Current Research

Research in the Martindale Lab spans many topics, from reef ecology, to mass extinctions, to exceptional fossil preservation. Here are some of our active research topics.

Mass Extinctions and their Causes

End-Triassic Extinction Horizon in the Newark Basin (Photo by D. McGee)

End-Triassic Extinction Horizon in the Newark Basin (USA)

Several Mesozoic extinctions correlate with the eruption of Large Igneous Provinces. Flood basalt emplacement is thought to cause a cascade of synergistic kill mechanisms such as global climate change (warming), low oxygen concentration in the oceans and even ocean acidification. Both the end-Permian and end-Triassic have now been connected with the rapid emplacement of large flood basalt provinces and the resulting environmental changes. Recent work has focused on the end-Triassic mass extinction, and future work will combine this research on ancient carbon cycle perturbations and reef extinctions with research on modern reef decline and environmental deterioration due to human activities.

Research Team and Collaborators: R. Martindale, W. Foster*, H. Brame*, A. Weiss*, S. Greene, K. Ritterbush, D. Bottjer, F. Corsetti.

Publications: Hönisch et al 2012; Greene and Martindale et al. 2012; Martindale et al. 2012c; Corsetti et al., 2015; Them et al., 2017.


Carbon-cycle Perturbation Events: Community collapse or resilience?

From Kiessling and Simpson 2011 (Fig. 4)

There are times in earth history when a carbon-cycle perturbation (such as a flood basalt eruption) causes catastrophic environmental deterioration, mass extinction, and reef collapse. However, sometimes these major environmental perturbations cause reef collapse but not extinction events. Understanding what causes community collapse or ecosystem resilience is key to determining how modern communities could survive future environmental deterioration.
Our team is focused on several events, including; the end-Triassic event, the Toarcian Ocean Anoxic Event, Cretaceous Ocean Anoxic Event 1a, and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.

Research Team and Collaborators: R. Martindale, A. Weiss*, H. Brame*, N. Ettinger*, M. Aberhan, B. Gill, T. Them, A. Kosir, S. Greene, K. Ritterbush, D. Bottjer, F. Corsetti, C. Kerans.

Publications: Hönisch et al 2012; Greene and Martindale et al. 2012; Corsetti et al., 2015; Them et al., 2017; Martindale and Aberhan 2017.


Mesozoic Reef Paleoecology

Adnet Fallen Wall A

Cut face of the Adnet Reef (Rhaetian, Late Triassic, Austria)

The early Mesozoic is a key interval in the evolution of reef systems. Scleractinian corals first appear in the fossil record during the Triassic and are thought to have acquired symbionts in the Middle Triassic. The end-Triassic extinction and reef crisis was one of the largest reef collapses of the Phanerozoic and it was particularly severe for hypercalcifying reef builders. Reefs collapsed again in the Early Jurassic but flourished again in the Late Jurassic and during the Cretaceous, corals and rudists built reefs right here in the southern US. In addition to the reef paleoecology, our lab is also studying the cause(s) of the reef collapses at the end of the Triassic and during Oceanic Anoxic Events.

Research Team and Collaborators: R. Martindale, H. Brame*, N. Ettinger*, K. Hattori*, C. Kerans, A. Košir, L. Krystyn, B. Senowbari-Daryan, W. Kiessling, R. Martini, E. Roniewicz, B. Lathuilière, J.P. Zonneveld, D. Bottjer, F. Corsetti.

Publications: Martindale et al. 2010; 2012a; 2012b; 2013a; 2013b; 2015a.


Paleocene-Eocene Reefs and the PETM


The environmental perturbation during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) has been well studied, however, the benthic communities and the effects of the C-cycle perturbation on those benthic communities have been neglected. The PETM has been identified as one of the larger reef collapses of the Phanerozoic and since this is the most recent reef collapse and ocean acidification event, it can greatly inform future predictions of reef collapse.

Research Team and Collaborators: A. Weiss*, R. Martindale, A. Košir, W. Kiessling.


Paleobiology of Reef Builders

Platy to Tabular coral growth bands (Nevada)Although corals are iconic reef builders, there are still several key questions left unanswered. One of the key issues is whether or not Mesozoic corals had a symbiotic association with zooxanthellae. There is currently no definitive test for whether fossil corals had a zooxanthellae, so our research team is working to determine novel proxies for photosymbiosis in Scleractinian corals.

Research Team and Collaborators: R. Martindale, A. Weiss*, C. Tornabene*, M. Schaller, B. van de Schootbrugge.



Exceptional Fossil Preservation (Lagerstätten)

A new Lagerstätten deposit was discovered from Lower Jurassic shales in Canada. This deposit has produced; shrimp- and lobster-like crustaceans, articulated crinoids, fish, ichthyosaur and dinosaur vertebrae, squid,plant material, and a diverse suite of bivalves, ammonoids, belemnites, and microfossils. Our goals for this deposit are to document the fauna, determine how the community was preserved, and to apply this information to the broader understanding of Early Jurassic paleoecology.

Research Team and Collaborators: R. Martindale, K. Minor*, S. Marroquin*, B. Gill, T. Them, A. Caruthers, T. Poulton, R. Hall, D. Fuchs, R. Feldmann, A. Knoll, the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

Publications: Martindale et al. 2017; Martindale and Aberhan 2017


The evolution of modern reef ecosystems


Aggtelek Cave entrance

The oldest Mesozoic platform margin reef is located in the Aggtelek-Rudabanya Mountains, NE Hungary. Where a diverse suite of fossils including: brachiopods, conodonts, sponges, algae, cyanobacteria, foraminifera, radiolarians and echinoderms have been described. To better understand the recovery and development of reefs following the late Permian mass extinction event, samples from the Aggtelek reef will be collected and analysed quantitatively to investigate how the taxonomic and ecological structure evolved during the Middle Triassic.

Research Team and Collaborators: William Foster*, Felicitasz Velledits, Kinga Hips, Csaba Pero, R. Martindale


The final stages of recovery following the late Permian mass extinction

Rhizocorallium traces on a bedding plane, Bukkosd Quarry, Hungary

Full ecosystem recovery following the late Permian mass extinction is often not recorded until the Middle Triassic. Yet, there are no quantitative studies investigating benthic faunas that include Lower and Middle Triassic deposits. This project investigates the recovery of the benthos from homoclinal ramp settings in Hungary for the first 10 million years following the mass extinction event.

Research Team: William Foster, Krisztina Sebe




* Student or Postdoc at UT Austin