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Benton is a palaeontologist who has made fundamental contributions to understanding the history of life, particularly concerning how biodiversity changes through time. He has led in integrating data from living and fossil organisms to generate phylogenies -- solutions to the question of how major groups originated and diversified through time.
This approach has revolutionised our understanding of major questions, including the relative roles of internal and external drivers on the history of life, whether diversity reaches saturation, the significance of mass extinctions, and how major clades radiate. A key theme is the Permian-Triassic extinction event, the largest mass extinction of all time, which took place over 250 million years ago, where he investigates how life was able to recover from such a devastating event.
Michael has written engaging books for children on the theme of dinosaurs, as well as a significant number of palaeontology text books for university students. He founded the Master of Science degree program in Palaeobiology at Bristol in 1996, from which more than 300 students have graduated. He has supervised more than 50 PhD students.
The age of dinosaurs in Russia and Mongolia (2000, ed., with D. M. Unwin, M. A. Shishkin and E. N. Kurochkin)[ISBN missing]
Permian and Triassic red beds and the Penarth Group of Great Britain (2002, with E. Cook and P. J. Turner)[ISBN missing]
When life nearly died: the greatest mass extinction of all time (1st edition, 2003; 2nd edition, 2008) 
Mesozoic and Tertiary fossil mammals and birds of Great Britain (2005, with L. Cook, D. Schreve, A Currant, and J. J. Hooker)[ISBN missing]
Introduction to Paleobiology and the Fossil Record (2009, with David A.T Harper)[ISBN missing]
The first four billion years Benton, Michael J. (2009). "Paleontology and the History of Life". In Michael Ruse & Joseph Travis (eds.). Evolution: The First Four Billion Years. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 80-104. ISBN978-0-674-03175-3.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
The Dinosaurs Rediscovered: How a Scientific Revolution is Rewriting History, (2019) ISBN978-0500052006
^Benton, M. J. (2009). "The Red Queen and the Court Jester: Species diversity and the role of biotic and abiotic factors through time". Science. 323 (5915): 728-32. doi:10.1126/science.1157719. PMID19197051.
^Benton, Michael James (1983). "The Triassic Reptile Hyperodapedon from Elgin: Functional Morphology and Relationships". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 302 (1112): 605-718. doi:10.1098/rstb.1983.0079. ISSN0962-8436.
^Benton, M. J.; Emerson, B. C. (2007). "How Did Life Become So Diverse? The Dynamics of Diversification According to the Fossil Record and Molecular Phylogenetics". Palaeontology. 50: 23-40. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4983.2006.00612.x.