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Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

Dr Xiaoya Ma

Dr Xiaoya Ma

Senior Lecturer

 Stella Turk Building Top Floor


University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, TR10 9FE


My primary research interest is to understand the origin and early evolution of animal life, especially the major branching events during animal evolution. Cambrian fossils provide direct insight into the early radiation of animal life and are crucial for addressing some fundamental questions: When and how did major animal groups evolve? What were the evolutionary sequences of key morphological innovations? How did animals adapt to their ecological and environmental changes? Therefore, I use interdisciplinary approaches to study the morphology, phylogeny, taphonomy and paleoecology of a broad range of Cambrian animals from exceptionally well-preserved fossil assemblages, such as the Chengjiang Biota.


PhD in Palaeontology, University of Leicester, United Kingdom, 2005 - 2009

MSc (Hons) in Zoology, Yunnan University, China, 2003 - 2005

BSc (Hons) in Biology, Yunnan University, China, 1999 - 2003


2020 –            Senior lecturer in palaeobiology, University of Exeter, UK

2015 –            Full professor in palaeobiology, Yunnan University, China

2018 – 2020   NERC Independent Research Fellow, University of Exeter, UK

2014 – 2018   NERC Independent Research Fellow, Natural History Museum in London, UK

2011 – 2014   Postdoctoral Research Assistant, Natural History Museum in London, UK

2009 – 2012   Honorary Researcher, University of Leicester, UK

Research group links

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Xian-Guang H, Aldridge RJ, Pei-Yun C, Siveter DJ, Siveter DJ, Gabbott SE, Xiao-Ya M, Purnell MA, Williams M (2017). The Cambrian Fossils of Chengjiang, China the Flowering of Early Animal Life., John Wiley & Sons. Abstract.

