Paleontology is broadly characterized as the study of ancient life using the fossil record. The University of Fribourg hosts two paleontological research groups, of which Micropaleontology Research Group [link] is primarily focused on sedimentological and paleoenvironmental questions using microfossils and the Paleontology Research Group is aimed at resolving evolutionary questions using macrofossils, such as plants, invertebrates, or vertebrates.
The research and teaching program of the Paleontology Research Group is greatly strengthen through a formal cooperation between the University of Fribourg and Jurassica [http://www.jurassica.ch/], a Natural History Research Center in the nearby Canton of Jura. As part of this collaboration, staff members of Jurassica [http://www.jurassica.ch/] are involved in teaching classes at the University of Fribourg and in providing and supervising student bachelor, master’s, and Ph.D. projects.
Phylogeny of Geoemydid Turtles
The fossil record of turtles is generally considered to be excellent, but surprisingly little is known about the more recent evolutionary history of most groups of turtles. This is primarily due to great amount of continuous, polymorphic, and “abnormal” (i.e., irregular and pathological) variation that is apparent in the skeletal anatomy of turtles and with the methodological insecurities associated with the use of such data. This situation is particularly evident among turtles of the clade Geoemydidae (Old World pond turtles and Neotropical wood turtles), which comprise about a quarter of extant turtle diversity, which have a substantial fossil record, but whose evolutionary history remains largely unresolved.
As part of this SNF funded research project, two Ph.D. students will assemble a comprehensive morphological character/taxon matrix of extant geoemydids that embraces all types of morphological variation, test the suitability of various coding methods for quantitative, polymorphic, and abnormal characters, and reassess the fossil record of the group. The project will commence in the fall of 2014.
European Cenozoic Mammals
Palaeontologists from Fribourg have been involved since 1998 in a large-scale revision of European mammals from the Eocene to the Quaternary. This work is being undertaken in collaboration with Jurassica and the Naturhistorisches Museum Basel and has been funded by several SNF projects.
Many Swiss localities have yielded rich mammalian remains and they therefore serve as reference localitiy for various periods in the evolution of European mammals. The revision of this material, in context of all European localities, provides a better knowledge of the history of Cenozoic terrestrial environments in Europe. This revision includes four main axes: systematics, biostratigraphy, paleobiogeography and paleoecology.
The following topics have been investigated to date:
- Quaternary fauna
- Hoofed mammals during the Oligocene-Miocene transition
- Oligocene-Miocene Carnivora
- Eocene cetartiodactyls and perissodactyls