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


20. Taylor, A. C., Lautenschlager, S., Zhao, Q., Rayfield, E. J. (2017): Biomechanical evaluation of different musculoskeletal arrangements in Psittacosaurus and implications for cranial function. The Anatomical Record, 300, 49-61. DOI: 10.1002/ar.23489

19. Lautenschlager, S., Gill, P., Luo, Z.-X., Fagan, M. J., Rayfield, E. J. (2016): Morphological evolution of the mammalian jaw adductor complex. Biological Reviews, 1-31. DOI: 10.1111/brv.12314

18. Lautenschlager, S. (2016): Reconstructing the past: methods and techniques for the digital restoration of fossils. Royal Society Open Science, 3, 160342. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160342

17.Vinter, J., Nicholls, R., Lautenschlager, S., Pittmann, M., Kaye, T. G., Rayfield, E., Mayr, G., Cuthill, I. C. (2016): 3D Camouflage in an Ornithischian Dinosaur. Current Biology, 26, 1-7. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.06.065

16. Lautenschlager, S., Witzmann, F., Werneburg, I. (2016): Palate anatomy and morphofunctional aspects of interpterygoid vacuities in temnospondyl cranial evolution. The Science of Nature 103, 79. DOI: 10.1007/s00114-016-1402-z

15. Lautenschlager, S. Butler, R. J. (2016): Neural and endocranial anatomy of Triassic phytosaurian reptiles and convergence with fossil and modern crocodylians. PeerJ, 4, e2251. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.2251

14. Lautenschlager, S., Brassey, C. A., Button, D. J., Barrett, P. M. (2016): Decoupled form and function in disparate herbivorous dinosaur clades. Scientific Reports, 6, 26495. DOI: 10.1038/srep26495

13. Lautenschlager, S. (2015): Estimating cranial musculoskeletal constraints in theropod dinosaurs. Royal Society Open Science, 2, 150495. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150495

12. Lautenschlager, S., Rauhut, O. W. M. (2015): Osteology of Rauisuchus tiradentes from the Late Triassic (Carnian) Santa Maria Formation of Brazil, and its implications for rauisuchid anatomy and phylogeny. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 173 (1), 55-91. DOI: 10.1111/zoj.12196

11. Lautenschlager, S., Witmer, L. M., Altangerel, P., Zanno, L. E., Rayfield, E. J. (2014): Cranial anatomy of Erlikosaurus andrewsi (Dinosauria, Therizinosauria): new insights based on digital reconstruction. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 34, 6, 1-29. DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2014.874529

10. Lautenschlager, S. & Ruecklin, M.(2014): Beyond the print - Virtual paleontology in science publishing, outreach, and education. Journal of Paleontology, 88, 4, 727-734.
DOI: 10.1666/13-085

9. Cunningham, J. A., Rahman, I. A., Lautenschlager, S., Rayfield, E. J., Donoghue, P. C. J. (2014): A virtual world of paleontology. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 29, 6, 347-357
DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2014.04.004

8. Lautenschlager, S. (2014): Morphological and functional diversity in therizinosaur claws and the implications for theropod claw evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 281, 20140497.
DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0497

7. Lautenschlager, S., Bright, J. A., Rayfield, E. J. (2014), Digital dissection – using contrast-enhanced computed tomography scanning to elucidate hard- and soft-tissue anatomy in the Common Buzzard Buteo buteo. Journal of Anatomy, 224, 412-431. DOI: 10.1111/joa.12153

6. Lautenschlager, S. (2014): Palaeontology in the third dimension: a comprehensive guide for the integration of three-dimensional content in publications. Paläontologische Zeitschrift, 88, 111-121.
DOI: 10.1007/s12542-013-0184-2

5. Lautenschlager, S., Witmer, L. M., Altangerel, P., Rayfield, E. J. (2013): Edentulism, beaks, and biomechanical innovations in the evolution of theropod dinosaurs. PNAS, 110 (51), 20657–20662.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1310711110

4. Lautenschlager, S. & Huebner, T. (2013): Ontogenetic trajectories in the ornithischian endocranium. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 26, 2044-2050. DOI: 10.1111/jeb.12181

3. Lautenschlager, S. (2013): Cranial myology and bite force performance of Erlikosaurus andrewsi: a novel approach for digital muscle reconstructions, Journal of Anatomy. 222, 260-272.
DOI: 10.1111/joa.12000

2. Lautenschlager, S., Rayfield, E. J., Altangerel, P., Zanno, L. E., Witmer, L. M. (2012). Endocranial anatomy of Therizinosauria and its implications for sensory and cognitive function. PLoS ONE 7(12), e52289. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052289

1. Lautenschlager, S. & Desojo, J. B. (2011): Reassessment of the Middle Triassic rauisuchian archosaurs Ticinosuchus ferox and Stagonosuchus nyassicus. Paläontologische Zeitschrift, 85, 357-381. DOI: 10.1007/s12542-011-0105-1