Journal articles

Chen H, Parry L, Vinther J, Zhai D, Hou X, Ma X (In Press). A Cambrian crown annelid reconciles phylogenomics and the fossil record. Nature
Barling N, Saleh F, Ma X (2023). A unique record of prokaryote cell pyritization. GEOLOGY, 51(11), 1062-1066.  Author URL.
Saleh F, Guenser P, Gibert C, Balseiro D, Serra F, Waisfeld BG, Antcliffe JB, Daley AC, Mángano MG, Buatois LA, et al (2022). Contrasting Early Ordovician assembly patterns highlight the complex initial stages of the Ordovician Radiation. Sci Rep, 12(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Zhang G, Parry LA, Vinther J, Ma X (2022). Exceptional soft tissue preservation reveals a cnidarian affinity for a Cambrian phosphatic tubicolous enigma. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 289(1986). Abstract.
Ma X, Wang G, Wang M (2022). Impact of Chinese palaeontology on evolutionary research. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 377(1847).
Saleh F, Vaucher R, Vidal M, Hariri KE, Laibl L, Daley AC, Gutiérrez-Marco JC, Candela Y, Harper DAT, Ortega-Hernández J, et al (2022). New fossil assemblages from the Early Ordovician Fezouata Biota. Sci Rep, 12(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Saleh F, Ma X, Guenser P, Mángano MG, Buatois LA, Antcliffe JB (2022). Probability-based preservational variations within the early Cambrian Chengjiang biota (China). PeerJ, 10 Abstract.  Author URL.
Saleh F, Qi C, Buatois LA, Mángano MG, Paz M, Vaucher R, Zheng Q, Hou X-G, Gabbott SE, Ma X, et al (2022). The Chengjiang Biota inhabited a deltaic environment. Nature Communications, 13(1). Abstract.
Howard RJ, Giacomelli M, Lozano-Fernandez J, Edgecombe GD, Fleming JF, Kristensen RM, Ma X, Olesen J, Sørensen MV, Thomsen PF, et al (2022). The Ediacaran origin of Ecdysozoa: integrating fossil and phylogenomic data. Journal of the Geological Society, 179(4). Abstract.
Shi X, Howard RJ, Edgecombe GD, Hou X, Ma X (2021). <i>Tabelliscolex</i>(Cricocosmiidae: Palaeoscolecidomorpha) from the early Cambrian Chengjiang Biota and the evolution of seriation in Ecdysozoa. Journal of the Geological Society, 179(2).
Saleh F, Bath-Enright OG, Daley AC, Lefebvre B, Pittet B, Vite A, Ma X, Mángano MG, Buatois LA, Antcliffe JB, et al (2021). A novel tool to untangle the ecology and fossil preservation knot in exceptionally preserved biotas. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 569 Abstract.
Howard RJ, Hou X, Edgecombe GD, Salge T, Shi X, Ma X (2020). A Tube-Dwelling Early Cambrian Lobopodian. Curr Biol, 30(8), 1529-1536.e2. Abstract.  Author URL.
Howard RJ, Edgecombe GD, Shi X, Hou X, Ma X (2020). Ancestral morphology of Ecdysozoa constrained by an early Cambrian stem group ecdysozoan. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 20(1). Abstract.
Zhai D, Williams M, Siveter DJ, Harvey THP, Sansom RS, Gabbott SE, Siveter DJ, Ma X, Zhou R, Liu Y, et al (2019). Variation in appendages in early Cambrian bradoriids reveals a wide range of body plans in stem-euarthropods. Commun Biol, 2(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Qi C, Li C, Gabbott SE, Ma X, Xie L, Deng W, Jin C, Hou XG (2018). Influence of redox conditions on animal distribution and soft-bodied fossil preservation of the Lower Cambrian Chengjiang Biota. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 507, 180-187. Abstract.
Cong P, Ma X, Williams M, Siveter DJ, Siveter DJ, Gabbott SE, Zhai D, Goral T, Edgecombe GD, Hou X, et al (2017). Host-specific infestation in early Cambrian worms. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1(10), 1465-1469.
Hou X, Williams M, Gabbott S, Siveter DJ, Siveter DJ, Cong P, Ma X, Sansom R (2016). A new species of the artiopodan arthropod<i>Acanthomeridion</i>from the lower Cambrian Chengjiang Lagerstätte, China, and the phylogenetic significance of the genus. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 15(9), 733-740.
Strausfeld NJ, Ma X, Edgecombe GD, Fortey RA, Land MF, Liu Y, Cong P, Hou X (2016). Arthropod eyes: the early Cambrian fossil record and divergent evolution of visual systems. Arthropod Structure & Development, 45(2), 152-172.
Strausfeld NJ, Ma X, Edgecombe GD (2016). Fossils and the Evolution of the Arthropod Brain. Current Biology, 26(20), R989-R1000.
Williams M, Siveter DJ, Siveter DJ, Gabbott SE, Ma X, Purnell MA, Cong P (2016). The spectacular fossils of the ‘water margin’: the Cambrian biota of Chengjiang, Yunnan, China. Geology Today, 32(6), 233-237. Abstract.
Ma X, Aldridge RJ, Siveter DJ, Siveter DJ, Hou X, Edgecombe GD (2015). A New Exceptionally Preserved Cambrian Priapulid from the Chengjiang Lagerstätte. Journal of Paleontology, 88(2), 371-384. Abstract.
Ma X (2015). Hallucigenia's head. Nature, 523(7558), 38-39.
Ma X, Edgecombe GD, Hou X, Goral T, Strausfeld NJ (2015). Preservational Pathways of Corresponding Brains of a Cambrian Euarthropod. Current Biology, 25(22), 2969-2975.
Edgecombe GD, Ma X, Strausfeld NJ (2015). Unlocking the early fossil record of the arthropod central nervous system. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 370(1684), 20150038-20150038. Abstract.
Ma X, Cong P, Hou X, Edgecombe GD, Strausfeld NJ (2014). An exceptionally preserved arthropod cardiovascular system from the early Cambrian. Nature Communications, 5(1).
Cong P, Ma X, Hou X, Edgecombe GD, Strausfeld NJ (2014). Brain structure resolves the segmental affinity of anomalocaridid appendages. Nature, 513(7519), 538-542.
Cong P, Ma X, Hou X, Edgecombe GD, Strausfeld NJ (2014). Cong et al. reply. Nature, 516(7530), E3-E4.
García-bellido DC, Edgecombe GD, Paterson JR, Ma X (2013). A ‘Collins’ monster’-type lobopodian from the Emu Bay Shale Konservat-Lagerstätte (Cambrian), South Australia. Alcheringa: an Australasian Journal of Palaeontology, 37(4), 474-478.
Tanaka G, Hou X, Ma X, Edgecombe GD, Strausfeld NJ (2013). Chelicerate neural ground pattern in a Cambrian great appendage arthropod. Nature, 502(7471), 364-367.
Ma X, Edgecombe GD, Legg DA, Hou X (2013). The morphology and phylogenetic position of the Cambrian lobopodian <i>Diania cactiformis</i>. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 12(4), 445-457.
Ma X, Hou X, Edgecombe GD, Strausfeld NJ (2012). Complex brain and optic lobes in an early Cambrian arthropod. Nature, 490(7419), 258-261.
Ma X, Hou X, Aldridge RJ, Siveter DJ, Siveter DJ, Gabbott SE, Purnell MA, Parker AR, Edgecombe GD (2012). Morphology of Cambrian lobopodian eyes from the Chengjiang Lagerstätte and their evolutionary significance. Arthropod Structure & Development, 41(5), 495-504.
Hou X-G, Aldridge RJ, Siveter DJ, Siveter DJ, Williams M, Zalasiewicz J, Ma X-Y (2011). An Early Cambrian Hemichordate Zooid. Current Biology, 21(7), 612-616.
Legg DA, Ma X, Wolfe JM, Ortega-Hernández J, Edgecombe GD, Sutton MD (2011). Lobopodian phylogeny reanalysed. Nature, 476(7359), E1-E1.
Ma X, Hou X, Baines D (2010). Phylogeny and evolutionary significance of vermiform animals from the Early Cambrian Chengjiang Lagerstätte. Science China Earth Sciences, 53(12), 1774-1783.
Ma X, Hou X, Bergström J (2009). Morphology of Luolishania longicruris (Lower Cambrian, Chengjiang Lagerstätte, SW China) and the phylogenetic relationships within lobopodians. Arthropod Structure & Development, 38(4), 271-291.
Xian-Guang H, Bergström J, Xiao-Ya M, Jie Z (2006). The Lower Cambrian<i>Phlogites</i>Luo &amp; Hu re-considered. GFF, 128(1), 47-51.
Hou X, Stanley Jr. GD, Zhao J, Ma X (2005). Cambrian anemones with preserved soft tissue from the Chengjiang biota, China. Lethaia, 38(3), 193-203.
Hou X, Ma X, Zhao J, Bergström J (2004). The lobopodian<i>Paucipodia inermis</i>from the Lower Cambrian Chengjiang fauna, Yunnan, China. Lethaia, 37(3), 235-244.

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Wednesday afternoon 14:00-17:00

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