Aug 2014-present NERC Independent Research Fellow, Department of Earth Sciences,
Natural History Museum, London, UK
Feb 2011-Apr 2014 Postdoctoral Research Assistant (Leverhulme Research Grant)
Department of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, London, UK
Aug 2009-Jan 2012 Honorary Researcher, Department of Geology, University of Leicester
Oct 2005-July 2009 PhD in Palaeontology, University of Leicester, UK. “Vermiform fossils
from the Lower Cambrian Chengjiang Biota, Yunnan, Southwest
Sept 2003-July 2005 MSc (Hons) in Zoology, Yunnan University, China.
Geological modules, Beijing University, China.
Sept 1999-July 2003 BSc (Hons) in Biology, Yunnan University, China.
2013 Highly commended talk for the President’s Prize at the 57th Annual Meeting of the
Palaeontological Association, University of Zurich, Switzerland.
2008 “The Sylvester-Bradley Award” of the Department of Geology, University of Leicester, UK.
2007 1) Personal Development Award from Royal Dutch Shell plc.
2) “One of the best Master’s Degree Thesis in Yunnan Province” prize of the Yunnan
Province Government, China.
2006 1) “Council Award for the Best Poster” prize at The Palaeontological Association 50th
Annual Meeting at Sheffield University, UK.
2) “One of the best Students of Provincial Level” prize of the Yunnan Province
2014 NERC Independent Research Fellowship for a five-year project “Cambrian Nervous
Systems for Reconstructing the Arthropod Tree of Life”.
2013 Palaeontological Association (UK) Grant-in-aid funding and Paleontological Society
(USA) sponsorship to support our topic session T243 “Konservat-Lagerstätten:
morphology, ecology, and taphonomy of exceptionally preserved fossils” at the GSA
125th Annual Meeting in Denver, 27–30 October 2013.
2012 ASSEMBLE (Association of European Marine Biological Laboratories) project funding
to collect living priapulid specimens and further lab work at the Kristineberg Marine
Research Station, Fiskebäckskil, Sweden.
2011 Leverhulme Research Grant for a three-year project “Extrapolating the central nervous
system of Cambrian ecdysozoans”, co-written with Dr. Greg Edgecombe (PI) and Prof.
Nick Strausfeld (Co-I).
2009 1) Co-Investigator in projects on Chengjiang Lagerstätte research, funded by National
Natural Foundation of China (40730211) and 973 Program of China (2006CB806400)
2) Student Travel Grant Award from the Scientific and Organizing Committee of
“International Conference on the Cambrian Explosion”
2007 1) SYNTHESYS (European Union-funded Integrated Infrastructure Initiative) grant
for a research visit at the Swedish Museum of Natural History
2) Aggregate Industries Scholarship to attend a geology field trip to Isle of Arran,
2006 1) John Whitaker Award of the Department of Geology, University of Leicester
2) Travel award from the Palaeontological Association for 2nd International
Palaeontological Congress in Beijing
3) Aggregate Industries Scholarship to attend a geology field trip to the Welsh
My primary research interest is to understand the origin and early evolution of animal life, especially the major branching events during animal evolution. The sudden appearance of all major animal phyla in the fossil record around 520 million years ago, known as the “Cambrian Explosion”, remains one of the most difficult and pressing issues in palaeontology.
Cambrian fossils provide direct insight into the early radiation of animal life and are crucial for addressing some fundamental questions: When and how did major animal groups evolve? What were the evolutionary sequences of key morphological innovations? How did animals adapt to their ecological and environmental changes?
Cambrian lobopodian animal Luolishania longicruris (Ma et al., 2009 in ASD). Photo by Xiaoya Ma and reconstruction drawing by David Baines.
I use interdisciplinary approaches to study the morphology, phylogeny, taphonomy and paleoecology of a broad range of Cambrian ecdysozoans from exceptionally well-preserved fossil assemblages, such as the Chengjiang and the Burgess Shale Lagerstätten.
Phylogenetic relationships between Cambrian lobopodians and other ecdysozoan taxa (modified after Ma et al., 2013 in JSP).
Exceptionally preserved brain from Cambrian arthropod Fuxianhuia protensa showing iron enrichment (Fe=red, Si+Al=blue). © Nature Publishing Group 2012.
