Vegetation dynamics and terrestrial-marine connectivity through the Permian-Triassic mass extinction

Lunatisporites magnified

Lunatisporites from the latest Permian of Greenland © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

The project will study the high-resolution vegetation dynamics and biodiversity change in the lead up to and the recovery of, the Permo-Triassic mass extinction event.

Research focus

The extinction event that occurred in the latest Permian was the largest such event of the Phanerozoic, with widespread extinctions recorded in marine and terrestrial ecosystems. It is also associated with evidence for substantial global warming.

Most studies have hitherto focussed on understanding faunal and palaeoenvironmental changes within the marine realm, primarily shallow shelf settings, from local to global scales, with less attention paid to the impact on terrestrial floras.

Despite the widespread use of plant microfossils (spores and pollen) for biostratigraphy and correlation, the Permian-Triassic plant fossil record is so poorly understood that there is still considerable uncertainty concerning the magnitude of the global floral extinction (Nowak et al., 2019).

Plants have played a key role in weathering, run-off and the supply of nutrients to shelf seas since at least the Devonian (Morris et al., 2015), and there is a high degree of connectivity between shallow marine ecosystems and adjacent terrestrial ecosystems.

Understanding how local coastal floras changed in response to Permian-Triassic warming is central to understanding and interpreting ecosystem-scale changes on land and in adjacent shallow shelf seas through this critical event in Earth history, yet few studies have hitherto attempted to do this (Looy et al., 2001).  

This project aims to understand how terrestrial floras changed through the Permian-Triassic at high temporal resolution, and the connectivity between terrestrial and marine ecosystems. This will be achieved by detailed analysis of the plant microfossil record from selected sites, using both core and outcrop material, and integrating the results with palaeoenvironmental proxy data and marine macrofaunal data from the same samples.

The successful candidate will be trained in palynology, stratigraphy, sedimentology, palaeoenvironmental analysis and palaeoecology.  

How to apply

Applications for the PhD are processed through the Natural History Museum.

To apply please send the following documents to the Postgraduate Office at

  • Curriculum vitae.
  • Covering letter outlining your interest in the PhD position, relevant skills training, experience and qualifications for the research, and a statement of how this PhD project fits your career development plans.
  • Names of two academic referees.

More information on how to apply for this PhD can be found on the ACCE website

The deadline for applications is 15 January 2021.


Looy et al. (2001). Life in the end-Permian dead zone. PNAS July 3 98 (14) 7879-7883

Morris et al. (2015). Investigating Devonian trees as geo‐engineers of past climates: linking palaeosols to palaeobotany and experimental geobiology. Palaeontology Volume 58, Issue 5

Nowak et al. (2019). No mass extinction for land plants at the Permian–Triassic transition. Nature Communications volume 10, Article number: 384

Apply for this project

Read the eligibility criteria and application guidance below, then send your application to

Application deadline: 15 January 2021

Any questions?

Natural History Museum

Lead supervisor: Dr Stephen Stukins


University of Sheffield

Prof Charles Wellman

Natural History Museum

Prof Richard Twitchett 

ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership

Joint PhD training partnerships between the Natural History Museum and the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool and York, and the NERC’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).

Funded by