My research lies at the interface between physical and biological sciences: I use X-ray techniques to investigate past life. I contribute to projects that cross animal groups and time periods. You can find further information — research interests, the topics I work on, and honours and awards — below.

Research interests

  • Palaeobiology, particularly of the arthropods
  • CT scanning, digital visualisation and associated techniques
  • Terrestrialisation and early land-based ecosystems
  • Computer modelling of evolution
  • Abiogenesis and early evolution

Research Topics

My research interests end to focus on fossils charting major evolutionary transitions, using new techniques. For example, one focus is the terrestrialisation, palaeobiology, evolutionary relationships, and palaeoecology of early land animals. The earliest widespread fossils of life on land are from the Carboniferous Period (359 million – 299 million years ago). Then — as now — the vast majority of living organisms were members of terrestrial arthropod groups: the insects, arachnids, and myriapods. Carboniferous representatives of these groups are often found as three-dimensionally preserved fossils in iron carbonate nodules. Their study has traditionally been conducted by splitting nodules and inspecting the revealed surface. Such an approach results in incomplete data recovery, and limits the utility of these valuable insights into early terrestrial ecosystems.

I use CT scanning and 3D computer reconstruction to overcome the limitations of traditional palaeontological approaches when studying these (and other) fossils – some examples of early land animals reconstructed using CT are shown above. CT scanning coupled with other computational, zoological, and biological techniques, can provide new insights into the origins, evolutionary relationships, and early evolution of important groups of organisms. In early terrestrial life, such studies can help build a clearer picture of the assembly of the first ecosystems on land, and their palaeoecology.

I contribute to the coding and maintenance of a number of pieces of software, released through the organisation Palaeoware. These are outlined in the section below. I’m involved in a range of other projects, investigating a range of time periods and different groups of organisms, and also work on the development of novel X-ray techniques and computer-based techniques to investigate both the morphology and the chemistry of fossils. See my publications page for a picture of what I’ve been up to recently.

Software

I contribute to a number of pieces of software, the source code of which is released through the Palaeoware github repositories, or on my personal GitHub account. All are fully documented, open source and freely available, and installers/binaries are available for numerous operating systems. Click on the banner below to visit the Palaeoware github site, or on any of the individual software packages below that to go to the latest release for each. All packages are being actively developed - for updates on software, you can follow Palaeoware on twitter




  • I coded SPIERSalign, part of the SPIERS software suite, and help maintain this and the other SPIERS programmes with my colleagues Mark Sutton and Alan Spencer. SPIERS allows 3D reconstructions and digital visualisations to be created from slice-based datasets (such as those output by CT scanners, but also those created through the serial grinding of fossils). More information is available on the SPIERS website, and also the paper below.

  • Sutton, M.D., Garwood, R.J., Siveter, D.J. & Siveter, D.J. 2012. Spiers and VAXML; A software toolkit for tomographic visualisation, and a format for virtual specimen interchange. Palaeontologia Electronica 15(2): 15.2.5T
  • The Palaeoware team has also developed REvoSim. This is an individual-based eco-evolutionary simulation, that can run over over long time scales with large population numbers. Organisms live in a two-dimensional environment that dictates their fitness, and hence reproductive success. It is highly computationally efficient and incorporates competition, mutation, various breeding modes, and has its own species concept. More details of the model can be found in the paper that accompanied the REvoSim release:

  • Garwood, R.J., Spencer, A.R.T. & Sutton, M.D. 2019. REvoSim: Organism-level simulation of macro- and microevolution. Palaeontology 62(3): 339-355. doi:10.1111/pala.12420
  • TREvoSim is different flavour of evolutionary simulation: it includes a similar fitness algorithm to REvoSim, but eschews space. It focusses on simulating character data and trees, thus making it particularly valuable for phylogenetic, rather than evo/ecological, research questions. A full description of the model can be found in the paper that accompanied the TREvoSim release:

