PhD candidate
Jacob Blokland

Growing up in New Zealand, a place well-known for its birds – especially prehistoric ones – it is perhaps fitting that I have been drawn to study them. Chasing palaeontology from a young age, subjects at high school and beyond were chosen with this passion in-mind; getting in contact with local palaeontologists to steer me in the right direction. After completing a Master’s degree at University of Canterbury, I flew to South Australia to expand my horizons, and pursue fossil birds throughout Australasia and the world.

Today I am a Ph.D. student in the Palaeontology research group at Flinders University. My interests involve the pathways and processes surrounding the evolution of birds, including the evolution of flight and flightlessness, as well as taxonomic, systematic, and phylogenetic inference. My Ph.D. research focuses on a widespread group of typically wetland birds called rails, particularly those that lived 34 to 5 million years ago, during the Oligocene and Miocene. These successful birds are also known for their repeated evolutionary tendency to evolve flightlessness, a condition that can be seen in bones, which makes them a particularly interesting and challenging group to study. My research aims to shed light on the relationships of ancient forms from New Zealand, Australia and Europe to their living counterparts, to expand on the understanding of the origins of rails and the patterns of their modern radiation. I am also involved in the investigation of 60-million-year-old penguin fossils from New Zealand, to describe and compare them in the context of their close relatives, and build on the evolutionary understanding of this group.

Here at Flinders University, I am grateful to be in arm’s reach of such a diverse assemblage of fossils, a world-class laboratory, and surrounded by so many experienced, passionate peers, with an extensive knowledgebase. An unparalleled environment for opportunities, to share and build on ideas, and ultimately bring fossils back to life.