Echinoderm research


Pentacrinites fossilis, a Lower Jurassic crinoid from Lyme Regis, Dorset

Principal Investigator

Dr Tim Ewin

Project summary

  • Focus: The diversification and evolution of Palaeozoic and Mesozoic echinoderms

The Museum's Earth Science Echinoderm research focuses on the diversification and evolution of various groups during the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic, particularly starfish, brittle stars, crinoids and the extinct edrioasteroids. 

Current projects include:

Starfish (Asteroid) systematics

Principal Investigator: Dr Tim Ewin

The phylogenetic tree of modern starfish (Neoasteroids) is highly controversial, with competing hypotheses on the positions and relationships of major clades. This has raised questions about primitiveness and the evolution of Neoasteroids from Palaeozoic ancestors. Museum research is focusing on clarifying the characters of key new fossil taxa and the impact this will have on existing starfish phylogenies.

Brittle Star (Ophiuroid) systematics

Principal Investigator: Dr Tim Ewin

Advances in the understanding of Ophiuroid systematics are forcing a reappraisal of fossil material. In collaboration with other researchers and amateur collectors, we are describing newly collected material and new species, alongside a review of existing museum collections. This is providing more evidence for the Mesozoic diversity of this important marine group and the origins of modern clades.

Our work includes studying fossils from the Cretaceous of the Isle of Wight and Lewes, East Sussex and the Jurassic of southern England.

Brittle star fossil

British brittle star fossil from the Cretaceous period


Crinoid Taxonomy and Palaeoecology

Principal Investigators: Dr Fiona Fearnhead (FF) and Dr Tim Ewin (TE)

Crinoid research focuses on the Silurian (FF), Devonian (FF) and Mesozoic (TE) fossil record. Projects include:

  • monographing British Devonian crinoids
  • researching new modes of life for Jurassic crinoids
  • developing of Liassic (Lower Jurassic) faunal guides

Edrioasteroid taxonomy

Principal Investigator: Dr Tim Ewin

Edrioasteroids are extinct, small, pentaradiate echinoderms which lived permanently attached to hard substrates. In collaboration with amateur collectors a new species of Edrioasteroid (primitive echinoderm) is being described from the Silurian of Canada, along with an appraisal of its phylogenetic position.

The Echinoid Directory

The Echinoid Directory is an online guide to sea urchins. Created by now-retired palaeontologist Dr Andrew Smith and maintained by experts from the Museum and Natural History Museum Vienna, it provides taxonomic information on all the genera and species of echinoid that have been described, as well as information on their morphology and evolution. 

Visit the Echinoid Directory.

Museum staff

Related information

Origins, evolution and futures

We study the Earth's origins, environment and the evolution of life.

Invertebrate and plant palaeobiology research

We are investigating the origins and evolution of these diverse fossil groups.

Fossil echinoderm collection

The diversity and abundance of echinoderm fossils is reflected in the Museum's world-class collection.