Professor Jennifer Botha
University of the Witwatersrand
I am currently the Interim Director of GENUS, having recently left the National Museum in Bloemfontein. My research interests are in palaeobiology and palaeoecology, focusing on the life history responses of extinct vertebrates to catastrophic environmental change. Using past mass extinctions as models, I use various techniques, including biostratigraphy, morphology and osteohistology, to test theories regarding differential species survival during these extinction events. I have a special interest in palaeohistology, the study of fossil bone microstructure, which provides novel information about the life history of the vertebrates associated with past mass extinctions. My previous research has focused on the terrestrial end-Permian mass extinction, the most catastrophic biotic crisis in Phanerozoic history. My current research has expanded to include the end-Triassic extinction, focusing on sites in the Karoo Basin of South Africa. Using biostratigraphy and osteohistology, I am investigating the palaeobiology of vertebrates before and after extinction.
Fields of study
My current research is focused on the underlying reasons for faunal turnover across the end-Triassic extinction event as a means of understanding biotic responses to mass extinctions in general. Previous approaches have focused on a relatively narrow array of traits (e.g., body mass, discrete character evolution) that are relatively coarse proxies for biological variables. In this project, a multi-proxy approach, incorporating a novel set of life history variables as well as a tested suite of variables is being used. The Elliot Formation in the Karoo Basin of South Africa preserves a complete sequence of uppermost Triassic and lowermost Jurassic strata and contains the best continental record of the end-Triassic extinction and the tetrapods living through this event. Life history and ecological data are being used in a biostratigraphic framework to assess the faunal turnover of Late Triassic and Early Jurassic taxa from the Elliot Formation. This information will ultimately be used in a broader framework to investigate the Triassic continental ecological reorganization when archosauromorphs (including dinosaurs) essentially replaced non-mammalian synapsids (therapsids) as the dominant large-bodied tetrapods.