Dr Stephan Lautenschlager

Dr Stephan Lautenschlager

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Associate Professor in Palaeobiology

Contact details

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Stephan is a vertebrate palaeontologist, specialising in functional morphology and biomechanical analysis. His research focuses on the relationship between form and function in extinct vertebrates and how biomechanical function evolved through time in various vertebrate groups, such as dinosaurs, birds, crocodiles and mammals. Stephan applies a variety of computational techniques to restore the morphology of fossil organisms and to reconstruct their biology, drawing upon his knowledge and expertise as software engineer and geologist/palaeontologist.



  • Diploma Geology/Palaeontology (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich)
  • PhD (University of Bristol)


  • 2013-2016: NERC Postdoctoral Research Assistant, University of Bristol
  • 2010-2013: PhD, University of Bristol
  • 2009-2010: Research assistant, Molecular Geo- and Palaeobiology Lab, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich
  • 2003-2008: Diplom Geology/Palaeontology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich
  • 2001-2003: Associate engineer in information and computer systems, Siemens ICM, Munich


Stephan’s research focusses on the application of digital techniques and computer simulations to restore fossil morphology and to reconstruct the function and behavior of extinct organisms. 

Digital restoration of fossils

By their very nature, fossils are often incompletely preserved, distorted and deformed when there are found after millions of years of fossilisation. This presents a serious problem for the study of extinct organisms as knowledge on relationships of fossils, their appearance, behaviour and ecology relies on the (preserved) morphology. Digital restoration techniques offer a variety of approaches to restore fossil morphology. The restored digital models can then subsequently be used as a basis to reconstruct relevant soft-tissue structures and ultimately permit further investigation of function, such as feeding or locomotion. 

Reconstruction of fossil soft-tissue structures

Fossils usually consist of preserved hard parts such as bones and teeth in vertebrates and mineralised shells in invertebrates. In contrast, soft tissues are only rarely preserved in the fossil record, yet detailed knowledge of soft-tissue structures is paramount to understanding the palaeobiology of extinct organisms. However, novel computational techniques, including CT scanning and digital visualisation, provide versatile tools to reconstruct soft-tissues, such as the brain anatomy and the musculature, of fossils virtually. 

Functional morphology and biomechanical modelling

The field of functional morphology analyses the relationship between anatomical form and function and behaviour. In fossil organisms, function is often difficult to reconstruct. However, by using a range of biomechanical modelling techniques, such as Finite Element Analysis (FEA) or Multibody Dynamics Analysis (MDA), coupled with CT scanning and digital visualisation, it is possible to investigate the form/function-relation of extinct animals. These techniques are particularly powerful tools to not only compare different skeletal morphologies, but also to test hypothetical models and different behavioural scenarios. 

Stephan’s current research projects involve: 

  • Functional morphology during the evolution of modern mammals from their reptile-like ancestors
  • The evolution of herbivory in archosaurs, in particular dinosaurs
  • Reconstruction of the brain and inner ear morphology in vertebrates (dinosaurs, turtles, mammals)
  • Integration of preserved and hypothetical fossil morphologies to reconstruct evolutionary patterns


Recent publications


Figueirido, B, Tucker, S & Lautenschlager, S 2024, 'Comparing cranial biomechanics between Barbourofelis fricki and Smilodon fatalis: Is there a universal killing‐bite among saber‐toothed predators?', The Anatomical Record. https://doi.org/10.1002/ar.25451

Meade, L, Pittman, M, Balanoff, A & Lautenschlager, S 2024, 'Cranial functional specialisation for strength precedes morphological evolution in Oviraptorosauria', Communications Biology, vol. 7, no. 1, 436. https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-024-06137-1

Shelbourne, CD & Lautenschlager, S 2024, 'Morphological diversity of saber‐tooth upper canines and its functional implications', The Anatomical Record. https://doi.org/10.1002/ar.25458

