Dr Richard Twitchett
- Job title: Professor in Geology, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (Faculty of Science and Technology)
- Address: Room 113, Fitzroy, Drake Circus,
Plymouth, Devon, PL4 8AA
- Postal address: Room 121, Fitzroy, Drake Circus,
Plymouth, Devon, PL4 8AA
- Telephone: +441752584758
- Facsimile: +44 (0)1752 584776
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Qualifications & background
"Tall and gangly, Richard is a patient geologist who has already published some exceptional results."
D.H. Erwin, 2006, Extinction, Princeton University Press, p. 159
1993 BSc. Geology and Biology, First Class Joint Honours. University of Bristol, UK.
Awarded the Stanley Smith Prize for Palaeontology
1997 PhD, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Leeds, UK.
Thesis title: Palaeoenvironments of the Lower Triassic of the Dolomites, northern Italy
Awards and Honours:
2011 James Lee Wilson Award for Excellence in Sedimentary Geology by a Young Scientist, Society for Sedimentary Geology (SEPM) awarded in recognition of my ‘contribution to palaeobiology, the understanding of extinction events and the recovery of ecosystems after crises’
Oct 2007-Sep 2008 Lecturer in Geology, University of Plymouth
Oct 2003- Sep 2007 Royal Society Japan-UK Research Fellow: University of Tokyo & University of Plymouth
Feb-Sep 2003 Lecturer in Geology, University of Plymouth
Oct 2002- Feb 2003 Lecturer: University of Oxford
Sep 2001- Feb 2003 Lecturer: University of Bristol
May 2000- Apr 2001 Lindemann Trust Fellow: University of Southern California, USA
Oct-Nov 1999 Visiting Researcher: University of Utrecht, The Netherlands
Jun 1997- Sep 1999 PDRA: University of Leeds
Jan-May 1997, Jan-May 1998 Lecturer: Keele University
Geological Society of America
Geological Curators Group
Roles on external bodies
Palaeontological Association: Secretary (2012 - ); Council member and Trustee (since 2006); Editor of Palaeontology Newsletter (2006-2011)
Palaeontological Society of Japan: Associate Editor of the journal Paleontological Research (2005-2012)
National Science Foundation (NSF): Proposal reviewer (2003-)
Geological Society of America (GSA): Associate Editor for GSA Bulletin (2005)
Yorkshire Geological Society: Council member (1997-2000); Programme Secretary (1998-2000)
Current teaching responsibilities:
Module Leader for EAR119; EAR510
Stage 4 (MGeol) Tutor for Earth Sciences
International Exchange Tutor for Earth Sciences
- Teaching on the following courses:
- ENV5203 Global Environmental Variability;
- GLY5102 Marine Micropalaeontology
In the South Urals, Russia, 2004
- Permian-Triassic extinction and recovery: The mass extinction event at the end of the Permian Period was the most severe such event of the Phanerozoic. Understanding the causes and consequences of the end-Permian extinction event is crucial to understanding the evolution of the Earth's biosphere. I am particularly interested in the palaeoecology, palaeoenvironments, rock record bias, oceanography and climate changes of this important interval in Earth history. My field research has taken me to many beautiful and sometimes remote parts of our planet, including Italy, Oman, western USA, East Greenland, Japan, Australia, China, Russia and Spitsbergen.
- The Lilliput effect: this term describes the temporary appearance of small body size in animals in the aftermath of extinction events. This phenomenon is widespread, occurs after most biotic crises, but is relatively little studied. Assuming that the Lilliput effect is not the result of bias in the fossil record, then it must reflect a real biological response to changing environmental factors. The animals were perhaps responding to changes in oxygen concentrations, food supply, temperature and/or salinity.
- Biotic recovery after modern and ancient defaunation events: what are the similarities and differences in the response of the marine ecosystem to biotic crises at different scales? The diagram below shows my model of how the benthic marine ecosystem recovered after the end-Permian mass extinction event. In the immediate aftermath of the event only the very shallowest tiers were occupied; predominantly by deposit feeders (stage 1). The shallow infaunal suspension feeders returned next (2), followed by the higher epifaunal tiers (3). Eventually tiering levels above and below the sediment surface returned to pre-extinction levels (4). For more information see Twitchett (2006).
- Trace fossils and mass extinction events: Trace fossils are our only evidence of the responses of the soft-bodied benthos to environmental changes during ancient biotic crises. They can offer us insights into the dynamics of extinction and recovery that cannot be gained from study of body fossils alone. Examining the trace fossil records through the Permian-Triassic and Triassic-Jurassic events has shown how the body size, vertical distribution, biodiversity and ecology of the benthic marine infauna was affected by these major events in Earth history.
- Taphonomy, preservation and the quality of the fossil record: Understanding the processes of taphonomy is crucial for understanding the potential biases of the fossil record. This is especially important during mass extinction events, where changes in the quality of the fossil record may affect our perceptions of the timing, duration and magnitude of extinction and recovery. For example, the Early Triassic is an interval of particularly poor quality fossil record, with a large number of Lazarus taxa; how has this affected our perceptions of the timing of the end-Permian extinction event and subsequent recovery?
