Emmy Noether Junior Research Group

Macroevolution of Birds and Mammals

A fundamental question

How has the amazing diversity of life on Earth evolved, and what shapes diversity patterns through time and in space? The first question is at the centre of macroevolution, a discipline of biology that investigates speciation, extinction, and the evolution of species’ traits over long timescales (usually millions of years). The second question lies at the intersection of macroevolution with macroecology and biogeography, with the latter two scientific fields studying the ecology and the geographic distributions of species, higher taxa, and their traits on large spatial scales. Our research uses integrative approaches to address both questions focussing on terrestrial vertebrates, in particular mammals and birds.

An integrative approach

To understand the variation of diversity in species, higher taxa, and their traits across time and space, we investigate a broad range of topics, bringing together large-scale biogeographical, macroecological and macroevolutionary patterns to infer underlying mechanisms. We compile and synthesize large databases of the fossil record as well as on living taxa, particularly data gathered from preserved specimen in museum collections, public data resources, and literature mining that encompass species’ traits, geographic and stratigraphic occurrences, and phylogenetic relationships among organisms. Our research integrates methods across various disciplines, such as statistical and modelling tools commonly applied in paleontology as well as neontological macroecology and macroevolution.

A diverse research group

We are a diverse group of biologists and work closely with geoscientists to identify potential environmental drivers of biodiversity dynamics, such as climate change, mountain building, and increasing human impacts through the Anthropocene. Our goal is to learn from the past by studying the evolutionary history underlying present-day diversity patterns in relation to their abiotic, biotic, and anthropogenic drivers, in order to improve projections of future biodiversity in a world increasingly dominated by humans.

Further information

For more information on our research and highlighted publications, see here. Our research contributes to the Senckenberg research fields Biodiversity and Climate and Biodiversity, Systematics and Evolution, in particular the research activities Geobiodiversity and Climate and Biogeography.

Links and selected press releases


Some of our work has been described in the Senckenberg Annual Report, which is publicly available: „Studying the diversity of mammals – dead and alive“, pp. 42-47 in Senckenberg 2015-2017, Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung, Frankfurt (Main) 

Selected press releases

2018: „Mountain building creates biodiversity“ (University of Amsterdam)

2018: „Mammals move less in human-modified landscapes” (Senckenberg BiK-F) 

2017: “New insights into the mechanisms of how ungulates got bigger in the Neogene” (Senckenberg BiK-F)

2016: “For 20 million years, the diversity of large terrestrial mammals depended on plant growth” (Senckenberg BiK-F)

2013: “Wallace’s century-old map of natural world updated” (University of Copenhagen)

Externally funded projects

Externally funded projects

2020 – 2025 Leibniz professorship for Dr. Susanne Fritz, granted to Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung in the Competition of the Leibniz Association 2018: “Geobiodiversity: assessing the impacts of mountain building and climate change on evolution and ecology of mammals and birds“

2020 – 2024 LOEWE Schwerpunkt (cooperative project grant by Hesse’s Ministry for Higher Education, Research and the Arts) „VeWA – past hothouse climates as natural analogues of our high-CO2 future”, granted to Goethe University Frankfurt & Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung (Dr. Susanne Fritz as Co-PI)

2018 – 2021 DFG (German Research Foundation) postdoctoral position granted to Dr. Shan Huang: „Late Cenozoic climatic impact on body size evolution in large mammals“

2014 – 2020 DFG (German Research Foundation) Emmy Noether research group granted to Dr. Susanne Fritz: “Macroevolution of climatic niches in birds”

2015 – 2018 Alexander von Humboldt Foundation postdoctoral fellowship granted to Dr. Shan Huang: “Biodiversity-environment association in space and time: How Cenozoic climate influenced large mammals in the Northern Hemisphere”