Lautenschlager, S, Aston, RF, Baron, JL, Boyd, JR, Bridger, HWL, Carmona, VET, Ducrey, T, Eccles, O, Gall, M, Jones, SA, Laker-Mchugh, H, Lawrenson, DJ, Mascarenhas, KJ, Mcschnutz, E, Quinn, JD, Robson, TE, Stöhr, PW, Strahl, EJ, Tokeley, RR, Weston, F, Wallace, KJ, Whitehouse, T, Bird, CM & Dunne, EM 2024, 'Orbit size and estimated eye size in dinosaurs and other archosaurs and their implications for the evolution of visual capabilities', Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. https://doi.org/10.1080/02724634.2023.2295518

Dearden, RP, Jones, AS, Giles, S, Lanzetti, A, Grohganz, M, Johanson, Z, Lautenschlager, S, Randle, E, Donoghue, PCJ & Sansom, I 2024, 'The three-dimensionally articulated oral apparatus of a Devonian heterostracan sheds light on feeding in Palaeozoic jawless fishes', Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 291, no. 2019, 20232258. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2023.2258

Ruiz, J, Ferreira, G, Lautenschlager, S, de Castro, M & Montefeltro, F 2023, 'Different, but the same: Inferring the hunting behaviour of the hypercarnivorous bush dog (Speothos venaticus) through finite element analysis', Journal of Anatomy, vol. 242, no. 4, pp. 553-567. https://doi.org/10.1111/joa.13804

Fawcett, MJ, Lautenschlager, S, Bestwick, J & Butler, RJ 2023, 'Functional morphology of the Triassic apex predator Saurosuchus galilei (Pseudosuchia: Loricata) and convergence with a post‐Triassic theropod dinosaur', The Anatomical Record. https://doi.org/10.1002/ar.25299

Lautenschlager, S, Fagan, M, Luo, Z-X, Bird, C, Gill, P & Rayfield, E 2023, 'Functional reorganisation of the cranial skeleton during the cynodont–mammaliaform transition', Communications Biology, vol. 6, 367. https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-023-04742-0

Button, D, Porro, L, Lautenschlager, S, Jones, M & Barrett, P 2023, 'Multiple pathways to herbivory underpinned deep divergences in ornithischian evolution', Current Biology, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 557-565.E7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2022.12.019

Dearden, R, Lanzetti, A, Giles, S, Johanson, Z, Jones, A, Lautenschlager, S, Randle, E & Sansom, I 2023, 'The oldest three-dimensionally preserved vertebrate neurocranium', Nature. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06538-y

Herbst, EC, Meade, LE, Lautenschlager, S, Fioritti, N & Scheyer, TM 2022, 'A toolbox for the retrodeformation and muscle reconstruction of fossil specimens in Blender', Royal Society Open Science, vol. 9, no. 8, 220519. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.220519

Lautenschlager, S 2022, 'Functional and ecomorphological evolution of orbit shape in Mesozoic archosaurs is driven by body size and diet', Communications Biology, vol. 5, no. 1, 754. https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-022-03706-0

Ma, WS, Pittman, M, Butler, R & Lautenschlager, S 2022, 'Macroevolutionary trends in theropod dinosaur feeding mechanics', Current Biology, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 677-686.e3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2021.11.060

Holliday, CM, Sellers, KC, Lessner, EJ, Middleton, KM, Cranor, C, Verhulst, CD, Lautenschlager, S, Bader, K, Brown, MA & Colbert, MW 2022, 'New frontiers in imaging, anatomy and mechanics of crocodylian jaw muscles', The Anatomical Record, vol. 305, no. 10, pp. 3016-3030. https://doi.org/10.1002/ar.25011


Ferreira, G, Werneburg, I, Lautenschlager, S & Evers, S 2022, Contrasting brains and bones: neuroanatomical evolution of turtles (Testudinata). in MT Dozo, A Paulina-Carabajal, TE Macrini & S Walsh (eds), Paleoneurology of amniotes: new directions in the study of fossil endocasts. 1 edn, pp. 79-121. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-13983-3_4

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