School of Earth and Environmental Sciences


Photo of Professor David Martill

Professor David Martill

  • Qualifications: PhD
  • Role Title: Professor of ​Palaeobiology
  • Address: School of Earth & Environmental Sciences University of Portsmouth Burnaby Building Burnaby Road Portsmouth PO1 3QL
  • Telephone: 023 92 842256
  • Email:
  • Department: Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • Faculty: Science


I am a Professor of ​Palaeobiology working mainly on pterosaurs, theropod dinosaurs and exceptional preservation of fossil vertebrates. I am particularly interested in the Cretaceous with projects on the dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight, the Kem Kem Beds of Morocco and the palaeoecology of the Crato Formation, Brazil. In addition, I work on the vertebrate palaeontology of two Jurassic mud-rock sequences: the Oxford and Kimmeridge clay formations

My work in Morocco stems from a collaboration with Dr Nizar Ibrahim of the University of Chicago, who works on Cretaceous dinosaur faunas, and has a special interest in the gigantic fish-eating Spinosaurus. My work in Brazil in mainly in collaboration with Dr Paulo Brito of the Estadual University of Rio de Janeiro, with whom I have worked for more than twenty years.

Dr David Martill 1

Having finally found a parking space, we set up camp for the night. Moroccan Sahara Desert near Gara Sbaa.

Teaching Responsibilities

  • Level 4: Sedimentology and Palaeontology
  • Level 4: Field Mapping on the Jurassic Coast of Devon and Dorset
  • Level 4: Introduction to field techniques on the Isle of Wight
  • Level 5: Vertebrate Palaeontology 1
  • Level 5: Palaeotechniques and Micropalaeontology
  • Level 6: Vertebrate Palaeontology 2
  • Level 6: Fossil Lagerstätten field trip to Germany
  • MSc Engineering Geology: Mapping in southern France


The preservation of fossil soft tissues: mechanisms and palaeobiology

Work concentrating mainly on phosphatised soft tissues with high fidelity morphological resolution. Investigating chemistry and rates of process. Comparisons with recent material and actualistic experiments. Also work on preservation of organically preserved soft structures of Mesozoic marine reptiles and birds (especially feathers).

Palaeoecology of the Crato lagoon, Araripe Basin, N. E. Brazil

The Crato Formation conservation Lagerstätte is one of the most productive sites for Gonwanan insects and pterosaurs. Currently we are investigating the extent of fossil-bearing horizons, facies relationships of its members and distribution of taxa both geographically and temporally. We are also examining mechanisms of preservation of the insects.

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Damselfly from the Crato Formation of Brazil with metallic colouring preserved.

Photo courtesy of Dr Günter Bechly, Stuttgart Natural History Museum.

Trophic structure of marine mudrock sequences

Investigating complexity of ancient food webs in palaeoenvironmental settings where fossil record is considered good to exceptional. Using exceptional fossils (e.g. with stomach contents preserved), comparative anatomy and paradigm approaches. Geochemistry, including trace element and stable isotope methods. Concentrating on Jurassic Oxford Clay and Kimmeridge Clay formations. 

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The Jurassic Kimmeridge Clay and Portland Beds at Chapman’s Pool, Dorset. Fossils from these strata will be the centre piece of a new Museum at Kimmeridge village due to open in 2016.

The palaeobiology of pterosaurs

Investigating modes of bone growth and palaeophysiology of pterosaurs using exceptionally preserved examples from the Cretaceous Crato and Santana formations of the Araripe Basin, Brazil. Additional work using pterosaurs from northern Chile and Isle of Wight, UK. More recently with Nizar Ibrahim (Chicago) and David Unwin (Leicester) I have been working on the palaeobiology and especially feeding mechanisms of the enigmatic pterosaur Alanqa saharica.

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Pterodactylus antiquus. The very first pterodactyle to be scientifically described, and the first to be recognised as a Volant reptile. This iconic fossil is housed in the collections of Munich’s palaeontology museum.

The diversity of dinosaurs

Our studies concentrate on the diversity and morphology of local Early Cretaceous dinosaur faunas from the English Wealden Group. We also work on South American dinosaur faunas and the biogeography of Early Cretaceous dinosaurs.

Anything else that takes my fancy

Palaeontology is one of those sciences where new discoveries are being made almost on a daily basis. Many new and exciting fossils are brought into my laboratory that don’t relate directly to our research themes, but are just too interesting to pass over. Thus in recent years our lab has undertaken studies a new species of shark from the Carboniferous, parasitoid wasps from the Cretaceous of Brazil, a coelacanth from the Triassic of southern England and many other fascinating fossils. Presently we are studying a new shark from the Jurassic Oxford Clay.

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An elaborate dermal denticle from the small Carboniferous shark Acanthorhachis spinatus. Scanning electron micrograph by Florence Gallien. Magnification x ~120.


Research profile

Explore my research profile, publications and activities on the Portsmouth Research Portal

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