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Professor David Harper

Emeritus Professor of Palaeontology

Emeritus Professor of Palaeontology in the Department of Earth Sciences


19801981 — Postdoctoral Fellow (University of Oslo)

1981 – 1984  — Postdoctoral Fellow (University of Dundee)

1984 – 1998  — Lecturer — Reader in Palaeontology and Stratigraphy (University of Galway)

1998 – 2011  — Professor in Palaeontology (University of Copenhagen) 

2002 – 2011  — Deputy Head — Head of Geology (Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen) 

2004 – present  — Elected Foreign Member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters

2008 – present  — Einstein Professor, Chinese Academy of Sciences

2011 – 2021  — Professor of Palaeontology, Principal of Van Mildert College, Durham University

2013 – present  — Honorary Research Fellow, The Natural History Museum

2021 - present — Emeritus Professor of Palaeontology, Durham University


2011 – 2013  — Deputy Head of Colleges (Research and Scholarly Activities)

2012 – 2017 — Deputy Director, Climate Impacts Research Centre, Durham University

Career Research Highlights

My initial research on the stratigraphy and palaeontology of the Ordovician rocks of the Girvan district was largely monographic and was recognised by the Clough Memorial Award from the Edinburgh Geological Society. The description of Palaeozoic Brachiopoda using both conventional and statistical methodologies continues to be a focus of my research. The former led to an invitation to jointly revise with Sir Alwyn Williams various groups of Brachiopoda for the 'Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology'; the latter has led to the development of microcomputer software - 'PALSTAT' package, which has now been completely rewritten and relaunched as 'PAST' in collaboration with Dr Øyvind Hammer (University of Oslo). The integration of such data into models of global biostratigraphy together with those for the environmental and spatial distributions of the phyla are continuing objectives within my research programme. This programme has been recognised with the award of the Lyell Fund from the Geological Society. Currently my main research interests have been modified regionally to include studies on the Lower Palaeozoic rocks in NE and N Greenland, Chile, China (including Tibet), Denmark, Estonia, Norway and Russia and my research in Greenland has been recognized by the award of Crown Prince Frederik's Fund. During the last ten years my focus has moved to target some of the larger scale processes in the history of life. Together with a range of colleagues, new models for biotic change and distributions through the Early Palaeozoic, particularly targeting the Cambrian Explosion, Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event and the end-Ordovician extinction, are being developed and their relationships to climatic and environmental changes are being assessed through a range of multidisciplinary techniques.

Committee and Society Service

2018  — Member of Earth and Environmental Sciences panel, Portuguese Research Council

2015 — 2020 Member of advisory committee for School of Earth Space Sciences, Peking University

2015 — Member of evaluation panel, School of Earth Space Sciences, Peking University

2014 — Chair of evaluation panel, Paleontological Institute and Museum in the University of Zürich

2014 — Chair of evaluation panel, Earth Sciences programmes in the University of the West Indies

2014 2016 President, Palaeontological Association

2012 – 2014  — Vice President, Palaeontographical Society

2012 – present  — NERC Peer Review College

2008 – present  — Voting member of the International Commission for Stratigraphy

2008 – present  — Chairman, International Subcommission on Ordovician Stratigraphy

2008 – 2009  — Member of evaluation panel of Earth Science Research Centres in Portugal

2007 – 2015  — Member of IGCP (UNESCO) scientific panel

2006 – 2010  — President, International Palaeontological Association

2005 – 2009; 2012  — Member of Earth Sciences panel, Swedish Research Council

2004 – 2009  — Co-leader IGCP (UNESCO) project 503

2004 – present  — Voting member of the International Ordovician Subcommission

2002 – 2004  — Vice President Palaeontological Association

1996 – 1998  — Vice President Irish Geological Association

Conferences and Workshops (selected)

2018 — Co-convener ' IGCP 653' and 'Neogene tropical biotas and environments' sessions, 5th International Palaeontological Congress, Paris, France

2016 Organiser, Opening Meeting of the 'Onset of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event'International Geosciences Project 653, Van Mildert College, Durham University

2014 — Co-convener 'Ordovician biotas of Gondwana: responses to global climatic and eustatic events, and their biogeographic relationships within the Ordovician World’. 4th International Palaeontological Congress, Mendoza, Argentina

2013 — Co-convener ‘The Cambrian Explosion – Understanding Earth systems at the origin of modern ecosystems’ Lyell Meeting, Geological Society, London

2012  — Co-convener 'International Subcommission on Ordovician stratigraphy: Ordovician intercontinental correlations: developing global and regional chronostratigraphy', International Geological Congress, Brisbane

2012  — Co-convener 'Out of Our Depth: The Paleontology, Ichnology, and Sedimentology of Deeper Water Environments in the Ancient Tropics', Annual Geological Society of America Meeting, Charlotte, North Carolina

2010  — Co-chair of science and vice-chair of executive committees for the 3rd International Palaeontological Congress, London

2009  — Organizer Final Meeting of IGCP 503, Copenhagen

2005  — Organizer 5th International Brachiopod Congress, Copenhagen

2003  — Co-convener 'Environmental and biological impact of the end Ordovician glaciation', EUG, Nice.