Major Ongoing Research Projects
- Evolution of modern marine ecosystems: controls on their structure and function: This project involves a team of researchers from Plymouth, Southampton and Oxford, and has been running since 2011. The aim of the project is to understand the early evolution of modern-style marine ecosystems, that appeared in the Early Mesozoic, during the aftermath of the Late Permian mass extinction event. I am PI of the Plymouth team and overall leader of this project. We are funded by a NERC grant, as one of four projects within the major Co-Evolution of Life and the Planet research programme. The Plymouth team comprises two postdocs (Dr Silvia Danise and Dr Marie-Emile Clemence) and a PhD student (William Foster), with Dr Gregory Price as co-I. The Southampton team is led by Dr. Clive Trueman, and the Oxford team by Dr Matt Friedman. Further details, including the latest copy of our annual research newsletter, can be found at www.lifeandplanet.net . Recent highlights from the Plymouth research team include the first high resolution study of benthic community dynamics through the Early Toarcian episode of global warming, published in PLOS ONE: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0056255.
- Permian-Triassic Mass Extinction in Russia: This project involves a team of researchers from the University of Bristol, Saratov State University (Russia), British Geological Survey and University of Plymouth. In its present form the project has been running since 2004, but evolved from a Bristol-Saratov collaboration that began in the early-1990s. The aim of the project is to understand the nature of the faunal, facies, environmental and climatic changes recorded in the Permian-Triassic continental deposits of Russia, principally in the South Urals, associated with the largest mass extinction event of the Phanerozoic. I am a Co-PI on the project, which is led by Prof. Mike Benton (Bristol). Funding has been gratefully received from National Geographic, Royal Society, and NERC. Further details can be found on the project pages hosted by the University of Bristol, which can be accessed here. Recent highlights from the Plymouth research team include using magnetostratigraphy to better constrain the completeness of the Russian P-Tr sedimentary record.
- Biomarkers and the Permian-Triassic Mass Extinction Event: This project involves a team of researchers from Curtin University, Geoscience Australia, and Origin Energy (Australia), MIT (USA), Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology (Germany) and University of Plymouth. Biomarkers are the fossilised remains of biomolecules that can be extracted from well-preserved sedimentary rocks. They derive from a range of organisms including bacteria and other microorganisms that are not normally preserved in the fossil record, and biomarkers can provide unique insights into the biosphere, geosphere and environments of the past. I am a Co-PI on this project, which has been running since 2003 and which is led by Associate Professor Kliti Grice of Curtin University. Funding has been gratefully received from the Australian Research Council. Some of the recent successes of this project include the identification of anaerobic photosynthesis in Early Triassic seas; the identification of a novel biomarker that appears to mark the onset of ecological collapse; the characterisation of an Early Triassic source rock from the Perth Basin; and analyses of the distribution of Permian-Triassic biomarkers from East Greenland and around the world.
Research degrees awarded to supervised students
Current PhD Students:
- Martha Koot (UoP) The ecology and evolution of Permian-Triassic sharks [self-funded; co-advisor Prof Malcolm Hart]
- Nikita Jacobsen (UoP) Biodiversity crisis and recovery during the Triassic-Jurassic greenhouse interval: testing ocean acidification hypotheses [funded by UoP Studentship; co-advisor Prof John Spicer]
- Andrew Leighton (UoP) Foraminiferal change across the Cretaceous - Palaeogene boundary in Texas and Denmark [funded by UoP Studentship; co-advisors Prof. Malcolm Hart and Dr. Christopher Smart]
- Hayley Manners (UoP) Understanding the sensitivity of the Earth's climate to CO2 forcing: comparative organic geochemistry of hyperthermal events [funded by UoP; co-advisors Drs. Stephen Grimes and Paul Sutton, Prof. Malcolm Hart]
Former PhD students:
- Timothy Kearsey (2009; University of Plymouth) Multi-proxy palaeoclimate reconstruction of the Permian–Triassic mass extinction event. Current Position: Survey Geologist, British Geological Survey
- Birgit Nabbefeld (2009; Curtin University of Technology, WA) Synchronous disturbance in oceanic and atmospheric conditions during the end-Permian mass extinction event and its protracted recovery [funded by ARC; co-advisors Prof. K. Grice (Curtin), Prof. R. Summons (MIT)]
- L. Felipe Opazo (2012; Plymouth) Ecological changes of marine ecosystems through the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event [funded by an EU AlBan Scholarship; co-advisor Prof. Malcolm Hart]
- Alex Dunhill (2012; University of Bristol) Sampling and knowledge of the palaeontology of the British Triassic and Jurassic [funded by NERC-BGS CASE Award; co-advisors Prof. Mike Benton (Bristol) and Dr. Andrew Newell (BGS)]
Grants & contracts
Competitive Research Grants awarded since 2000:
2010 PI, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) grant, with Dr. G.D. Price (Co-I, UoP), Dr. C.N. Trueman (Co-I, Southampton) and Dr. M. Friedman (Co-I, Oxford), to study the Evolution of modern marine ecosystems: controls on their structure and function: total value £999,222 [start 1/4/2011, end 31/3/2014].
