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Institute of Advanced Study

Dr Thomas Servais


IAS Fellow at Van Mildert College, Durham University (October - December 2016)

Thomas Servais is Research Director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), based at the University of Lille. Trained as a geologist and palaeontologist in Namur and Liège (Belgium), he continued post-doctoral research in Berlin (Germany) and at the British Geological Survey (Keyworth-Nottingham, UK), working on the biostratigraphy, palaeoecology and palaeogeography of different fossil groups, in particular the enigmatic microfossil group of the acritarchs.

His research is focused on the evolution of early ecosystems, marine and terrestrial, during the Early Palaeozoic periods, i.e., some 550 to 350 million years ago, when the oceans were getting filled with marine life, and when plants and animals moved to the continents. His particular interest lies in the evolution of the phytoplankton that constitutes the base of the marine food chains, and that has a major significance on carbon dioxide consumption and oxygen production, i.e. on global change, past and present.

Dr Servais is the author of over 100 articles in journals dedicated to geology and palaeontology, and he has edited several special issues and books, among them a Geological Society of London Memoir on Lower Palaeozoic palaeobiogeographies. Specialized on the Ordovician Period, he is currently elected Vice-Chairman of the International Subcommission of Ordovician Stratigraphy, after having been the leader of an International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) on 'Ordovician Palaeogeography and Palaeoclimate,’ that brought together over 250 scientists from all around the world.

After having been President of the French Palaeontological Society (APF) and of the French Palynological Association (APLF), he was Vice-President of the Palaeontological Association (Great Britain) and President of the International Federation of Palynological Societies( IFPS). He is currently Vice-President of the International Paleontological Association (IPA).

In Durham his work will be focused on the understanding of the global changes that took place when the life exploded in the oceans, during the Cambrian-Ordovician periods, with a particular focus on the reconstruction of past palaeogeographies, and the main objective to locate ancient continents, oceans and oceanic currents.


IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - The Earth 500 million years ago: analyzing large-scale spatial and temporal palaeontological questions

Life on Earth is present since a few billion years, but macroscopic fossils only became abundant with the Cambrian Explosion, some 500 million years ago. After the Cambrian Explosion, the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event was arguably the most important and sustained increase of marine biodiversity in Earth’s history. During a short time span of 25 Ma, an explosion of diversity at the order, family, genus, and species level occurred. The combined effects of several geological and biological processes helped generate this radiation of life. The peak of the biodiversification correlates with unique paleogeography, featuring the greatest continental dispersal recorded during the Phanerozoic. Rapid sea-floor spreading during this time coincided with warm climates, high sea levels, and the largest tropical shelf area of the Phanerozoic. In addition, important ecological evolutionary changes took place, with the “explosion” of both zooplankton and suspension feeding organisms, possibly based on increased phytoplankton availability and high nutrient input to the oceans driven by intense volcanic activity. At about the same time, life on the continents also started to spread, with the first land plants being present on all palaeocontinents.

Listen to the lecture in full

Dr Thomas Servais Publications

Servais, T (2017) 'Phytoplankton: the driver of marine ecosystem evolution', Quaesitum, Vol. II, pp. Van Mildert College, Durham University.