Stephan Lautenschlager

Colleges, School and Institutes

Research interests

Stephan’s research focusses on the application of digital techniques and computer simulations to restore fossil morphology and to reconstruct the function and behavior of extinct organisms. 

Digital restoration of fossils

By their very nature, fossils are often incompletely preserved, distorted and deformed when there are found after millions of years of fossilisation. This presents a serious problem for the study of extinct organisms as knowledge on relationships of fossils, their appearance, behaviour and ecology relies on the (preserved) morphology. Digital restoration techniques offer a variety of approaches to restore fossil morphology. The restored digital models can then subsequently be used as a basis to reconstruct relevant soft-tissue structures and ultimately permit further investigation of function, such as feeding or locomotion. 

Reconstruction of fossil soft-tissue structures

Fossils usually consist of preserved hard parts such as bones and teeth in vertebrates and mineralised shells in invertebrates. In contrast, soft tissues are only rarely preserved in the fossil record, yet detailed knowledge of soft-tissue structures is paramount to understanding the palaeobiology of extinct organisms. However, novel computational techniques, including CT scanning and digital visualisation, provide versatile tools to reconstruct soft-tissues, such as the brain anatomy and the musculature, of fossils virtually. 

Functional morphology and biomechanical modelling

The field of functional morphology analyses the relationship between anatomical form and function and behaviour. In fossil organisms, function is often difficult to reconstruct. However, by using a range of biomechanical modelling techniques, such as Finite Element Analysis (FEA) or Multibody Dynamics Analysis (MDA), coupled with CT scanning and digital visualisation, it is possible to investigate the form/function-relation of extinct animals. These techniques are particularly powerful tools to not only compare different skeletal morphologies, but also to test hypothetical models and different behavioural scenarios. 

Stephan’s current research projects involve: 

  • Functional morphology during the evolution of modern mammals from their reptile-like ancestors
  • The evolution of herbivory in archosaurs, in particular dinosaurs
  • Reconstruction of the brain and inner ear morphology in vertebrates (dinosaurs, turtles, mammals)
  • Integration of preserved and hypothetical fossil morphologies to reconstruct evolutionary patterns

Qualifications

  • Diploma Geology/Palaeontology (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich)
  • PhD (University of Bristol)

Biography

  • 2013-2016: NERC Postdoctoral Research Assistant, University of Bristol
  • 2010-2013: PhD, University of Bristol
  • 2009-2010: Research assistant, Molecular Geo- and Palaeobiology Lab, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich
  • 2003-2008: Diplom Geology/Palaeontology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich
  • 2001-2003: Associate engineer in information and computer systems, Siemens ICM, Munich