Weston Observatory

Research in Paleobotany and Paleopalynology involves investigating the evolution of land plants from their algal ancestors, in addition to studies on Precambrian terrestrial ecosystems and the origins of complex multicellularity as seen in the fossil record.

The Grand Canyon

Since 1996, ongoing collecting in the Tonto Group (middle Cambrian) of the eastern Grand Canyon has recovered assemblage of non-marine microfossils, including some important records of early cryptospores. The Bright Angel Shale, long thought to represent a classic transgressive marine shale, is more likely estuarine, and clearly close to land, as evidence by scree-covered debris seen below on Utah Flats in the eastern Grand Canyon..

Weathered Precambrian Islands
Nankoweap Butte

Photo - L. van Maldegem

This work has expanded to include a trip in 2014 to the Nankoweap Butte with European colleagues (above) collecting biomarker samples with Pierre Sansjofre and Chris Hallmann in Neoproterozoic shales of the Chuar Group. The initial results of this research were published recently in Nature Communications.

dolphins en route to the Isle of Rhum

The Torridonian Sequence of the Northwest Scottish Highlands

Together with Charles Wellman (Sheffield University) we have been collecting organic-rich shales and phosphatic nodules from Torridonian rocks since 2008. Most of our work is focused on documenting microfossils extracted via acid maceration (palynology) but in 2011 we teamed up with Martin Brasier's group at Oxford University to summarize the micropaleontology of the entire sequence in, The Earth's Earliest non-marine Eukaryotes. which was published in Nature 10.1038/nature09943.

Lepidopterid Scales from the Triassic-Jurassic Boundary

This project began in 2012 when Bas van de Schootbrugge and I discovered what at first we thought were moth scales in a boundary core from north Germany. Fast forward to 2018 with the assistance of Torsten Wappler, Henk Visscher, and others, Timo van Eldijk, a student at Utrecht University, was able to determine the affinity of these scales. See our article, "A Triassic-Jurassic window into the evolution of Lepidoptera" in Science Advances.

Early Lepidopterid scale

ongoing research projects:

A fossil record of the Euglenids

Valeria lophostriata

Paleopalynology of the Nonesuch Shale

Precambrian protists: Origins of multicellularity and development

Tetrahedraletes medinensis

Cryptospores and the origin of land plants. see below for a preprint of our most recent paper.

Systematics and taxonomy of the Torridonian microbiota

Evolution in terrestrial settings: Lakes through time


Ongoing development - the Gunflint Chert and the origin of the eukaryotic cell.

Some initial images of clusters of spheroids from sample SLT17-13B.