2010 PI, National Geographic grant to study the Late Triassic mass extinction and recovery in northern Chile: total value US$17,500 [start 1/4/2010, end 31/12/2010].
2009 PI, EC Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship, with Dr. G.D. Price (Co-I, UoP), to study Early Mesozoic Biodiversity and Climate Change (EMBiCC): total value Euro 172,434 [start date 1/4/2009, end date 31/3/2011]
2008 Co-I, Danish Natural Science Research Council Framework Grant, with Dr. Gilles Cuny (PI, Natural History Museum of Denmark), to study fossil sharks from Greenland and the great Permo-Triassic mass extinction: total value DKK 806,519 [start date 6/2009, end date 5/2010]
2008 Co-I, Australian Research Council Discovery/QEII Fellowship grant, with Dr. K. Grice (PI, Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia) and Prof R. Summons, to study the characteristics of organic matter formed in toxic, sulfide-rich modern and ancient sediments: total value AU$660,000 [start date 2008, end date 2012]
2008 PI, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Small Grant, with Dr. G.D. Price (Co-I, UoP), to study global warming and the Late Permian mass extinction event: total value £46,265 [start date 6/2008, end date 11/2009]
2006 Co-I, Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant, with Dr. Z.Q. Chen (PI, University of Western Australia) to study the recovery of marine ecosystems following the Late Permian mass extinction event: total value AU$563,000 [start date 1/2007, end date 12/2011]
2005 Co-I, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Standard Grant with Prof M.J. Benton (PI, University of Bristol), to study the terrestrial Permian-Triassic record of Russia: £200,009 [end date 12/2009]. Details of the Russia Project can be found here
2004 Co-I, Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant with Dr. K. Grice (PI, Curtin University of Technology, Perth): AU$10,650
2003 PI, Royal Society Japan-UK 2+2 Fellowship, for research on the Permian-Triassic extinction event and recovery, including two years at Tokyo University (2003-2005) funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS): first leg JPY9,725,000 (ca. £49,000) plus JPY3,000,000 (ca. £15,000) research grant (JSPS); second leg £80,287 (Royal Society) [end date 09/2007]
2003 Co-I, National Geographic Research Grant, with Prof. M.J. Benton (PI, University of Bristol), for fieldwork in Russia: US$20,000 details here
2000 PI, Lindemann Trust Fellowship, The English Speaking Union, for study at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles: US$30,000
Competitive Studentships awarded
2007 The Lilliput effect in the aftermath of the end-Permian extinction event. Nuffield Science Bursary (Undergraduate Research). The Nuffield Foundation. £1360.
2005 Palaeoclimate change and the Permian-Triassic mass extinction event. UoP Faculty of Science PhD Studentship. Co-supervisors Dr. G.D. Price, Dr. S. Grimes and Prof. M.J. Benton (Bristol). [end date 09/2008]
Co-Leader, Restoration of marine ecosystems following the Permian-Triassic mass extinction: lessons for the present.
This is IGCP 572, funded by UNESCO and IUGS. Project leaders: Zhong Qiang Chen (Australia), Richard J. Twitchett (UK), Jinnan Tong (China), Margaret L. Fraiser (USA), Sylvie Crasquin (France), Steve Kershaw (UK), Thomas Algeo (USA) and Kliti Grice (Australia). Start date 2008, end date 2012. For more information click here
2008 Recoveries from Mass Extinction: Patterns, Processes and Comparisons
, Topical Session T41, Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, 8th October, Houston, USA, co-organised with Dr. Peter Harries, (Univ. South Florida)
2006 Extinction, Dwarfing and the Lilliput effect, Topical Session 112, Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, 25th October, Philadelphia, USA, co-organised with Dr. Bridget Wade (Rutgers)
2001 The Beginning of the Mesozoic, Symposium S8, North American Paleontological Convention, 27th June, UC Berkeley, California, USA, co-organised with Prof. Dave J. Bottjer (USC)
Other academic activities
As part of the local celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, I have been involved with a number of outreach activites associated with events in the university and Plymouth City Museum.
Darwin200 celebrations (2009)
In his autobiography, Darwin famously noted that the two months he spent in Plymouth while waiting for the Beagle to depart were "the most miserable which [he] ever spent". Curious to know more of his miserable time here, I undertook a small investigation of his journal and letters written around that time (September to December 1831). While it is clear that he did indeed find aspects of his stay gloomy and depressing, he also demonstrably enjoyed many things, including walks in the neighbouring countryside, interacting with local scientists, lectures in the Athenaeum, day trips to explore local geology (Plymouth Limestone quarries and the granite tors of Dartmoor), dinners, dances and other entertainments. I have been invited to give several lectures on Darwin's time in Plymouth: at the Plymouth City Museum (10th February and 20th March), the Royal Western Yacht Club (18th February), and the Plymouth Athenaeum (19th November). This activity has also been covered in the local press.