Synopses of Winter Programme Lectures

Wednesday 3rd October 2018

Dr David Button, Natural History Museum, London. Food for thought: functional trends in the dinosaur feeding apparatus and the roles of convergence and contingency in dietary evolution

The relationships between form, function and ecology are crucial components of evolutionary biology. Data from the fossil record is critical here, through providing our only perspective on morphofunctional and ecological trends across macroevolutionary timescales.
Mesozoic dinosaurs exhibited great plasticity in ecology, with repeated origination of specialised diets. In particular, although ancestrally carnivorous, herbivory evolved multiple times independently within the clade. This provides an ideal case-study in which to investigate signals associated with the evolution of specialised ecologies. However, whereas behaviour and performance can be readily observed in living taxa, extracting these data from fossil specimens requires a sophisticated methodological toolbox.
Here, a suite of visualisation and biomechanical methods is used to reconstruct the feeding apparatus of Mesozoic dinosaurs, and investigate functional trends associated with dietary evolution. Results show that the evolution of gigantism was associated with dietary innovation within Sauropodomorpha, highlighting the importance of feeding behaviour in driving the diversification of dinosaur body plans via correlated evolution of characters.
Comparison of clades reveals that pathways to herbivory were reveals repeated functional trends observed between them. Significant evidence of evolutionary convergence is observed between two subsets of taxa. However, multiple solutions to herbivory are still observed within Dinosauria. Although convergence within subsets of taxa is common, it is not observed between them due to functional constraints imposed during the early evolution of each group. This highlights the hierarchical nature of evolution, with adaptation driving convergence within regions of morphospace delimited by phylogenetic contingency.

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Wednesday 17th October 2018

Roy Starkey: Minerals of the English Midlands

The mineral wealth of the English Midlands has been exploited for centuries – lead, copper, zinc, and to a lesser extent silver, have all been worked. Deposits of coal, iron ore and limestone powered the Industrial Revolution, providing the raw materials for such visionaries as Sir Richard Arkwright, Matthew Boulton, James Watt, William Murdoch and Josiah Wedgwood.
The area has produced a wide range of interesting mineral specimens. Examples of these are to be found in local and regional museum collections, and especially at the Natural History Museum in London. However, such was the importance of Britain in the development of mineralogy as a science that specimens from the English Midlands are to be seen in collections all over the world. Minerals such as phosgenite, matlockite and mottramite are recognised as having been first described from the English Midlands. The hard rock quarrying industry of Leicestershire means that fresh exposures are constantly being created, and new mineralogical discoveries continue to be made today.
This talk will provide an overview of the fascinating stories associated with the mines, quarries and minerals, illustrated by images taken especially for a recently published book
Minerals of the English Midlands.

Wednesday 31st October 2018

John Smellie, University of Leicester: Volcanism in Antarctica: reconstructing past environments and the survival of Life

Antarctica is one of the world’s largest volcanic provinces, with the most recent widespread phase of volcanism stretching back, continuously, to 30 million years ago; coincident with the dawn of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Many of the volcanoes preserve surprisingly fine details of their eruptive (environmental) setting, an ability that is particularly characteristic of glaciovolcanoes (i.e. volcanoes that erupt in association with ice). Several critical parameters of past ice masses can routinely be deduced from studying glaciovolcanic outcrops and, just as importantly, many of those parameters are deduced quantitatively, something no other methodology can achieve. Glaciovolcanic studies are thus the most powerful and holistic method for studying past ice masses currently available. Recent studies have also demonstrated unexpected, new evidence for non-glacial conditions. Although volcanic studies can be used to resolve important environmental problems, such studies are still very uncommon. However, they have been widely applied in Antarctica. This talk will briefly introduce Antarctica’s volcanoes, before presenting the results of selected volcanic studies, in order to demonstrate the power of such investigations for understanding Antarctica’s past environments, and how Antarctica’s ice sheet might impact on our future, in a warming world. Finally, it will be shown why it now seems that Antarctica’s volcanoes may also be the missing link that enabled Life to persist through multiple glacial cycles.
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Wednesday 14th November 2018

Dr Vanessa Banks, British Geological Survey: Karst processes on the edge of the Derbyshire carbonate platform – a tribute to Dr Trevor Ford

Mineralisation of the southern edge of the carbonate platform in Derbyshire, has given rise to a number of interesting geological features that provide an opportunity for geological process understanding, and a challenge to engineering. Recent excavations have provided an opportunity to build on the legacy of research undertaken by Trevor Ford and others. The presentation will describe the geological context, the range of sediments, and the problems that they present to engineering.