Kenneth De Baets

Dr. Kenneth De Baets

PD Dr. Kenneth De Baets

Geozentrum Nordbayern
Chair of Palaeontology (Prof. Dr. Kießling)

Room: Room 2.105
Loewenichstraße 28
91054 Erlangen

Curator for the collections of the Department of Paleontology

Research interests

I am a paleontologist documenting and interpreting the relative contributions of abiotic (e.g., climate) and biotic factors (e.g., parasitism) in driving large-scale patterns in the evolution of life.

Current research focuses on biotic interactions, biomineralization, and macroecology. For example:

  • How does parasitism affect host biodiversity and skeletal disease?
  • How does seawater chemistry affect biomineralization of marine invertebrates?
  • How does body size distribution and growth respond to climate warming and related paleoenvironmental stressors?

For this purpose, I strive to work across disciplines and find means to test hypotheses with different lines of evidence, ranging from geology, paleontology, over quantitative paleobiology and paleontology, to ecology and biology.

  • 2017: Emerging Talents Initiative (Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg)
  • 2012: Grant for Prospective Researchers, Swiss National Science Foundation
  • Geologica Belgica (Belgium)
  • Paläontologische Gesellschaft (Germany)
  • Palaeontological Association (United Kingdom)
  • Schweizerische Paläontologische Gesellschaft/Sociéte Paléontologique Suisse (Switzerland)
  • Society for the Study of Evolution (USA)
  • Authored Books

    Journal Articles

    Book Contributions


    • Size reductions during hyperthermal events: early warnings of environmental deterioration or signs of extinction? (EarlyWarn)

      (Third Party Funds Single)

      Term: since 1. December 2019
      Funding source: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

      Size reductions in successive fossil assemblages during times of extinction are major features visible across a variety of temporal and spatial scales. The underlying environmental drivers and mechanisms are however still debated. In various cases, size responses predate the main extinction pulse suggesting that they might signal early environmental disruptions. The project proposed here aims to explicitly model size changes in a sequence stratigraphic framework to disentangle the local paleoenvironmental influences on these patterns from global ones. This approach will focus on within-facies and between-facies comparisons of mollusk and brachiopod assemblages of Permian-Triassic sections in Iran and various European Pliensbachian-Toarcian sections, hence covering a wide range of paleoenvironmental and preservational contexts before and across extinction events. These approaches are necessary to quantitatively disentangle the relative contribution of climate-related stressors and nutrient availability in driving patterns when filtering out potential collection and stratigraphy biases. The final part of the project will compare our newly collected high-resolution data with newly appended large size datasets considering appropriate facies, sequence stratigraphic and geochemical context to understand their relative contribution in the first comprehensive meta-analysis on these aspects of miniaturization (“Lilliput effect”). These datasets will also be used to disentangle the relative contribution of within-species size reductions, size-selective extinction/immigration and origination/immigration in driving size fluctuations during background conditions as well as during events ranging from minor biological crises to mass extinctions associated with hyperthermal events.

    • The Evolution and Fossil Record of Parasitism: Identification and Macroevolution of Parasites

      (Own Funds)

      Term: 15. February 2017 - 15. May 2021
      This two-volume edited book highlights and reviews the potential of the fossil record to calibrate the origin and evolution of parasitism, and the techniques to understand the development of parasite-host associations and their relationships with environmental and ecological changes. The book deploys a broad and comprehensive approach, aimed at understanding the origins and developments of various parasite groups, in order to provide a wider evolutionary picture of parasitism as part of biodiversity. This supplements contributions by parasitologists that mostly focus on extrapolating from current host associations or distributions, to estimate constraints on the timing of the origin and evolution of various parasite groups. This approach allows a wider evolutionary picture of parasitism on, and as part of, biodiversity.

      Volume one focuses on identifying parasitism in the fossil record, and sheds light on the distribution and ecological importance of parasite-host interactions over time. In order to better understand the evolutionary history of parasites and their relationship with changes in the environment, emphasis is given to viruses, bacteria, protista and plants as parasites. Particular attention is given to metazoans such as molluscs, cnidarians, crustaceans and insects as parasites.  Researchers, specifically parasitologists, interested in the evolutionary history of parasite-host interactions, as well as students studying parasitism will find this book appealing.

    • Constraining the deep origin of metazoan parasitism through integration of Evolutionary Parasitology and Molecular Paleobiology

      (FAU Funds)

      Term: 1. January 2017 - 31. March 2018
    • Body size dynamics of cephalopods across the Pliensbachian-Toarcian crisis

      (Third Party Funds Group – Sub project)

      Overall project: Temperature-related stresses as a unifying principle in ancient extinctions (TERSANE)
      Term: 1. August 2016 - 31. July 2019
      Funding source: DFG / Forschergruppe (FOR)

      The reduction of body size within individual lineages is suggested to be one of the most important responses in the face of temperature-related stressors. Despite common suggestions of similar size changes around mass extinction events, the global significance as well as the mechanisms of this Lilliput effect are still controversial. This project aims at understanding the role of warming and associated stressors (anoxia) in driving body size changes of marine organisms in the Early Jurassic (Toarcian) crisis. We focus on cephalopods along a N/S-gradient of western Europe and northwestern Africa to explore patterns of body sizes from individual taxa to entire assemblages. Patterns will be explicitly analysed in the context of sedimentary facies, physico-chemical proxies and physiological predictions to test the correlation of body size with environmental parameters such as temperature, oxygenation and productivity/burial of organic carbon.

    • Temperature-related stresses as a unifying principle in ancient extinctions

      (Third Party Funds Group – Sub project)

      Overall project: FOR 2332: Temperature-related stresses as a unifying principle in ancient extinctions (TERSANE)
      Term: 1. July 2016 - 30. June 2019
      Funding source: DFG / Forschergruppe (FOR)

      Combined with local and regional anthropogenic factors, current human-induced climate warming is thought to be a major threat to biodiversity. The ecological imprint of climate change is already visible on land and in the oceans. The imprint is largely manifested in demographic/abundance changes and phenological and distribution shifts, whereas only local extinctions are yet attributable to climate change with some confidence. This is expected to change in the near future owing to direct heat stress, shortage of food, mismatches in the timing of seasonal activities, geographic barriers to migration, and new biological interactions. Additional stressors are associated with climate warming in marine systems, namely acidification and deoxygenation. Ocean acidification is caused by the ocean's absorption of CO2 and deoxygenation is a result of warmer water, increased ocean stratification and upwelling of hypoxic waters. The combination of warming, acidification and deoxygenation is known as the "deadly trio". Temperature is the most pervasive environmental factor shaping the functional characteristics and limits to life and is also central to the generation and biological effects of hypoxic waters and to modulating the effects of ocean acidification, with and without concomitant hypoxia. Due to the key role of temperature in the interaction of the three drivers we termed these temperature-related stressors (TRS).

    Video screenshot: 3D-reconstruction of belemnite ‘Parapassaloteuthis zieteni’ from the lower Toarcian from Buttenheim in South Germany. Image: FAU/Patricia Rita

    Video Bemlemnite