Cong, P.Y., Ma, X.Y., Hou, X.G., Edgecombe, G.D. and Strausfeld, N.J. 2014. Brain structure resolves the segmental affinity of anomalocaridid appendages. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature13486
Ma, X.Y., Cong, P.Y., Hou, X.G., Edgecombe, G.D. and Strausfeld, N.J. 2014. An exceptionally preserved arthropod cardiovascular system from the early Cambrian. Nature Communications, 5: 3560. doi:10.1038/ncomms4560.
Ma, X.Y., Aldridge, R.J., Siveter, D.J., Siveter, D.J., Hou, X.G. and Edgecombe, G.D. 2014. A new exceptionally preserved Cambrian priapulid from the Chengjiang Lagerstätte. Journal of Paleontology, 88: 371-384. doi: http//dx.doi.org/10.1666/13-082.
Tanaka, G., Hou, X.G., Ma, X.Y., Edgecombe, G.D. and Strausfeld, N.J. 2013. Chelicerate neural ground pattern in a Cambrian ‘great appendage’ arthropod. Nature, 502: 364-367. doi:10.1038/nature12520
Ma, X.Y., Edgecombe, G.D., Legg, D.A. and Hou, X.G. 2013. The morphology and phylogenetic position of Cambrian lobopodian Diania cactiformis. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 12: 445-457. doi:10.1080/14772019.2013.770418
García-Bellido, D.C., Edgecombe, G.D., Paterson, J.R. and Ma, X.Y. 2013. A ‘Collins’ monster’-type lobopodian from the Emu Bay Shale Konservat-Lagerstätte (Cambrian), South Australia. Alcheringa, 37: 474-478. doi:10.1080/03115518.2013.792456
Ma, X.Y., Hou, X.G., Edgecombe, G.D., Strausfeld, N.J. 2012. Complex brain and optic lobes in an early Cambrian arthropod. Nature, 490: 258-261. doi:10.1038/nature11495
Ma, X.Y., Hou, X.G., Aldridge, R.J., Siveter, D.J., Siveter, D.J., Gabbott, S.E., Purnell, M.A., Parker, A.R. and Edgecombe, G.D. 2012. Morphology of Cambrian lobopodian eyes from the Chengjiang Lagerstätte and their evolutionary significance. Arthropod Structure & Development, 41: 495-504. doi:10.1016/j.asd.2012.03.002
Legg, D.A., Ma, X.Y., Wolfe, J.M., Ortega-Hernández, J., Edgecombe G.D. and Sutton, M.D. 2011. Lobopodian phylogeny reanalysed. Nature, 476, E1. doi:10.1038/nature10267.
Hou, X.G., Aldridge, R.J., Siveter, D.J., Siveter, D.J., Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J. and Ma, X.Y. 2011. An Early Cambrian Hemichordate Zooid. Current Biology, 21: 612-616. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.005.
Ma, X.Y., Hou, X.G. and Baines, D. 2010. Phylogeny and evolutionary significance of vermiform animals from the Early Cambrian Chengjiang Lagerstätte. Science China: Earth Sciences, 53 (12): 1774-1783. doi:10.1007/s11430-010-4084-y.
Ma, X.Y., Hou, X.G. and Bergström, J. 2009. Morphology of Luolishania longicruris (Lower Cambrian, Chengjiang Lagerstätte, SW China) and the phylogenetic relationships within lobopodians. Arthropod Structure & Development, 38: 271-291. doi:10.1016/j.asd.2009.03.001
Hou, X.G., Bergström, J., Ma, X.Y. and Zhao, J. 2006. The Lower Cambrian Phlogites Luo & Hu re-considered. GFF, 128: 47-51. doi:10.1080/11035890601281047
Hou, X.G., Stanley, G.D., Zhao, J. and Ma, X.Y. 2005. Cambrian anemones with preserved soft tissue from the Chengjiang biota, China. Lethaia, 38 (3): 193-203. doi:10.1080/00241160510013295
Hou, X.G., Ma, X.Y., Zhao, J. and Bergström, J. 2004. The lobopodian Paucipodia inermis from the Lower Cambrian Chengjiang fauna, Yunnan, China. Lethaia, 37 (3): 235-244. doi:10.1080/00241160410006555