Professor Richard Twitchett

Professor Richard Twitchett

Professor of Earth Sciences

  • Room 113, Fitzroy, Drake Circus, Plymouth, Devon, PL4 8AA
  • +44 1752 584758


"Tall and gangly, Richard is a patient geologist who has already published some exceptional results."
D.H. Erwin, 2006, Extinction, Princeton University Press, p. 159


1993    BSc. Geology and Biology, First Class Joint Honours. University of Bristol, UK. 
            Awarded the Stanley Smith Prize for Palaeontology
1997    PhD, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Leeds, UK. 
            Thesis title: Palaeoenvironments of the Lower Triassic of the Dolomites, northern Italy

Awards and Honours:

2011 James Lee Wilson Award for Excellence in Sedimentary Geology by a Young Scientist, Society for Sedimentary Geology (SEPM) awarded in recognition of my ‘contribution to palaeobiology, the understanding of extinction events and the recovery of ecosystems after crises’

Previous positions:

Oct 2007-Sep 2008 Lecturer in Geology, University of Plymouth
Oct 2003- Sep 2007 Royal Society Japan-UK Research Fellow: University of Tokyo & University of Plymouth
Feb-Sep 2003 Lecturer in Geology, University of Plymouth
Oct 2002- Feb 2003 Lecturer: University of Oxford
Sep 2001- Feb 2003 Lecturer: University of Bristol
May 2000- Apr 2001 Lindemann Trust Fellow: University of Southern California, USA      
Oct-Nov 1999 Visiting Researcher: University of Utrecht, The Netherlands     
Jun 1997- Sep 1999 PDRA: University of Leeds      
Jan-May 1997, Jan-May 1998 Lecturer: Keele University       

Teaching interests

Current teaching responsibilities:

  • Teaching on the following courses:
    • EAR119;
    • EAR115
    • EAR212;
    • EAR313
    • EAR512
    • ENV5203 Global Environmental Variability;
    • GLY5102 Marine Micropalaeontology
  • Module Leader for EAR119; EAR510
  • Personal Tutor  
  • International Exchange Tutor for Earth Sciences

      In the South Urals, Russia, 2004

    • Research interests

      • Permian-Triassic extinction and recovery: The mass extinction event at the end of the Permian Period was the most severe such event of the Phanerozoic. Understanding the causes and consequences of the end-Permian extinction event is crucial to understanding the evolution of the Earth's biosphere. I am particularly interested in the palaeoecology, palaeoenvironments, rock record bias, oceanography and climate changes of this important interval in Earth history. My field research has taken me to many beautiful and sometimes remote parts of our planet, including Italy, Oman, western USA, East Greenland, Japan, Australia, China, Russia and Spitsbergen.
      • The Lilliput effect: this term describes the temporary appearance of small body size in animals in the aftermath of extinction events. This phenomenon is widespread, occurs after most biotic crises, but is relatively little studied. Assuming that the Lilliput effect is not the result of bias in the fossil record, then it must reflect a real biological response to changing environmental factors. The animals were perhaps responding to changes in oxygen concentrations, food supply, temperature and/or salinity.
      • Biotic recovery after modern and ancient defaunation events: what are the similarities and differences in the response of the marine ecosystem to biotic crises at different scales? The diagram below shows my model of how the benthic marine ecosystem recovered after the end-Permian mass extinction event. In the immediate aftermath of the event only the very shallowest tiers were occupied; predominantly by deposit feeders (stage 1). The shallow infaunal suspension feeders returned next (2), followed by the higher epifaunal tiers (3). Eventually tiering levels above and below the sediment surface returned to pre-extinction levels (4). For more information see Twitchett (2006).

      • Trace fossils and mass extinction events: Trace fossils are our only evidence of the responses of the soft-bodied benthos to environmental changes during ancient biotic crises. They can offer us insights into the dynamics of extinction and recovery that cannot be gained from study of body fossils alone. Examining the trace fossil records through the Permian-Triassic and Triassic-Jurassic events has shown how the body size, vertical distribution, biodiversity and ecology of the benthic marine infauna was affected by these major events in Earth history.
      • Taphonomy, preservation and the quality of the fossil record: Understanding the processes of taphonomy is crucial for understanding the potential biases of the fossil record. This is especially important during mass extinction events, where changes in the quality of the fossil record may affect our perceptions of the timing, duration and magnitude of extinction and recovery. For example, the Early Triassic is an interval of particularly poor quality fossil record, with a large number of Lazarus taxa; how has this affected our perceptions of the timing of the end-Permian extinction event and subsequent recovery?