Frances Dunn

Junior Research Fellow in Geology

I am interested in understanding the nature of early animal evolution; its tempo and mode. My research investigates fossils from the period encompassing the origin and evolutionary rise of animals (~700 – 510 million years ago) and I have specific interest in a group of fossils colloquially termed the ‘Ediacaran Macrobiota’. These fossils are distinct from the more recognisable fossil groups from the early Palaeozoic, including, for example, the famous middle Cambrian Burgess Shale fauna. Understanding the relationship between these different biotas, and the nature of the transition at the Ediacaran – Cambrian boundary is an area of significant research interest.

I combine fieldwork in regions such as Newfoundland (Canada) and Charnwood Forest (UK) with X-ray tomographic imaging and studies of growth and development in order to produce detailed models of the palaeobiology of these fossils. I then use these data in phylogenetic analyses and studies of morphological disparity across this time period in order to inform our understanding of the rise of the animals.


Dunn, F.S., Liu, A.G. and Gehling, J.G., 2019. Anatomical and ontogenetic reassessment of the Ediacaran frond Arborea arborea and its placement within total group Eumetazoa. Palaeontology.

Wood, R., Liu, A.G., Bowyer, F., Wilby, P.R., Dunn, F.S., Kenchington, C.G., Cuthill, J.F.H., Mitchell, E.G. and Penny, A., 2019. Integrated records of environmental change and evolution challenge the Cambrian Explosion. Nature ecology & evolution, p.1.

Dunn, F.S. and Liu, A.G., 2019. Viewing the Ediacaran biota as a failed experiment is unhelpful. Nature ecology & evolution, 3(4), p.512.

Kenchington, C.G., Dunn, F.S. and Wilby, P.R., 2018. Modularity and overcompensatory growth in Ediacaran rangeomorphs demonstrate early adaptations for coping with environmental pressures. Current Biology, 28(20), pp.3330-3336.

Dunn, F.S., Wilby, P.R., Kenchington, C.G., Grazhdankin, D.V., Donoghue, P.C. and Liu, A.G., 2019. Anatomy of the Ediacaran rangeomorph Charnia masoni. Papers in palaeontology, 5(1), pp.157-176

Dunn, F.S., Liu, A.G. and Donoghue, P.C., 2018. Ediacaran developmental biology. Biological Reviews, 93(2), pp.914-932.

Hoekzema, R.S., Brasier, M.D., Dunn, F.S. and Liu, A.G., 2017. Quantitative study of developmental biology confirms Dickinsonia as a metazoan. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284(1862), p.20171348.