Palaeobiology, or Palaeontology, the study of the fossil record, has a remarkably long and eventful history in Tübingen. The roots of the discipline date back to 1837 with the establishment of the first geoscience chair in the then Kingdom of Württemberg. The first chairholder was Friedrich August Quenstedt, famous for developing the Jurassic stratigraphic system of the Swabian Alb based on ammonites. With the fossils that he collected during his tenure, he founded the palaeontological collection of the institute, which now holds more than a half million fossils, including complete dinosaurs, mammal-like therapsids, and marine reptiles. Franz Hilgendorf, a student of Quenstedt, examined fossil snails (Gyraulus) from the Steinheim Basin and his dissertation from 1862 (completed only three years after the publication of Darwin's "Origin of Species") depicts the first phylogenetic tree based on fossil evidence. For the first half of the early 20th century, the research in Tübingen was characterised by a number of expeditions that Friedrich von Huene, the local equivalent of Indiana Jones, launched to South America and Africa. Under his guidance, numerous therapsid (stem-mammal) and basal archosaur fossils were added to the collection. During the second half of the 20th century, Tübingen became a world-leading center for theoretical palaeontology, functional morphology and palaeoecology, under the leadership of Otto Heinrich Schindewolf and Adolf Seilacher. Today, this tradition of excellence and innovation is continued by combining classical palaeontology with new methods like computer simulation, modelling, and molecular palaeontology.
Research is carried out in the following five work groups:
- Invertebrate Palaeontology
- Terrestrial Palaeoclimatology
- Vertebrate Palaeontology
In 2010, the palaeontology group included five professors and eleven researchers, as well as many doctoral researchers supported by external funding. We take active part in Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeecology (HEP), the interfacultary Evolution and Ecology Forum Tübingen and participate in the Center for Science-based Archaeology. Currently, palaeontologists from Tübingen pursue many externally funded projects on topics as diverse as modeling of dinosaur locomotion, evolution of terrestrial ecosystems, climate change and bionics (i.e., the development of new materials inspired by optimal solution in nature). We organize the yearly Crafoord lecture and maintain a teaching program covering all aspects of the discipline.