Dr Stephan Lautenschlager

Dr Stephan Lautenschlager

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Lecturer 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


Montefeitro, F, Lautenschlager, S, Godoy, P, Ferreira, G & Butler, R 2020, 'A unique predator in a unique ecosystem: modelling the apex predator within a Late Cretaceous crocodyliform-dominated fauna from Brazil', Journal of Anatomy, vol. 237, no. 2, pp. 323-333. https://doi.org/10.1111/joa.13192

M Janis, C, Figueirido, B, DeSantis, L & Lautenschlager, S 2020, 'An eye for a tooth: Thylacosmilus was not a marsupial "saber-tooth predator"', PeerJ, vol. 8, e9346. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.9346

Brown, E, Butler, R, Ezcurra, M, Bhullar, B-A & Lautenschlager, S 2020, 'Endocranial anatomy and life habits of the Early Triassic archosauriform Proterosuchus fergusi', Palaeontology, vol. 63, no. 2, pp. 255-282. https://doi.org/10.1111/pala.12454

Ferreira, G, Lautenschlager, S, Evers, S, Pfaff, C, Kriwet, J, Raselli, I & Werneburg, I 2020, 'Feeding biomechanics suggests progressive correlation of skull architecture and neck evolution in turtles', Scientific Reports, vol. 10, no. 1, 5505. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-62179-5

Lautenschlager, S, Figueirido, B, Cashmore, D, Bendel, E-M & Stubbs, T 2020, 'Morphological convergence obscures functional diversity in sabre-toothed carnivores', Royal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences.

Lautenschlager, S 2020, 'Multibody dynamics analysis (MDA) as a numerical modelling tool to reconstruct the function and palaeobiology of extinct organisms', Palaeontology, vol. 63, no. 5, pp. 703-715. https://doi.org/10.1111/pala.12501

Gutarra, S, Moon, B, Rahman, I, Palmer, C, Lautenschlager, S, Brimacombe, A & Benton, M 2019, 'Effects of body plan evolution on the hydrodynamic drag and energy requirements of swimming in ichthyosaurs', Royal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences, vol. 286, no. 1898, 286. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2018.2786

Knoll, F, Lautenschlager, S, Valentin, X, Díez Díaz, V, Pereda Suberbiola, X & Garcia, G 2019, 'First palaeoneurological study of a sauropod dinosaur from France and its phylogenetic significance', PeerJ, vol. 7, e7991. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.7991

Figueirido, B, Lautenschlager, S, Pérez-Ramos, A & Van Valkenburgh, B 2018, 'Distinct predatory behaviors in scimitar- and dirk-toothed sabertooth cats', Current Biology, vol. 28, no. 20, pp. 3260–3266.e3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2018.08.012

Lautenschlager, S, Ferreira, G & Werneburg, I 2018, 'Sensory evolution and ecology of early turtles revealed by digital endocranial reconstructions', Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. https://doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2018.00007

Lautenschlager, S, Gill, P, Luo, Z-X, Fagan, M & Rayfield, E 2018, 'The role of miniaturisation in the evolution of the mammalian jaw and middle ear', Nature, vol. 561, pp. 533-537. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0521-4

Taylor, AC, Lautenschlager, S, Qi, Z & Rayfield, EJ 2017, 'Biomechanical evaluation of different musculoskeletal arrangements in Psittacosaurus and implications for cranial function: muscle arrangement in Psittacosaurus', The Anatomical record, vol. 300, no. 1, pp. 49-61. https://doi.org/10.1002/ar.23489

Lautenschlager, S 2017, 'Functional niche partitioning in therizinosauria provides new insights into the evolution of theropod herbivory', Palaeontology, vol. 60, no. 3, pp. 375-387. https://doi.org/10.1111/pala.12289

Lautenschlager, S, Gill, P, Luo, Z-X, Fagan, MJ & Rayfield, EJ 2017, 'Morphological evolution of the mammalian jaw adductor complex: Mammalian jaw muscle evolution', Biological Reviews, vol. 92, no. 4, pp. 1910–1940. https://doi.org/10.1111/brv.12314

Davies, TGD, Lautenschlager, S, Rahman, I, Cunningham, J, Asher, R, Barrett, P, Bates, K, Bengtson, S, Benson, R, Boyer, D, Braga, J, Bright, J, Claessons, L, Cox, P, Dong, X-P, Evans, A, Falkingham, P, Friedman, M, Garwood, R, Goswami, A, Hutchinson, JO, Jeffrey, N, Johanson, Z, Lebrun, R, Martínez-Pérez, CM-P, Marugán-Lobón, JM-L, O'Higgins, P, Metscher, B, Orliac, MO, Rowe, T, Rücklin, MR, Sánchez-Villagra, MRS-V, Shubin, N, Smith, S, Starck, MS, Stringer, C, Summers, AS, Sutton, M, Walsh, S, Weisbecker, VW, Witmer, L, Wroe, S, Yin, ZY, Rayfield, E & Donoghue, PD 2017, 'Open data and digital morphology', Royal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.0194

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