Professor Mark Williams

Professor of Palaeobiology

Profile

Palaeontologist Professor Mark Williams examines the evolution of life over geological timescales. Over three decades his research has taken him from the tropics to the polar regions, working across terrains as diverse as glaciers, deserts, jungles and everything in between.  

Professor Williams’ current focus is on studying patterns of human induced changes to life, such as the impacts of introduced species into ecosystems as far apart as San Francisco Bay and the Leicestershire countryside. His research explores solutions to human induced changes to the biosphere. Those changes may be one of the defining characteristics of a new geological epoch known as the Anthropocene. 

Mass extinctions in the past have been caused by a massive asteroid strike, rapid and substantial changes in climate, and sustained super-volcanic eruptions. Professor Williams’ research explores how humans might avoid becoming part of this ignoble group of causes of mass extinction.

Research

My research focuses on two themes:

  • Understanding the rate and degree of current environmental change from a geological context. I am part of an international group of scientists developing the concept of the Anthropocene as an epoch of geological time characterised by humans. Where would the geological boundary of this epoch be placed – at the beginning of widespread use of agriculture, at the appearance of human pollutants in polar ice cores, or at the time of detonation of A-bombs in the mid 20th century?
  • Understanding interactions between the biosphere and the evolution of the Earth System is a mainstay of my research and informs all of my work from the Cambrian to the Anthropocene. At present I am very much focussed on understanding human impacts on the biosphere.

Publications

Williams, M., Edgeworth, M., Zalasiewicz, J. et al. 2019. Underground metro systems: a durable geological proxy of rapid urban population growth and energy consumption during the Anthropocene. In Benjamin, C. et al. (eds), The Routledge Companion to Big History. Routledge.

Zhai, D., Williams, M., Siveter, D.J. et al. 2019. Variation in appendages in early Cambrian bradoriids reveals a wide range of body plans in stem-euarthropods. Communications Biology, (2019)2-329. https//doi.org/10.1038/s42003-019-0573-5

Bennett, C.E., Thomas, R., Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J., Edgeworth, M., Miller, H., Coles, B., Foster, A., Burton, E.J., Marume, U. 2018. The broiler chicken as a signal of a human reconfigured biosphere. Royal Society Open Science. http://10.1098/rsps.180325.

Cong, P., Harvey, T, Williams, M. et al. 2018. Naked chancelloriids from the lower Cambrian of China show evidence for calcarean sponge-type growth. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B, 285, 20180296. Doi10.1098/rspb.2018.0296.

Hearing, T., Harvey, T., Williams, M. et al. 2018. An early Cambrian greenhouse. Science Advances, 4, eaar5690.

Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J., Waters, C., Himson, S., Summerhayes, C., Barnosky, A., Leinfelder, R. 2018. The palaeontological record of the Anthropocene. Geology Today, 34, 188-193.

Cong, P-Y, Ma, X-Y, Williams, M., Siveter, David J., Siveter, Derek J., Gabbott, S.E., Zhai, D. et al. 2017. Host specific infestation in early Cambrian worms. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1, 1465–1469.

Hillenbrand, C., Smith, J. A., Hodell, D.A., Greaves, M. J., Poole, C.R., Kender, S., Williams, M. et al. 2017. West Antarctic Ice Sheet retreat driven by Holocene warm water incursions. Nature, 547 (7661), 43-48.

Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J., Waters, C. 2017. The Anthropocene: a geological perspective. In: Heikkurinen, P. (ed), Sustainability and peaceful coexistence for the Anthropocene. Routledge.

Clark, N., Williams, M., Hill, D., Quilty, P., Smellie, J., Zalasiewicz, J., Leng, M. & Ellis, M. 2013. Fossil proxies of near-shore surface temperatures and seasonality from the late Neogene Antarctic Shelf. Naturwissenschaften, DOI 10.1007/s00114-013-1075-9.

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