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Dr Julia D. Sigwart

Dr Sigwart at the potting shed in Down House, Charles Darwin's home in Downe, Kent. [photo: Wolfgang Sterrer]

Director, Queen's University Marine Laboratory (2009-2015)
Associate Director (2015-2018, on sabbatical away from QML)
Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor), QUB School of Biological Sciences

Contact Information

From 2020, Dr Sigwart is primarily based at the Senckenberg Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. 
- Email:
- Skype: j.sigwart


- Sigwart Lab publications
- Short version of Dr Sigwart's CV [pdf]

Tomographic model of a juvenile chiton, showing shell eyes (blue) and the internal aesthete network (magenta). [x-ray tomography completed at the ALS, Berkeley National Labs, USA]

My research focusses on the evolution of marine biodiversity. Adaptive features, which are relevant to each particular species, shape how they respond to environmental perturbations, in the modern world and in the fossil record. We use tomography (right) to visualise animal adaptations in 3D and understand the world from other organisms' points of view.

Understanding evolutionary radiations, survivorship, and the way animals respond to environmental change, require high resolution data from multiple disciplines. The work in my research group crosses genetics, morphology, anatomy, neurobiology, physiology, computational modelling, and experimental approaches, to understand the drivers for species diversity.

Some of these are discussed in my recent book, What Species Mean: A User's Guide to the Units of Biodiversity, published by CRC/Taylor & Francis in early 2018.


Recent videos

Biodiversity and Evolution

The focus of a major EU funded research project DeepTrees: Computational modelling of evolutionary dynamics in deep time (2015-2018), was to create better comparisons of patterns in living biodiversity and the fossil record. Part of this work is building on our established datasets to quantify genetic and morphological variability in select taxa. Understanding intrinsic evolutionary patterns that shape global biodiversity will make our use of the fossil record of past climate change and extinction, a more powerful tool to understand present-day climate change.

Climate change and sustainability

Invertebrate fisheries are increasingly important as pressures on finfish reduce stocks. Information about the anatomy and physiology of target species is essential to inform fisheries management. We work with native oyster, mussel, and crustacean fisheries through large-scale European intitaives, and collaborative work in peninsular Malaysia.

More recently, our work has  expanded to promoting conservation of deep sea natural resources, especially through the use of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species to highlight species at risk in hydrothermal vents.


Polyplacophora (also called chitons or coat-of-mail shells) are called 'living fossils' because they seem to have changed little in their external morphology for hundreds of millions of years; because of this they make excellent models to investigate what we can (and cannot) understand about evolution from different sources of data, in living and extinct species. The fossil record of chitons may be mis-leading: our research has shown that many fossil "chitons" were armoured worms, very different from the modern limpet-like form. Chitons have a number of unique sense organs, including the "Schwabe organ" in deep-sea chitons, a new sense organ discovered and described by our group. Chitons are amazing animals in their own right and much of the fundamental data for my larger-scale projects comes from studies of deep-sea chitons and their relatives.

Contact Information

Queen's University Marine Laboratory (QML)
12-13 The Strand, Portaferry
Co. Down, Northern Ireland, BT22 1PF
Phone: +44 (0)28 427 28230

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