Stephen Dornbos' Research
Research in my lab focuses on the evolution, paleoecology, and preservation of animals during their initial radiation of the Ediacaran and Cambrian Periods (ca. 635-488 million years ago). Known popularly as the “Cambrian explosion,” this radiation is one of the most critical events in the history of life on Earth, with complex animals evolving for the first time, radiating throughout the world’s oceans, and diversifying into most of the major animal groups that we still see today. An increasingly complex web of ecological interactions was a fundamental part of this radiation. We find the first evidence for macropredation, extensive skeletonization, deep burrowing in the seafloor, and macroscopic sense organ development during this event.
The goal of research in my lab is to enhance our understanding of these ecological interactions and how they influenced the early evolution of animals. This is achieved through a combination of field-based paleoenvironmental interpretation, laboratory analysis of rock samples collected in the field, and detailed examination of the anatomical features of individual fossil specimens collected in the field or housed in museums. Fieldwork takes place primarily in southwest China and the western USA, and includes soft-bodied fossil deposits such as the early Cambrian Chengjiang biota. Learning more about these ecological interactions provides insight into the selective pressures that drove animal evolution during this key interval. Specific research areas include:
- Organism-sediment interactions during the Cambrian radiation.
- Community structure development during the Cambrian radiation.
- Sensory ecology and evolution during the Cambrian radiation.
- Exceptional preservation of phosphatized Ediacaran microfossils.
- Microbial structure development in siliciclastics and carbonates.