Dr Aaron W. Hunter
University of Cambridge

Research Interests


Research Interests

Aaron’s research centres on echinoderm palaeoecology and taphonomy (fossil preservation), biostratigraphy and biofacies analysis. He is interested in both fossil and living sea lilies, starfish and brittle-stars, establishing the evolutionary origins of these animals and their relation to those in existence today. He has numerous ongoing projects from the Palaeozoic to recent, covering a wide global distribution.

Current projects

1. Exploring the origin of asterozoans in the Lower Palaeozoic of Gondwana.

This project looks into the evolutionary origin of modern post-Palaeozoic starfish and brittle stars primarily from exceptional specimens from the Ordovician of Great Britain, France, and Morocco and Australia. Many of these deposits represent the first appearance of these animals in the fossil record. The main aim of the project is to look at how these animals emerged suddenly at the base of the Cambrian in a recognisable but primitive form and have increased in complexity through the Palaeozoic, while observing how each has responded to changes palaeobiogeography in the early to late Ordovician. They are a difficult group to study being morphologically complex and this project aims to solve a long standing debate about the relationship between the asteroids (starfish) ophiuroids and their presumed common ancestor the somasteroids.

2. Understanding the palaeoecology and functional morphology of Jurassic echinoderms and its relevance to biofacies modelling.

This research looks at how to reconstruct echinoderm palaeoecology from problematic fragmented (meso) fossil elements and how this is used to create biofacies models. Traditionally only isolated well preserved, fully articulated fossils are used in faunal studies, with the historic belief that fragmented remains were not useful for identification or as palaeoecological indicators. However our recent research has show that this is not the case, and that by studying the fragments of disarticulated specimens, we are able to increase the range of faunal study and reduce bias in the fossil record from studying only well preserved specimens.  Hunter & Zonnerfield 2008; Hunter & Underwood 2009, 2010; Hunter et al 2011.

3. Stratigraphic evolution of mainland Southeast Asia and specifically Malaysia in relation to the sedimentary basins of Western Australia.

As part of the MCPB, we are using biostratigraphical analysis, including creating a framework by identifying conodont assemblages from the Ordovician to Early Triassic rocks of Perlis, Northern Kedah, Langkawi Island and the Kinta Valley, Perak in Peninsular Malaysia to establish the age and timing of the formation of the Palaeozoic Sibumusu Terrain of mainland Southeast Asia and relating this to the evolution of sedimentary basins of Western Australia.

4. The origin of the Neogene hotspot of biodiversity in Borneo

The Sulu Sea of north-east Borneo is part of the biodiversity hotspot in the Malay Archipelago of South East Asia, also known as the “Indo-Pacific Centre of Diversity” (IPCD). Despite its apparent significance, the origins and evolution of this area remain poorly documented. The aim of this research is to systematically sample Miocene and Plio-Pleistocene assemblages with a high diversity of corals and larger benthic foraminifera from Sabah, Malaysia, including detailed studies of the sedimentary facies to determine the palaeobiodiversity and possible palaeoecological zonation of these assemblages including their fidelity. This research will allow us to better understand the regional stratigraphy and provide a fundamental understanding of diversity, growth and evolution of the Sulu Sea, Sabah, in the Neogene and provide a framework for exploring the driving factors behind the IPCD hotspot of biodiversity.



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