2002  — Co-organizer '4th Gilbert Larwood Symposium', Copenhagen

2001  — Organizer of the Annual Meeting of the Palaeontological Association, Copenhagen

2000  — Co-convener 'History of Biodiversity', Geosciences 2000, Manchester

2000  — Co-convener 'Biostratigraphy and Biogeography', Millennium Brachiopod Congress, London

2000  — Co-convener 'Tropics through Time', Annual Geological Society of America Meeting, Reno, Nevada

1998  — Co-organiser of Annual Irish Geological Research Meeting, University of Galway

1995  — Organiser of Annual Meeting of Palaeontological Association, University College, Galway

Editorial Roles

2019 - present  Co editor-in-Chief, Palaeoworld

2017 - present — Associate Editor, Swiss Journal of Paleontology

2015 – 2019 — Member of Editorial Board, Nature Scientific Reports 

2014 - 2019 — Review Editor, Frontiers in Paleontology

2009 – 2017 — Advisory editor, Journal of the Geological Society, London

2008 – present  — Associate Editor, Paleontological Contributions

2005 – 2019 — Associate Editor, Palaeoworld

2004 – 2016  — Associate Editor, Swiss Journal of Geosciences

2004 – 2008  — Chair of Publications Board, Palaeontological Association

2003 – present  — Editor, Lethaia

1996 – 2012  — Associate Editor, Geological Journal

1996 – 2002  — Editor, for the Palaeontological Association's journal, Palaeontology

Recent and Current Grants (Selected)

2006 – 2007  — Geocenter København (Geocenter Copenhagen): Mapping Denmark's and Greenland's palaeobiodiversity: An integrated database for Denmarks and Greenlands fossils. 400,000 DKK

2006  — Forskningsrådet for Natur og Univers (Danish Research Council): Rapid transitions from Greenhouse-Icehouse-Greenhouse climates 440 million year ago: New investigations of the palaeotropics in Early Palaeozoic North Greenland. 850,000 DKK

2006  — Forskningsrådet for Natur og Univers (Danish Research Council): Fossil microorganisms and ultrastructures in time and space (SEM equipment). 850,000 DKK

2006 – 2007  — INTERREG IIIA, Øresundsregionen: Integrated Higher Education in Geology (with Prof. Per Ahlberg, Lunds Universitet, Sverige). 500,000 SEK.

2007 – 2009  — Geocenter København (Geocenter Copenhagen): Monsters from deep time: Exhibition on Sirius Passet fossils. 450,000 DKK

2007  — TK-Foundation (Galathea III expedition). Ordovician in the roots of the Andes (with Prof. Lars Stemmerik). 300,000 DKK

2008 – 2012  — FNU (Danish Research Council) The Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event (GOBE). DKK 4,000,000 DKK

2009  — Geocenter Copenhagen: Expedition to Peary Land: Sirius Passet fauna and the Cambrian explosion. DKK 1,300,000

2010  — Carlsberg Foundation: Aspects of Modern and Ancient diversity on the Tibetan Plateau. 500,000 DKK

2011  — Carlsberg Foundation: The Dawn of Phanerozoic ecosystems. DKK 500,000

2011  — Agouron Institute: The Cambrian Explosion in the Sirius Pass, North Greenland. DKK 900,000. (co applicant with Prof. Don Canfield).

2012 – 2014  — FNU (Danish Research Council): Unravelling early animal evolution. DKK 2,000,000

2016 – SEK Wenner-Gren Foundation: Cambrian brachiopods ‒ diversity, distribution and evolution. SEK 106, 000 (co applicant with Prof. Per Ahlberg)

2016 – 2018 – Leverhulme Trust: Roots of the Great Ordovician Biodiversification. £49,000

Research Interests
  • Fossil brachiopods, their taxonomy, distribution, ecology and phylogeny.
  • Major events in the history life, e.g. Cambrian Explosion, Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event and end Ordovician extinction
  • Numerical methods in palaeontology

Esteem Indicators

  • 2019: Research Associate; National Museum of Scotland:
  • 2019: Guest Research Professor, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing:
  • 2017: Distinguished Visiting Professor, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan:
  • 2016: Leverhulme Fellow:
  • 2016: Chair, International Commission on Stratigraphy:
  • 2014: President, Palaeontological Association:
  • 2014: Visiting Professor, CNRS - Université de Lille 1, France:
  • 2014: Guest Professor, University of Lund:
  • 2014: Elected Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Physiographic Society:
  • 2014: Member of Scientific Advisory Board, Naturalis (State Museum of Natural History), The Netherlands:
  • 2014: William King Medal, National University of Ireland, Galway:
  • 2013: Honorary Research Fellow, The Natural History Museum:
  • 2008: Einstein Professor, Chinese Academy of Sciences:
  • 2004: Elected Foreign Member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters:
  • 2003: Crown Prince Frederik's Fund, Denmark:
  • 1996: Lyell Fund from the Geological Society:
  • 1986: Clough Memorial Award from the Edinburgh Geological Society:


Authored book

Chapter in book

Edited book

Journal Article

Supervision students