Department of Geology

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Felix Marx

Felix Marx mugshot

PhD title: Evolution of structural disparity in the Cetacea (Graduated may 2012)

Supervisor: Ewan Fordyce (Otago), Marcello Ruta and Michael Benton (University of Bristol, UK)

Email:
f.g.marx@bristol.ac.uk

Felix Marx standing on a beach with surf in the background

(click on image to view full size (918KB)).

Project Summary

Biological diversity is often expressed as the number of species present in a given area, or at any given point in time (taxonomic diversity). However, biodiversity can be quantified in various other ways as well, such as variation in morphology (disparity), or the number of ecological niches occupied by the members of any given group of organisms.

The goal of my PhD is to investigate the extant and extinct morphological variety of the two living groups of whales and dolphins, in particular that of the mysticetes (baleen whales), and compare the changes in this metric through time to their taxonomic diversities, as well changes in the environment these creatures lived in. In order to achieve this, I am assembling a large set of morphological and molecular (DNA) data applicable to cetaceans, which will be used to infer their evolutionary relationships using parsimony-based and Bayesian cladistic methods, as well as to calculate a number of commonly used disparity metrics. The latter, calculated for a number of successive Caenozoic stratigraphic stages, will then be compared to both taxonomic and phylogenetically adjusted cetacean diversity through time, as well as a variety of proxies of environmental factors, such as primary productivity or past climate change. Ultimately, the aim of my project is thus a synthesis of the palaeodiversity, disparity and evolutionary relationships of modern cetaceans, as well as the effects of environmental parameters that may, to some degree, have played a role in their evolution.

Publications

  • Marx, F.G. 2010. The more the merrier? A large cladistic analysis of mysticetes, and comments on the transition from teeth to baleen. Journal of Mammalian Evolution, doi:10.1007/s10914-010-9148-4
  • Marx, F. G. and Uhen, M. D. 2010. Climate, critters and cetaceans – Cenozoic drivers of the evolution of modern whales. Science 327, 993-996.
  • Marx, F. G., Albers, J. and Berning, B. 2010. Lost in translation – a history of systematic confusion and comments on the type species of Squalodon and Patriocetus (Cetacea, Odontoceti). Palaeontology, doi:10.1111/j.1475-4983.2010.01018.x
  • Marx, F. G. 2009. Marine mammals through time: when less is more in the study of palaeodiversity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 276, 887-892.

Conference Presentations

  • Marx, F. G. and Uhen, M. D. 2009. Climate, critters and cetaceans – Cenozoic drivers of the evolution of modern whales. Geosciences ’09 joint conference of the Geological Society of New Zealand and the New Zealand Geophysical Society; University of Otago and Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, Oamaru, New Zealand 
  • Marx, F. G. and Uhen, M. D. 2009. Climate, critters and cetaceans – Cenozoic drivers of the evolution of modern whales. Encyclopaedia of Life Synthesis Meeting on the “Evolution of Marine Tetrapods”; The Field Museum, Chicago, United States
  • Marx, F. G. 2008. Marine mammals through time: when less is more in the study of palaeodiversity. The 56th Annual Symposium of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy; University College Dublin and National Museum of Ireland (Natural History), Ireland
  • Price, S., Marx, F. G. & Tarver, J. 2008. Cetaceans past and present: a complete species-level phylogeny of extinct and extant whales and dolphins. 22nd Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society “Marine Mammals in Time: Past, Present and Future”, Egmond aan Zee, The Netherlands
  • Marx, F. G. & Gill, P. G. 2007. “And yet it does replace? Tooth replacement in the early mammal Morganucodon watsoni” The 55th Annual Symposium of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy; University of Glasgow, United Kingdom