Inaugural Lecture of Professor Jason Hilton

Law Building Lecture Theatre 1
Tuesday 7 February 2023 (16:30-18:00)

Contact Caroline Durbin -

Hilton 560 400
Professor Jason Hilton

This is an in-person event in the Law Building at the University of Birmingham.

The lecture will also be streamed live via Zoom Webinar. Registration for the webinar is here.

The Permian vegetational Pompeii – an exceptional window into the evolution of early forest ecosystems 

Land plants have a remarkable fossil record stretching back more than 400 million years, but our understanding of their early evolutionary history is often hampered by the incompleteness of the fossil record. This talk will focus on one aspect of my research and will showcase recent and remarkable discoveries from Wuda in China where an entire forest is preserved under a blanket of volcanic ash.  Think of it as Pompeii without the Romans, but rather than stepping back in time a few thousand years in Mediterranean Italy, jump back 299 million years into the earliest Permian and a tropical forest ecosystem in what is now Inner Mongolia. The visually stunning fossils are preserved complete, in their life positions, and with exceptional preservation that records their morphology and, in some cases, cellular anatomy. So far more than 50,000 specimens have been identified and their distributions mapped from over 8,000 1x1 meter quadrats, recording the entire forest ecosystem on a scale dwarfing previous studies. Detailed and time-consuming work continues documenting new plant species, genera, and families, and interpreting the evolutionary history, ecological significance, and geological relevance of each species. Highlights from the flora include the oldest known Cycads that challenge traditional views on the group’s bradlytelic dynamics and evolutionary stasis, climbing plants with different kinds of leaves in different positions, and the stratigraphically youngest progymnosperms — an extinct lineage that represents the closest relatives to seed plants — that shows the group attained most of the reproductive sophistication seen in seed plants. The Wuda forest flora represents a pinnacle of understanding in the most ancient forest ecosystems. It is revolutionising our understanding of plant evolution and floras in the Permian period and requires textbooks to be re-written. Everyone is welcome to this event.

Jason Hilton is a palaeobotanist interested in plant evolution in deep (geological) time. He uses fossil plants as evidence of past life on Earth investigating how they evolved and using them as tools for interpreting past environments and climates.

Since joining the University in 2003, Jason has worked on a broad range of topics including the origin and evolutionary relationships of plant group, changes in diversity through evolutionary radiation and mass extinctions events, and plants responses to periods of volcanic driven climate change. More recently, he has been a pioneer in methods to reassess past plant diversity estimates accounting for disarticulation and fragmentation in the fossil record.

Guests are invited to join Jason after the lecture for refreshments. 

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