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Nyanza Project Faculty



Dr. Jon Todd

The Natural History Museum
Department of Palaeontology
London, UK


Research Interests

I’m a pal(a)eontologist based in London at the world’s largest natural history museum. I will be working to develop a more palaeoenvironmental perspective on the past in Lake Tanganyika than has been done by previous palaeoclimates mentors. My research interests are focused along the interface of molluscan neontology and palaeontology, ranging from studies of macroecology and diversity change in deep time, through to systematic relationships and dynamics of diversification within species-rich clades. I collaborate with Ellinor Michel on studying the systematics and ecology of the Tanganyikan gastropod superflock, particularly the Lavigeria snail radiation. Other Tanganyikan biological interests include the ecology and systematics of the endemic bryozoan fauna, and I have some experience with the endemic sponge fauna.

I believe that we can make large gains in understanding environmental and biotic change by integrating approaches from neontology (living biology) and palaeontology (long-dead biology). By combining forces, studies can link across the ecological time scales (days to decades) that are directly studied by biologists and ecologists, through to ‘deep time’ (1000’s to millions of years) – the murkier realm of geologists and palaeontologists. Straddling the neontological and palaeontological worlds, I’m interested in combining sedimentological, micro- and macro-palaeontological studies of strata. Within Tanganyika most benthic ecology has focused on the rocky littoral – famed for its cichlid fishes. Recently, through Nyanza student projects, we have begun to document habitats that occur within shallow sandy bays but that have received little or no previous study. These include spectacular shell beds and sponge gardens, and through this work we are beginning to understand the factors controlling their development.

Compared to shell beds and rocky shores, we know even less about living benthic soft-substrate (mud and sand) faunas and the ecological factors that control their composition and diversity. Unsurprisingly, these sediments dominate shallow cores and are critical for understanding palaeoclimate change. Sediment cores from Tanganyika contain abundant remains of benthic micro-organisms such as diatoms and ostracods and larger organisms including mollusks and sponges. Currently, our ability to interpret the biotic signal of climatic and environmental change within cores varies greatly across groups. A major aim is to rectify this for the mollusks, a group that occurs abundantly within shallow cores and which comprises over 100 species of snails and clams with widely different ecologies. This year in Nyanza project we will address whether particular mollusks or other benthic taxa characterize assemblages found in environments showing differences in wave energy, water depth, sediment-type and oxygen levels. If so, we might be able to use changing faunal composition combined with taphonomic studies as a tool to understand changing bottom conditions through geological core samples.


I received BSc. from the University of London and a PhD from the University of Wales.

Contact Information

Dr. Jonathan Todd
Department of Palaeontology
The Natural History Museum
London SW7 5BD


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