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Laura Cotton

Dr. L. (Laura) Cotton, Research fellow - Marine Biodiversity


Email: laura.cotton@naturalis.nl
Phone: +31 (0)71-
Room number: C01.07, Darwinweg 2
“I use micro-fossils to answer macro-questions.”



  • 2008-2013 PhD, Cardiff University: "Paleogene larger benthic foraminifera of Tanzania and the Eocene-Oligocene Transition. 
  • 2004-2008 MEarthSci, University of Oxford: "Context and Palaeobiological Potential of One of the Earliest Known Amber Deposits, from the Lowest Cretaceous of Sussex".


  • 2012-present Research Fellow Naturalis, Leiden.
  • 2012-2013 Ernst Mach Scholar, University of Vienna - 3D imaging of reticulate Nummulites.
  • 2012 (September) Martin fellow, Naturalis, Leiden - evolution of reticulate Nummulites.
  • 2012 (June-August) JSPS summer research fellow, AORI, University of Tokyo - culturing larger foraminifera.


Research interest

Throughout Earth’s history there have been many shifts in climate and ocean circulation, often linked to biotic turnover. I am interested in how organisms respond to these changing physical factors and the mechanisms behind biotic response. My current research focusses on larger benthic foraminifera from the Eocene to Oligocene. The Eocene-Oligocene transition was an important shift in Earth’s climate system, associated with a rapid cooling event and widespread biotic turnover, but is not fully understood. My work examines the larger benthic foraminiferal biodiversity during this interval to better understand palaeoenvironmental changes and how changing climate influences geographic biodiversity. Larger benthic foraminifera are sensitive to environmental change and abundant during this time period, therefore making them an ideal fossil to use.

My approach involves using integrated bio-, chemo- and magneto-stratigraphy to create well constrained high resolution records of larger benthic foraminiferal occurrences, enabling them to be tied to global stratigraphy and climatic events. Additionally, I work on the taxonomy and global evolution of larger benthic foraminifera groups, such as the reticulate Nummulites.


biodiversity, extinction, micropalaeontology, palaeoclimate, eocene, oligocene, palaeoecology

Current research topics

Biotic and abiotic drivers of shifting marine tropical biodiversity hotspots during the Eocene-Oligocene

I am currently a post-doctoral researcher within this NWO-ALW funded project, working with Willem Renema (Naturalis), Wout Krijgsman (University of Utrecht) and Paul Pearson (Cardiff University).

Renema et al. (2008) demonstrated major redistributions in tropical marine biodiversity during the Cenozoic. However, the dominant drivers behind this pattern remain debated. We approach this problem from a new angle using occurrence data of larger benthic foraminifera and add a latitudinal transect (East Africa/Madagascar – Central Asia) to the already existing longitudinal data set. The main aim of this work is to quantify the geographic variation in biotic turnover during the Eocene-Oligocene transition in relation to regional climate change. 




Foraminifera collection.



Available student projects


Cotton, L.J., Pearson, P.N. and Renema, W., 2014. Stable isotope stratigraphy and larger benthic foraminiferal extinctions in the Melinau Limestone, Sarawak. Journal of Asian Earth Sciences 79, 65-71.

Donovan, S.K., Cotton, L.J., van den Ende, C., Scognamiglio, G. and Zittersteijn, M. 2013. Taphonomic significance of a dense infestation of Ensis americanus (Binney) by Balanus crenatus Brugiere, North Sea. Palaios 28 (11), 837-838.

Fenero, R., Cotton, L., Molina, E. and Monechi, S. 2013. Micropaleontological evidence of the late Oligocene Oi-2b global glaciation at the Zarabanda section, Spain. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 369, 1-13.

Berrocosol, A.J., Huber, B.T., MacLeod, K.G., Petrizzo, M.R., Lees, J.A., Wendler, I., Coxall, H., Amina K. Mweneinda, Falzoni, F., Birch, H., Singano, J.M., Haynes, S., Cotton, L., Wendler, J., Bown, P.R., Robinson, S.A. and Gould, J., 2012.  Lithostratigraphy, biostratigraphy and chemostratigraphy of Upper Cretaceous and Paleogene sediments from southern Tanzania: Tanzania Drilling Project Sites 27-35. African Journal of Earth Sciences 70, 36- 57.

Matthewman, R., Cotton, L.J., Martins, Z. and Sephton, M., 2012. Palaeosols from the Jurassic-Cretaceous of Southern England, Journal of Marine and Petroleum Geology 37, 41- 52.

Cotton, L.J. and Pearson, P.N., 2012. Larger benthic foraminifera from the Middle Eocene to Oligocene of Tanzania. Austrian Journal of Earth Sciences 105, 189-199.

Cotton, L.J. and Pearson, P.N., 2011. Extinction of larger benthic foraminifera at the Eocene/Oligocene boundary. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 311, 281-296.

Brasier, M.D., Cotton, L.J. and Yenny, I. 2009. First report of amber with spider’s webs and microbial inclusions from the earliest Cretaceous (~140Ma) of Hastings, Sussex. Journal of the Geological Society, London  166, 989-997