We understand that some words in our field can be long and confusing at times, even for us. Therefore, we’ve assembled this helpful alphabetised list of definitions to make reading our articles a little easier.

Anoxia: without oxygen

Biodiversity: the variety of biological organisms in a particular environment

Biogeography: the distribution of plants and animals geographically and through geological time and space

Clade: a group of all of the evolutionary descendants of a common ancestor

Contemporary: (1) modern (2) living at the same time in the same place

Endothermic: an animal’s ability to maintain a constant body temperature independent of their surrounding environment

Extant: alive in the modern world/still existing today

Faunivorous: diet of eating other animals

Genus: a taxonomic rank above species (plural: genera)

Infraorder: a collection of animals within an order, larger than a suborder

Invertebrate: animals without a spine

Iterative evolution: the repeated evolution of similar structures from the same ancestor but at different times in that lineage

Lithology: the physical characteristics of rocks

Monophyletic: a taxon consisting of a most recent common ancestor and all its descendants

Morphology: how an animal looks

Niche: a specific role taken by an organism in a community

Order: a taxonomic rank above family and below class

Palaeocontinent: continents/continental arrangements that existed in the geological past

Palaeoenvironment: the environment that used to be present in an area

Paraphyletic: a taxon consisting of a most recent common ancestor and some of its descendants

Pelagic: living in the open ocean, far from the shore

Phylogeny: the study of the evolutionary development of organisms or their features

Phylum: a taxonomic rank below kingdom and above class (plural: phyla)

Polyphyletic: a taxon consisting of organisms that do not share a recent common ancestor

Sauropterygia: an extinct clade of secondarily aquatic reptiles that evolved from terrestrial ancestors soon after the end-Permian mass extinction

Secondarily aquatic tetrapods: aquatic animals which developed from terrestrial ancestors, which originally descended from primarily aquatic tetrapod ancestors

Stratum: a layer of rock (plural: strata)

Subfamily: a collection of animals within a family, smaller than a family

Suborder: a collection of animals within an order, smaller than an infraorder

Species: the principal taxonomic unit for naming organisms

Taxon: any rank of taxonomic group (plural: taxa)

Taxonomy: a system of classification of organisms

Tetrapods: four-limbed vertebrate animals

Thermoregulation: a process that enables the regulation of internal body temperature

Uniformitarianism: the theory that changes of Earth’s crust during geological history have been caused by continuous and uniform processes

Vertebrate: animals with a spine