  • Keating, J.N., Sansom, R.S.*, Sutton, M.D., Knight, C.G. & Garwood, R.J.* 2020. Morphological phylogenetics evaluated using novel evolutionary simulations. Systematic Biology 69(5): 897-912. doi:10.1093/sysbio/syaa012 (* = corresponding author)

Honours and awards

  • 2020: Promoted to Senior Lecturer, University of Manchester.
  • 2010 - 2020: Founder and commissioning editor for public-outreach website Palaeontology [online].
  • 2019: Joined The Palaeontological Association council as Internet Officer.
  • 2018: Launched software organisation Palaeoware with colleagues at Imperial. Software packages REvoSim and SPIERS have since had official releases through Palaeoware.
  • 2017: Named as the recipient of the Geological Society's Wollaston Fund, 2017 — a prize for contributions to the field, on the basis of noteworthy published research.
  • 2016: Extensive press coverage for Proceedings B paper; Altmetric score third highest of any paper published in this Royal Society journal.
  • 2016: Awarded third visit to Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, through EC Synthesys programme; Co-I on successful BBSRC grant on fossils and phylogenetics.
  • 2015: Named as a Software Sustainability Institute Fellow for 2015, to provide training in open-source packages for tomographic reconstruction.
  • 2015: Awarded second visit to Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, through EC Synthesys programme.
  • 2015: Invited to talk, and then lead SPIERS training at Micro-CT applications on fossil studies workshop, Zoologische Staatssammlung, München.
  • 2014: Awarded funding for two-week research visit to Museum für Naturkunde, through EC Synthesys programme.
  • 2014: Extensive press coverage of two papers - Journal of Paleontology with highest altmetric impact score to date for a paper in the journal, and Current Biology paper altmetric in 99th percentile of >2 million tracked articles.
  • 2014: Royal Society Interface paper amongst most downloaded of 2013, and SI dataset included as highly downloaded list of open-access Dryad repository.
  • 2013: Invited to be Scientific Associate of the Natural History Museum, London.
  • 2013: Three collaborations awarded a total of 12 days' beamtime at Diamond Light Source, and 2 days at Swiss Light Source.
  • 2013: Invited to talk at TEDxAlbertopolis launch event and ToScA tomography conference.
  • 2013: Elected Fellow of Geological Society and Royal Institution.
  • 2013: Co-authored book for Wiley Analytical Methods in Earth and Environmental Science series: Techniques for Virtual Palaeontology.
  • 2012: Winner of international palaeontology competition, Paleonturologia 12 for 2011 Nature Communications paper on fossil harvestman.
  • 2012: Awarded 1851 Research Fellowship to study the origin and early evolution of insects.
  • 2012: Awarded Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship (declined, accepted 1851 Research Fellowship).
  • 2012: Winning entry (Highly commended) in Manchester Science Festival Images of Research Competition.
  • 2012: Participated in Royal Society Summer of Science festival.
  • 2012: Awarded beamtime on I12, tomography beamline at Diamond Light Source.
  • 2011: Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) of the year: Faculty of Engineering, Imperial College.
  • 2011: Janet Watson Centenary Memorial Prize for Research Excellence, Imperial College.
  • 2011: Invited to speak at EGU session '3D Modelling in Earth Sciences', Vienna 2011. Photo-competition finalist.
  • 2010: Interviewed for NERC Planet Earth podcast: Teeth, spiders and epic migrations.
  • 2010: Invited to speak at the 5th International Conference on Fossil Insects, Arthropods and Amber, Beijing.
  • 2010: Winner of GTA of the Year: Earth Science & Engineering, Imperial College.
  • 2009: President's Prize: Annual Meeting of the Palaeontological Association, Birmingham.
  • 2007: Clement Le Neve Foster Prize for Excellence in Geology, Imperial College.
  • 2007: Ernest Edward Glorney Scholarship in Earth Science & Engineering, Imperial College.
  • 2006: Nominated for The Dave Johnson Memorial Undergraduate Field Mapping Prize, Tectonic Studies Group.
  • 2004: Roycroft Prize for Examination Results, Imperial College.
  • 2003: H.H. Reade Scholarship, Imperial College.