Brett Metcalfe

Brett Metcalfe measures fossils at Plymouth

Joining Dr Richard Twitchett in the School of Earth, Ocean and Environmental Sciences at Plymouth University, Brett Metcalfe spent his summer vacation bursary investigating the Lilliput Effect. This curious phenomenon is the term given to the temporary size reduction in animals that have survived global extinction events. The aim of this particular project was to investigate the 'Lilliput effect in the aftermath of the greatest mass extinction event' in the history of life on Earth – the end-Permian event. Brett’s job was to look at fossils and measure the spacing of growth lines preserved in the shells of fossil marine animals in order to assess how their growth changed during this event. Were the Lilliput animals smaller because they were growing at a reduced rate? Or were they dying at a younger age? This project represented the first attempt by anyone to answer these important questions. Brett rose to the challenge, and discovered that growth rates in the bivalve Claraia did indeed vary through the extinction-recovery interval – the first time this has been shown.

Since completing his bursary project, Brett has decided to apply for a PhD, and he will be presenting his work at the Young Geoscientists meeting later this year, as well as at the Palaeontological Association Annual Meeting. Brett’s supervisor, Dr Twitchett, said of Brett’s work: "Few research groups in the world are studying the Lilliput effect, and Brett’s work has enabled some high quality, original data to be collected. His work has confirmed that such analyses are possible, yield interesting results and are scientifically very worthwhile. Brett’s discoveries are a significant contribution to our studies."