In order to make evolutionary sense of fossils, we need to be able to place them in the tree-of-life and consider how they are related to each other and living organisms. To assess major evolutionary events such as the origin of vertebrates or the animal invasion of land, we use phylogenetics to build evolutionary trees as well as assess the techniques used in tree construction.

Building phylogenies is an essential part of palaeobiology. This ranges from the small scale (identifying the affinity of individual taxa) to the large scale (constructing trees for entire clades). Through a combination of these approaches, big macroevolutionary questions can be answered: How to do major new groups originate? What was the sequence of evolutionary events that took place to construct the modern flora and fauna? Over what timescale do evolutionary events and transitions take place? Integration of morphological and molecular data is important in this context, especially with respect to timescales.

We use the morphological data yielded by fossils, both through traditional analyses and cutting edge analytical techniques, combined with DNA evidence, to build evolutionary relationships. This work is conducted across the tree of life, and used to shed light on evolutionary problems. However, the fossil record is afflicted by large amounts of missing data. Hence, much of our research focusses on the way that morphology is transformed and lost during fossilisation and how that can systematically distort our ability to build phylogenies. Through a combination of simulation studies and analysis of empirical data, the problems inherent to fossil phylogenies can be identified, quantified and corrected for. As such building, analysing and assessing phylogenies is transforming our understanding of the fossil record and its use in evolutionary contexts.

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