Paleonet: PhD studentship in fossil colour, University College Cork

Maria McNamara Maria.McNamara at
Sun Nov 24 21:45:42 GMT 2013

Applications are invited for a 3-yr PhD studentship at University College
Cork, Cork, Ireland.

Posting date: 24th November 2013
Closing date: Friday 13th December 2013

*PhD studentship: The taphonomy of pigmentary colour in fossil insects and

*Start date: September 2014*

*Supervisors: Dr Maria McNamara (University College Cork, Ireland), Dr
Fiona Gill (University of Leeds, UK)*


Coloration is a multifunctional attribute of modern animals but its
evolutionary history is poorly resolved. This is due, in part, to our
limited ability to recognize and interpret fossil evidence of colour.
Original coloration was considered historically as one of the most
enigmatic aspects of the biology of ancient organisms, but recent studies
on fossil feathers and the cuticles of fossil insects have led to advances
in the field. Research to date, however, has focussed on very specific
aspects of colour, i.e. fossil melanosomes in feathers and structural
colours in fossil insects. As a result, key aspects of the fossil record of
colour in insects and feathers are unknown, and the evolutionary histories
of the diverse colours and colour patterns deployed by modern insects and
birds are poorly resolved.


The overall aim of the project is to resolve outstanding questions
regarding the taphonomy of colour and to enhance our ability to infer
original coloration and its evolution and functions in fossil insects and

Specific objectives include:

(1)   To elucidate the physical and chemical steps involved in the
alteration of key pigments in insects and feathers during decay and
diagenesis, and the extent to which this process is impacted by
sedimentological and taxonomic factors.

(2)   To systematically map evidence of colour in fossil insects and
feathers from the Cenozoic and Mesozoic.


You will use a powerful three-fold approach combining decay experiments,
maturation experiments and fossil analysis to the study of the taphonomy of
key pigments (melanins, carotenoids and pterins) and colour-producing
structures in insects and feathers. You will become proficient in:

(1)   design and implementation of taphonomic experiments

(2)   use of GC-MS, LC-MS, SEM, TEM, Raman spectroscopy, EDS and

(3)   taphonomic analysis of exceptionally preserved fossils from globally
significant Lagerstatten

You will join a dynamic research group working on exceptionally preserved
fossils with strong research links with evolutionary biologists and
archaeologists at University College Cork, and with palaeobiologists at
other institutions in Ireland, the UK and the USA.


Maria McNamara has extensive expertise in the taphonomy of exceptionally
preserved fossils, taphonomic experimentation, and fossil colour.

Fiona Gill has extensive expertise in organic geochemistry of fossil
biomarkers, especially using GC-MS and py-GC-MS techniques.


The studentship forms part of a fully funded Marie Curie Career Integration
Grant awarded to Maria McNamara.


BSc (first or upper second class) or M‐level degree in relevant geological
or biological subject.


Applications should be sent to Dr Maria McNamara (maria.mcnamara at
and should include a statement of interest (up to 200 words) and a 2-page
CV. Please also arrange for three references to be sent to Dr Maria
McNamara. The deadline for receipt of applications and references is 5 pm
on Friday 13th December. Applicants selected for interview will be notified
by 5 pm on Friday 20th December; interviews will be held in mid-January.


*1.      **McNamara, M.E. *2013. The taphonomy of colour in fossil insects
and feathers. *Palaeontology*, v. 56, p. 557-575. doi:

*2.      **McNamara, M.E*., Briggs, D.E.G., Orr, P.J.O., Field, D., Wang,
Z. Experimental maturation of feathers: implications for reconstructions of
fossil feather colour. *Biology Letters*, published online before print
26/3/2013. doi:

*3.      **McNamara, M.E.*, Briggs, D.E.G., Orr, P.J., Gupta, N.S.,
Locatelli, E.R., Qiu, L., Yang, H., Wang, Z., Noh, H., Cao, H. 2013, The
fossil record of insect color illuminated by maturation experiments.
*Geology*, published online before print 20/2/2013. doi:

*Dr Maria McNamara*
Lecturer in Geology

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Science

University College Cork

North Mall, Cork


Tel: +353 21 490 4570

Fax: +353 21 490 4664


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