Dr Dave Unwin

Reader in Palaeobiology

School/Department: Museum Studies, School of

Telephone: +44 (0)116 252 3947



Following a degree in Geology (University of Sheffield: 1979-82) I completed a PhD on pterosaurs (University of Reading: 1984-91). Between 1988 and 1991 I made several research visits to the USSR (Moscow State University) then took up a Royal Society Research Fellowship in the University of Bristol (1992-98) during which I helped to establish an MSc in Palaeobiology and developed a range of research projects on Mesozoic reptiles. In 1998 I was appointed Curator of Fossil Reptiles and Birds in the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin. In addition to caring for the collections which included the Berlin Archaeopteryx - 'the most famous fossil in the world' - I continued to develop my research on flying reptiles leading to the publication of The Pterosaurs (Pi Press 2005). I also headed the German section of the EU funded project SYNTHESYS and led the redevelopment of the Dinosaur Hall which re-opened in 2007. In 2006 I moved to the School of Museum Studies Leicester and in 2009 was appointed as Reader in Palaeobiology. Over the last decade I have collaborated on many projects involving pterosaurs from China and on pterosaurs and dinosaurs such as Spinosaurus from North Africa.


I am broadly interested in all fossil vertebrates but have chosen to focus my research effort on a single group: pterosaurs extinct flying reptiles also known as pterodactyls. 


Ibrahim, N., Maganuco, S., Dal Sasso, Fabbri, M., C., Auditore, M., Bindellini, G., Martill, D. M., Zouhri, S., Matarelli, D., Unwin, D. M., Wiemann, J., Bonadonna, D., Amane, A., Jakubczak, J., Joger, U., Lauder, G. & Pierce, S. 2020. Tail-propelled aquatic locomotion in a theropod dinosaur. Nature, 581, 67-70. 

Unwin, D. M. & Deeming, D. C. 2019. Pre-natal developmental patterns and their implications for super-precocial flight ability in pterosaurs. Proceedings Royal Society, Series B 286.

Lü Junchang, Unwin, D. M., Deeming, D. C., Jin Xingsheng, Liu Yongqing & Ji Qiang. 2011. An egg-adult association, gender, and reproduction in pterosaurs. Science, 331, 321-324..

Lü Junchang, Unwin, D. M. & Jin Xingsheng. 2010. Modular evolution in a long-tailed pterosaur with a pterodactyloid skull. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 277, 383-389.

Claessens, L. P. A. M, O'Connor, P. M. & Unwin, D. M. 2009. Respiratory evolution facilitated the origin of pterosaur flight and aerial gigantism. PLoS ONE, 4(2): e4497.

Unwin, D. M. 2005. The Pterosaurs from Deep Time. Pi Press, New York, 347pp.

Unwin, D. M. 2003. On the phylogeny and evolutionary history of pterosaurs. In: Buffetaut, E. & Mazin, J.-M. (eds), Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 217, 139-190.

Unwin, D. M. & Bakhurina, N. N. 1994. Sordes pilosus and the nature of the pterosaur flight apparatus. Nature, 371, 62-64.

Martill, D. M. & Unwin, D. M. 1989. Exceptionally well-preserved pterosaur wing membrane from the Cretaceous of Brazil. Nature, 340: 138-139.



I am interested in supervising students in two fields: palaeontology on the one hand and museum studies on the other. Within palaeontology I have a particular interest in the Mesozoic especially the principal groups of tetrapods including pterosaurs dinosaurs and birds that dominated life on land and in the air. Pterosaurs flying reptiles are the primary focus of my research and I am interested in all aspects of their biology inkling anatomy morphology locomotion reproduction taxonomy phylogeny and evolutionary history. I’m always happy to discuss potential PhD projects and usually have a wide range of topics available for research. Recently I have begun supervising PhD projects in Museum Studies with a particular interest in in museums and the natural environment. If you are interested in conducting research that links the museum sector to any aspect of the current environmental crisis please do get in touch with me.


I am involved in a range of campus-based and distance learning programmes contributing principally to modules on collections care and management and the Green Museum. This forms one of the options in a Specialisms module that I lead and in which students have an opportunity to develop expertise within a particular area of museum studies. The Green Museum focuses on the current crisis in the natural environment and considers the important roles that museums can play in helping to mitigate the impending disaster. Serving as the Ethics Officer for several years allowed me to support our entire student body at both the Masters and PhD level and this will continue as I begin my new roles as Plagiarism Officer and Senior Tutor.

Press and media

Mesozoic birds and reptiles including pterosaurs dinosaurs ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs their biology ecology and evolution. Ethical aspects of palaeontology including legal and illegal fossils private and public collections and colonialism and decolonisation. The museum sector and the natural environment: natural history museums and their collections; museums and climate change biodiversity loss and pollution; environmental activism. 
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