhil student interested in macroevolutionary patterns in vertebrate clades.

DPhil Project: How did mammals evolve into their evolutionary niches through time. Quantitative tests of classic macroevolutionary hypotheses.

Supervisor: Professor Matt Friedman

Modern mammals exhibit an incredible variety of forms and functions, from flying bats to aquatic whales, and from terrestrial horses to the egg-laying platypus. Mammals, therefore, are often referred to as being extremely ecomorphologically diverse, or disparate. However mammals have not always shown such a variety of different morphologies and ecologies. For centuries palaeontologists have recognised a stark difference between the mammal fauna found during the Mesozoic, when the dinosaurs ruled the Earth, and the period immediately postdating the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Unlike non-avian dinosaurs, mammals made it through the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction, and once they did their fossil record quickly reveals more disparate body sizes, feeding ecologies, and locomotor types. This fast and substantial increase in mammal disparity has been termed an ‘adaptive radiation’.
Despite a long history of interest in the evolution of mammals, in particular across the K-Pg boundary, the patterns and timings of changes in their feeding and locomotor disparity have not been well quantified. During my DPhil I aim to investigate how and why mammals radiated into many new ecomorphologies after the K-Pg, testing a null that their radiation was the result of large-scale niche clearing caused by the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Gemma is a NERC funded student, and part of the Oxford Environmental Doctoral Training Programme.