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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Supervisors: Alex Liu (Earth Sciences) and Dmitriy Grazhdankin (Institute of Petroleum Geology and Geophysics, Russia

Importance of the area of research:

The Ediacaran Period (635-541 Ma) witnessed some of the greatest evolutionary events in Earth history, including the appearance and diversification of complex macroscopic life. The interactions between early macroscopic organisms and the microbial communities that had dominated the previous three billion years of Earth history are thought to be numerous, and ultimately led to the development of Phanerozoic marine ecosystems. Determining how the first macroscopic organisms, including the enigmatic Ediacaran biota, interacted with microbial matgrounds is a relatively poorly studied area. We hypothesize that microbial communities were no freer of environmental factors than most others, and that they could influence the ecology and distribution of Ediacaran macroscopic organisms and even structure the earliest macroscopic communities. Ediacaran sections in the White Sea region of Russia offer a perfect field area in which to characterize and disentangle these relationships in a variety of sedimentary facies and palaeoenvironments.

Project summary:

This project is designed to establish a new direction in geobiology through the integrated study of the interplay between microbial communities and macroscopic organisms in late Ediacaran ecosystems. It will examine multiple bedding surfaces at classic fossil localities along the Summer and Winter Coasts of the White Sea, Russia. These sedimentary successions contain multiple facies and lithologies, many of which yield exquisitely preserved Ediacaran fossils. The project will characterize the fine-scale, bed-by-bed sedimentology and palaeontology of the sequence, and will attempt to test existing hypotheses regarding the role of microbial surface communities in the nourishment, stabilization, and preservation of Ediacaran fossils.

What the student will do:

The student will undertake two 4-6 week field seasons on the White Sea coast of Russia, working on either river or coastal cliff sections. They will produce sedimentary logs of the section at multiple localities and scales; characterize and collect specimens of microbial mat surfaces for geochemical, petrological, and microfossil analyses; and document spatial relationships between microbial surfaces, sedimentary facies, and associated Ediacaran macrofossils. Samples will be analyzed either at the University of Cambridge, or at IPGG in Novosibirsk. A primary aim of the research is to document the variation in microbial communities in different late Ediacaran sedimentary facies, and to identify relationships between microbial surfaces and macro-organisms.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Davies, N. S., Liu, A. G., Gibling, M. R., & Miller, R. F. 2016. Resolving MISS conceptions and misconceptions: a geological approach to sedimentary surface textures generated by microbial and abiotic processes. Earth-Science Reviews, vol. 154, pp. 210-246.

Zakrevskaya, M. 2014. Paleoecological reconstruction of the Ediacaran benthic macroscopic communities of the White Sea (Russia). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, vol. 410, pp. 27-38.

Gehling, J. G., & Droser, M. L. 2009. Textured organic surfaces associated with the Ediacara biota in South Australia. Earth-Science Reviews, vol. 96(3), pp. 196-206.

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project.

Other projects available from the Lead Supervisor can be viewed here.

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