PeerJ Award Winner Isabella Leonhard – ‘The Ins and Outs of coniform conodonts’

The PeerJ Awards program aims to support students and early career researchers by recognising their work, as well as bringing continued awareness to the benefits that open access has in keeping science open and available to all. The winners receive a complimentary PeerJ paper (upon submission and acceptance through our peer review system) and an interview  about their research.

Today, we shine a spotlight on Isabella Leonhard, an early career researcher from Germany, who was presented with a PeerJ award for ‘Best Contribution’ for her video presentation ‘The Ins and Outs of coniform conodonts: Insights into their feeding behaviour using 2D and 3D analysis’ at the 2nd Palaeontological Virtual Congress.

Here you can see her award-winning presentation, and learn more about her research and next steps in science and beyond!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I am a 24 year old first-year masters student in Paleobiology at FAU in Erlangen. I did my bachelor’s degree in Geoscience. My overall research interest is in the evolution and ecology of vertebrates!

I am working with conodonts, the earliest vertebrates possessing a mineralized skeleton. Why do I like conodonts? Besides being the earliest vertebrates in the fossil record, they are very abundant and highly diverse microfossils, used a lot in biostratigraphy, but very little is known about their ecology, especially about the ecology of the very early coniform ones (which I am interested in). They play an important role in the evolution of dental tools in the vertebrate lineage! I am fascinated by how controversial they are, how diverse and how much a small fossil (several microns in size) can tell us about animal evolution.

My project is a collaboration between the FAU in Erlangen (Emilia Jarochowska, Bryan Shirley and myself) and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (Duncan Murdock).

Can you briefly explain what you presented?

The hypothesis I am working on is that the early conodonts – Proconodontus (Ordovician age) and Panderodus (Silurian age) – were active predators, so I can give evidence that predation already existed among the earliest vertebrates. I want to give insight into their ecology and feeding behavior by using 2D and 3D methods, including BSE (Backscatter Electron) imaging and EDX (Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy) measurements, as well as Synchrotron Scans. Manipulated 3D data is very useful in terms of exploring the inner structure of conodonts without actually destroying the specimens.

What are your next steps? How will you continue to build on this research and or what do your future plans include?

Very little is known about early conodonts and I hope to make a small contribution with my current project work on studying early vertebrate evolution. I am fascinated by the enormous morphological diversity of conodont elements which could be linked to a wide range of different feeding strategies.  I hope to get involved in further conodont research in cooperation with Duncan Murdock and Emilia Jarochowska. After finishing my masters, I am excited to make my next steps in science by starting a PhD position!

Isabella Leonhard – The Ins and Outs of coniform conodonts: Insights into their feeding behaviour using 2D and 3D analysis

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See interviews and the listing of 2019 PeerJ Award winners on the PeerJ blog here!

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